After another long Development Academy season, the playoffs are nigh.
Thirty-two teams advanced to this week’s Under-18 playoffs in Westfield, Indiana, with eight teams looking to make it through to the quarterfinals. Group play begins on June 22.
Here’s everything to know about this year’s U18 playoff field.
New England Revolution (15-3-6)
Weston FC (19-7-4)
Bethesda SC (13-7-5)
Crossfire Premier (15-8-8)
While the New England Revolution academy sides don’t attract some of the same headline as other pro outfits, but they’ve put together a strong campaign despite the suspension of Indiana-bound forward Justin Rennicks. Each team represents a region of the country, with Bethesda SC hailing from the Mid-Atlantic, Weston out of Florida and Crossfire Premier from the Pacific Northwest. Each side has a claim on topping the group; Weston’s attack reached the 80 goal mark and features plenty of talent, including Alfred Perez, Luca Defreitas-Hansen and Matias Barraza.
Bethesda’s deep with players off to prominent Division I programs, including Elijah Amo, Foster McCune, Matthew Di Rosa, Chris De Martino and Ben Di Rosa. Crossfire Premier lost its final two games of the season, but did put together an eight game winning streak in 2017. Washington commit and 2018 Top 150 ranked recruit Charlie Ostrem is one of three players to play 30 matches this season for the club.
Predicted Winner: Weston FC
Atlanta United (23-2-5)
Sporting KC (15-8-3)
FC Boston Bolts (12-6-6)
LA Galaxy (17-11-8)
One of the toughest groups in this age bracket, all four of the sides in Group B are capable of advancing. The makeup of the rosters will be significant in determining that. If, for example, Christopher Goslin and Andrew Carleton make the trip with Atlanta (though this seems unlikely), that could tilt the field in their favor. Even if they aren’t there, United is the favorites to advance after finishing as the No. 1 overall U18 team. Patrick Okonwko, Lagos Kunga and Machop Chol will all be difficult to slow down.
U.S. U17 MNT defender Jaylin Lindsey is expected to turn out for Sporting KC, making them a formidable side that includes Felipe Hernandez, William Little and Max Rugova. Meanwhile, the Galaxy won’t have Efrain Alvarez, as he is set to travel to Germany with the Mexico U15s. Ulysses Llanez and Leonardo Sepulveda should be back in time from U.S. youth national team duty to provide a lift. Somewhat surprisingly, the LA Galaxy were the final team to qualify for the playoffs via the wildcard pool. FC Boston is no pushover in this group, as midfielder Ryan Clare adds goals from the midfield, and Duke-bound defender Wilhlem Jacques guides the team at the back.
Predicted Winner: Sporting KC
Another group that should be extremely competitive, FC Dallas enters the week in Indiana looking to defend its U18 title. While this group might not be at the same level as last year’s side, Jesus Ferreira is almost certain to feature on the heels of scoring his first goal in MLS. Even if Ferreira and fellow homegrown signing Paxton Pomykal end up skipping the trip, midfielder Brandon Servania oozes quality in the center of the park.
Servania will look to slow down his future Wake Forest teammate Omir Fernandez, who has 20 goals in 24 games for the Red Bulls. U17 MNT defender Chris Gloster is expected to play for New York, a big boost if it happens, as the outside back can get forward into the attack as well as he can stay at home and defend. Seattle Sounders will look to make inroads against their MLS opponents, backed by U.S. U18 goalkeeper Trey Muse and Stanford recruit Kei Tomazawa. Thursday’s group opener between New York and Seattle is going to be crucial. Beachside striker and future Connecticut forward Austin DaSilva is the key figure up front for his team’s hopes, as he’s scored 19 goals in 23 appearances this year.
Predicted Winner: FC Dallas
Sockers FC (17-5-3)
Montreal Impact (14-4-6)
Texans SC Houston (13-6-7)
Sacramento Republic FC (17-11-4)
Defense has been the strong point for Sockers FC, conceding just 16 goals in the regular season, best in the age group. The team doesn’t lack firepower up front however, as Georgetown recruit Derek Dodson’s scored 23 goals in 22 games. It won’t be easy going against the Montreal Impact, a program that always is tough to beat. Forward Gabriel Wiethaeuper-Balbinotti leads the Impact with 21 goals, and will be a player the other three teams will have to slow down.
Defense propelled Texans SC Houston into this group, as they didn’t concede a goal in the final six games of the season -- including a 0-0 draw against FC Dallas during that stretch -- finishing the campaign on a nine game unbeaten run. Alex Bruce and Christian Cappis have both been huge parts of that success, appearing in 25 games and both reaching double-digit goal totals. Not to be overlooked, Sacramento Republic FC has certainly made an impression at all age groups of the Development Academy. Loyola Marymount commit Francis Avoce’s 18 goals tops the team, and the striker’s frame makes him a nuisance to shut down at the youth levels. If he’s in form, and the Republic keep it tight at the back, don’t be surprised to see them emerge from the group.
Predicted Winner: Sockers FC
One of the most impressive academy outfits in the nation, the Union are still searching to put together a deep run in the Development Academy postseason. The Union are loaded at this age group no matter who is available; Rayshaun McGann lost his spot on the U17 MNT and will be looking to make his case for the World Cup roster, Dartmouth recruits Tiger Graham and Dawson McCartney and Tiger Graham are both born in 1998 and have a plethora of experience after taking a gap year to play DA soccer. They’ll need to best three other well-run club sides. Crew SC Academy Wolves are led in the final third by midfield maestro Daniel Wright, bound for Duke later in the fall. He’s just one of several Division I recruits, as Farai Mutatu, Simon Roennecke and Marc Ybarra are some of those set to play college soccer in the fall.
Any team emerging from Texas can’t be taken lightly, so while Lonestar may not have put up the same numbers of Wolves or Philadelphia, they have talent. Jon-Talen Maples, Jommar Reyes and Antonio Lopez have all played significant minutes this year for the Texas side. Of course, California isn’t exactly barren of talent either. Real So Cal has blasted its way into the playoffs through a tricky So Cal slate, and pose just as much of a threat as anyone else in this group. Jason Manning, Wilson Harris, Jake Kemhadjian and Frederik Kleeman all have more than 30 appearances this season. That experience will certainly be valuable for a team that finished with the fourth most goals in the Development Academy this season (86).
Predicted Winner: Philadelphia Union
Baltimore Armour (16-4-5)
Capital Area Railhawks - CASL (19-5-6)
Chicago Fire (12-5-8)
Colorado Rapids (12-7-7)
Looking for goals? Group F could be the place for it. Provided both Lucas Del Rosario and Alex Rose make the trip, the Railhawks have two players that scored a combined 56 goals this season. The North Carolina side hit the century mark this season, with 104 total tallies on the year. That’s more than double what Baltimore Armour scored (albeit in five less games) during the season, with Stephen Nichols the only player to reach double digits.
The two MLS Academies in this group needed the Wildcard to reach the postseason, but shouldn’t be counted out. The Fire U18s have been a revolving door for much of the season, fielding a relatively younger squad and quick to promote from younger age groups. Jose Alfaro was one of the constants along with Eduardo Garcia and Jake Ronneberg. Rounding out the group, Colorado’s a solid team that relies on Stanford recruit Rhys De Sota to shoulder the scoring load up front.
Predicted Winner: Capital Area Railhawks Academy
Finishing the season with the second-highest points per game total, Orlando enters the week in Indiana as the favorites, and winners in 10 of its last 11 matches. Wake Forest recruit Landen Haig tops the team’s scoring charts, while there is depth in several spots, whether it’s Jordi Avila, David Norris, David Loera or Raul Aguilera stamping their influence on the run of play. Indiana Fire get the benefit of home field advantage for this week, and will look to capitalize on that with a strong performance. A strong defense has been a big part they are still alive, conceding a modest 28 goals in 25 games. Virginia recruit Justin Ingram bosses the midfield, while future Indiana striker Thomas Warr provides the offensive punch.
Warr is likely to square off against future collegiate teammate Mason Toye. The New Jersey native has just six goals in 12 games, though he played high school soccer in the fall. Midfielder John Murphy is the No. 48 ranked player in the 2018 Boys IMG Academy Top 150 and is another up-and-coming talent to watch at PDA. Rounding out the group is a team just as talented as the other three in Pateadores. Raul Giovanni Miglietti, Nigel Leo, Aidan Marmion and Kyle Holcomb have all been consistent throughout the season.
Predicted Winner: Pateadores
Real Salt Lake (AZ) (24-6-6)
Vancouver Whitecaps (20-7-4)
Crew SC Academy (13-7-5)
Dallas Texans (13-10-2)
Coincidentally enough, the two Development Academy sides operating as a Residency ended up in the same group. Real Salt Lake and Vancouver are two of the better organizations in the league, both from a results and style perspective. Makeup of the roster for both teams will be something to watch. Taylor Booth, part of the U.S. Under-17 MNT, could play for either RSL’s U16s or 18s, with both in the playoffs. Milan Iloski, bound for UCLA later this year, has emerged as a key finisher for the Casa Grande outfit, as his 14 goals lead the team. The best U18 team in the Pacific Northwest, forward Alan Camacho Soto has 45 goals in the past two seasons in the Development Academy. Michigan recruit Joel Harrison’s involvement could prove to be a vital difference if he makes the trip. Regardless, Vancouver will be a well-prepared, difficult team to beat.
Finishing the season on a seven-game unbeaten run, Crew SC Academy did enough to punch its playoff ticket. Like other pro peers, the Crew were quick to push younger players up to this age group. That included recent Akron verbal commitment Colin Biros, one of a handful of 2000s that will likely make the trip for playoffs. There are some experienced players that should be on hand, including leading scorer Deihnia Sarnor, who is wrapping up a gap year. Storied club team Dallas Texans progressed despite a goal differential of just four. The Frontier Division is no joke, however, and that will likely have the Texans well prepared to pull off an upset or two.
Predicted Winner: Real Salt Lake (AZ)