U19 MLS Next Cup: Strikers Third Time Lucky

U19 MLS Next Cup: Strikers Third Time Lucky
by Victor Olorunfemi
June 24, 2024
Players featured in this article:
MF | Cedar Stars Academy
Kaden Gust |  2024
GK | Strikers FC
F | Cedar Stars Academy

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In a final with plenty of dramatics, Strikers FC Irvine lifted the U19 MLS Next Cup championship after a penalty shootout defeat of the Cedar Stars Academy. The California-based club celebrates its first tournament title after losing finals in 2022 and 2023.

The man to watch going into the game was Ransford Gyan of Cedar Stars, who a few days earlier was announced as the first-ever back-to-back Gatorade National Player of the Year. The Clemson commit was enjoying a dominant tournament and would again be a handful.

However, the first blow came from Strikers FC on a Taj Eagleston header just five minutes into the game. It was clear that Eagleston, who won the U17 MLS Next Cup title with LA Galaxy last summer, knew what it took to win a big game.

That lead would not last very long, with Frankie De Francesco converting a cross to draw the game at 1-1 in the 23rd minute. That scoreline held until late in the game when a couple of world-class moments sparked the final back to life.

The first came from Eagleston again on an 83rd-minute rocket that flew into the top corner from outside the 18. With time running down and just 30 seconds remaining in the match, Gyan stepped up and proved his credentials as one of the best players in American youth soccer history. His dribble and shot from long range hit the crossbar, setting up a follow-up from Colin O’Brien, who showed remarkable composure to take multiple touches before volleying home the last-second equalizer.

Ten tense minutes of overtime with no goals meant the final came down to penalty kicks.

Goalkeeper and Final MVP Kaden Gust played hero with two saves to lead the 4-2 shootout victory. Gyan finished as the tournament's top scorer.

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