The Under-16 edition of the Development Academy playoffs kicks off on Thursday, June 22 in Westfield, Indiana.
Thirty-two teams comprise the field, broken down into eight groups of four teams.
Here’s a rundown of the U16 playoff field.
Atlanta United (19-4-7)
Chicago Fire (15-8-2)
Montreal Impact (13-6-7)
With both of its eligible sides heading to playoffs, Atlanta’s exciting 2017 season at the MLS level has trickled down to the youth teams. Recently signed Academy defender George Bello is a name to watch here, while James Brighton leads the team with 19 goals in 26 games. Looking to get past a tough trio of opponents, including the always impressive PDA, Atlanta is certainly one of the favorites to top Group A. PDA’s led by a pair of double-digit goal scorers, Zach Riviere and Nigel Griffith.
Two other pro academies round out the group. The Chicago Fire won the last six games of the season to solidify its playoff chances, and features one of the top up-and-comers in goal, Damian Las. Montreal Impact adopt a revolving door approach to its U16s, shuffling players up and down age groups when they can. Forward Moulay Abdallah Kanzi Belghiti and Brandon Garcia lead the team with 26 appearances each.
Predicted Winner: PDA
FC Golden State (23-9-4)
Crossfire Premier (18-6-7)
Colorado Rapids (14-6-6)
Cedar Stars Academy – Monmouth (13-9-4)
Consistently one of the best programs outside of the pro circuit, this edition of FC Golden State knows how to find the back of thet net. Three players have more than 10 tallies: Issa Badawiya, Daniel Castaneda and Dorian Morrison. The California side has amassed 87 goals on the year, while giving up 50, so it should provide for exciting viewing in Indiana. Crossfire Premier sits towards the other end of the spectrum, as it rode a stout defense to a second-place finish in the Northwest Division. Defenders Michael Chung and Ilan Piker played in all 31 games this season.
Facing quality sides FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City and Real Colorado, the Colorado Rapids U16s are going to be battle-tested heading into this week. Samuel Owusu and Ethan Bowen tied for most appearances on the team this season with 26. The 11th and final team to qualify for the postseason via the wildcard pool, Cedar Stars Academy - Monmouth is a quality outfit on the rise. Forward Jack Worth is a classic No. 9 that’s poured in a team-best 16 goals this season, and will be a key piece to their hopes of advancing.
Predicted Winner: FC Golden State
Every soccer tournament needs a Group of Death, and for the U16 age group, this might be it. With four teams from MLS comprising the field, each side draws from a specific strength. Vancouver, which always seems to make it to this point of the DA season, has impressive marks in goals scored (84) and conceded (28). A number of LA’s best players are likely to be competing at this highest age group, leaving this team not quite at full strength. John Hilton looks set to be with the U16s, however, as he continues to make a name for himself in LA. Forward Kevin Negrete’s been in and out of the U.S. U17 MNT, and his ability in front of goal would provide a boost.
Philadelphia has quickly cemented itself as a premier stop for development, and is in a similar boat as its MLS peers, looking to aggressively promote players. Midfielder Brenden Aaronson could end up with the U18s, though if he’s in at this age group, the U.S. youth national team veteran would clearly be an asset. One player that should be in the mix is Michael Pellegrino, whose 24 games leads the team. Forward Domingo Mba Mba Ayecaba is a key player for Houston. His 13 goals leads the team, but more importantly, his ability to stretch defenses and cause problems with his pace and athleticism is effective at the youth levels.
Predicted Winner: LA Galaxy
Both Railhawks Academy teams have impressed this season, and while the U18 side’s offense makes its case, the younger age group calls upon a very stout defense. With just 23 goals conceded, the Railhawks are led by defenders like James Orozco and recent North Carolina commit Daniel Wu. The goal-scoring prowess of Gabe Segal, the No. 8 player in the 2018 IMG Academy Top 150, leads Bethesda SC. Segal’s accounted for 23 of the team's 39 goals, though their defensive record is solid, conceding just 27 in 26 games. Aidan Rocha, Baraka Kiingi and Garrett Socas have all been key cogs this year.
Any team from California is worth consideration to put together an impressive week, and Real So Cal is no different. While the team may have shuffled some of its younger players up to the U18s, Brian Correa’s been a consistent presence, appearing in all 36 games. Another defensively-astute team, Oakwood SC can factor into the standings if it keeps things tight at the back. Sloan Sullivan and Brad Schweickert started every game in the regular season.
Predicted Winner: Bethesda SC
There’s a decent amount of individual talent on Sporting KC at this age group, including Gianluca Busio, Cameron Duke and Kentucky recruit Colin Innes. Abdu Kikhia’s chipped in 10 goals up front for a team that’s scored the most goals in the Central Conference. Weston FC has firepower of its own, from speedy winger Jose Riavas and forward Kimani Simons.
Pateadores is no slouch either; Cameron Harper is one of the top recruits for 2019 and has 14 goals from 33 appearances in midfield. While Everton FC Westchester doesn’t have the prolific goal totals as Sporting KC or Pateadores, their teams are generally well organized and tough to breakdown. If someone like Eoin Keogh finds his scoring touch, they are certainly capable.
Predicted Winner: Pateadores SC
Another Group of Death candidate, the two names that jump out immediately are FC Dallas and NYCFC. FCD’s accomplishments are lengthy, and they finish with the best points per game mark in the U16 age group. Brayan Padilla and his 28 goals in 24 games are substantial. NYCFC won’t have U17 MNT midfielder James Sands, though they are dangerous nonetheless. U15 BNT midfielder Giovanni Reyna is a name already attracting plenty of attention, though NYCFC is far from a one-player team. Joe Scally’s another younger player that’s shown potential, along with William Sands and Veljko Petkovic.
The other teams are no pushovers, however, and can stake a claim at winning the group. Crew SC Academy Wolves has an impressive collection of talent, whether it’s midfielders Aidan Nam or Kellan Landefeld. The Wolves finished equal with FC Dallas for fewest goals conceded in the U16 age group (17) and if they can find the firepower, could spring the upset. Past teams from Baltimore have struggled, though the Armour has managed to get both its teams into the postseason. Forward Christian Sorto has cut a crucial figure for much of Baltimore’s season, starting all 26 games,scoring 17 goals.
Predicted Winner: FC Dallas
Winners in six of its last eight games of the season, Vardar is another Michigan club that’s found success in 2016-17. Forward Gianni Ferri, the No. 57 ranked player in the 2019 IMG Academy Top 150, tops the team with 14 goals, forming an effective duo with Vincent Jackson II. Besting Real Salt Lake (AZ) is going to be tough for any team. Taylor Booth is expected to return to the midfield, and while he could conceivably play up with the 18s, he’s rostered with the 16s and would make this a very formidable group. U16 leading scorer Sebastian Soto guides the RSL attack, while he’s complimented by Luis Arriaga in the final third.
While RSL has been used to SoCal competition, the presence of Sacramento Republic offers a different part of the state. Sacramento found just enough offense to progress, scoring 58 goals while conceding 53 on the season. Six wins in the final seven games of the season is also a plus, with leading scorer Oscar Govea netting three of his 11 goals during that stretch. A tough outfit in its own right, Real Colorado is another team featuring a stingy defense. One of the constants in the lineup has been defender Jameson Barnard, while Layton Purchase, Zachary Guarino and Benjamin Ferraro have appeared in every game thus far.
Predicted Winner: Vardar SC
The final group in the U16 draw is compelling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the clash of two quality non-professional sides against two prominent MLS outfits. On paper, Sockers FC might be favorites, with attackers like Aidan Lie and Joshua Penn in good form, and Stefan Stojanovic fresh off a call-up to the U.S. U16 BNT. There’s ample quality in the midfield, between Tim Bielic, Lincoln Lillwitz and the potential presence of Cade Hagen. It’s no shock that the Sockers have spun off eight straight wins ahead of postseason play. BW Gottschee’s U16s were impressive last year in the U14 age group, and success has continued this season. Defender Carlo Ricaccio is expected to be available in defense, a nice piece for a team that conceded 25 times in 26 games.
Seattle’s battled through a tough Northwest Division, and tends to rely on the talents of Azriel Gonzalez - a player that could end up with the 18s. Sam Folwer, Connor Drought and Khai Brisco lead the team in games played on another side that likes to move players up. The Red Bulls aren’t quite at the same level as past groups
Predicted Winner: Sockers FC