The U.S. Soccer Development Academy season kicks off on Saturday for the U15/U16 and U17/U18 age groups. The Academy is entering its 10th season, and will each passing year new players emerge from the crowd. Either those players use the platform to get recognition from Youth National Team coaches or they launch off into academies abroad in hopes of finding new opportunities.
This season marks the last for the Development Academy as a boys-only league, as the girls side will join the fray in 2017. With the spotlight firmly pointed at the boys, the Development Academy has a number of possible candidates for players who could be on their way to being the next Weston McKennie or Brooks Lennon or among the others who have used this platform to jump to the next level.
TopDrawerSoccer highlights some candidates below.
Paxton Pomykal (12/17/1999), FC Dallas U18
McKennie’s former club mate has been a standout with FC Dallas for the past couple of seasons. Pomykal’s chance in the spotlight this year might be as the marquee player in one of the Development Academy’s best clubs. Over the summer, the midfielder assumed the role as one of the best on the U.S. U18 Men’s National Team. His quality on the ball plus his understanding of the system in place with U18 MNT head coach Omid Namazi made him one of the best at the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in the Czech Republic in Aug. At the club level, he already made the jump up to the U18 squad with FC Dallas as he was a key piece of the team’s run to the championship last season. Pomykal’s soccer intelligence sets him apart from most, and makes him one of the top prospects to watch in the Development Academy this year.
Taylor Booth (5/31/2001), Real Salt Lake AZ U16
Last season, Booth only featured in 17 games for the residency in Arizona. He figures to be a more important piece of the puzzle for RSL this season as one of the top 2001s in U.S. Soccer. The 15-year-old had a busy summer. In July, he took part in the adidas ESP event in San Jose and was one of the standouts from that event among the best players from MLS academies. In August, he earned a chance with the U.S. U17 Men’s National Team during the camp in Utah. Kendall Edwards and Booth were the two players born in 2001 to make the 24-player roster for the event. While Booth did not make the 20-player roster for the tournament in Mexico City, there is still a lot of promise in his game and his future with the U.S. national team program. The midfielder has the prototypical game for MLS, and looks like he is cut from a similar cloth as current U17 MNT captain Chris Durkin. Booth’s strengths are not quite the same as Durkin’s, the younger one is more likely to play the simple pass while the older version has shown his preference for spreading the field with long-range missiles. Booth’s game will be under the microscope in the Academy as national team scouts see how he progresses with RSL and assess whether he is ready to help the U17s now or his role with the national team will have to wait for another major event in the future.
Efrain Alvarez (6/19/2002), LA Galaxy U16
It’s easy to select Alvarez because he is the prized pupil of the Southern California powerhouse academy. However, he should be viewed in a different light than the rest. Being cast as the next breakout star in the Development Academy is almost a disservice to the Galaxy’s attacking talent. Alvarez is closer to filling the shoes as the future of U.S. Soccer. There are things that Alvarez does on the field that seem impossible for a 16-year-old, and then you realize that he is only 14 years old and the glass ceiling is shattered. Alvarez is going to have a lot of pressure on him. With each passing season, the notoriety with his name grows and the attention on him only amplifies. He benefits from his environment in the sense that he is challenged in practice among older peers that can still best him at this point in their careers. If Alvarez were cast in a smaller pool, he might be playing in the U18 age group already and the room for growth could possibly be capped at that stage. Galaxy provides him a shield because he is not asked to be the lone star of the show for the whole Academy. He is asked to be the best on his team and grow at that pace while he puts the rest of the pieces together. Alvarez has been a special talent for sometime, and his place in the Development Academy should not be taken for granted.
Kellan Landefeld (1/23/2001), Crew SC Academy Wolves U16
Landefeld earns his spot on this list as one of the top prospects from the Crew Academy. Landefeld features on the Crew’s satellite affiliate Wolves in Michigan, and was one of the standouts from the Development Academy playoffs in Dallas in June. Deployed as wide midfielder, Landefeld possesses the skill and vision to trouble any defense. His sensational ability on the ball should make him one to watch in the Mid-America Division in 2016/2017.
Julian Gaines (11/5/2002), Lonestar SC U16
The younger brother of former U.S. U17 winger McKinze Gaines has been making a name for himself in recent season. Julian was a star with the Lonestar U14 team in 2015/2016. His dynamic pace and close control proved to be too much for most defenders in the Central Conference of the Development Academy. Now, he is the only 2002 listed on the Lonestar SC U16 team for the current season. The young gun might be the best of the bunch though. His brother made the leap from the Academy to the Bundesliga U19 league for this season, and has been on fire through the first few weeks of the season. The younger Gaines has to wait before making his next step, so his development this season will be critical as Lonestar looks to grow as an Academy in the competitive Frontier Division.
Alex Bobocea (10/14/2002), New York Red Bulls U16
The U.S. Youth National Team goalkeeper earned a spot on the Red Bulls U16 team for this season. Playing up an age group, Bobocea will have to fight for playing time, but the Red Bulls have been one of the best academies at developing players for the next level. Bobocea earns the shout for the group this season, as he seems to be getting the opportunities to prove that he is ready for bigger tests. Bobocea was part of the U15 BNT trip to Croatia in May and he also made the roster for the adidas ESP event.
Josh Burnett (5/28/1999), Players Development Academy U18
Burnett was one of the standouts of the PDA team from the run to the national semifinals last season. The dribbling master plays for one of the best academies in the Development Academy and will be the focal point of the team. Last season, PDA was a springboard to the next level with James Murphy (Sheffield Wednesday) and Isaiah Young (Unattached) using the platform to go onto explore other options. Burnett seems like the most likely to follow in their footsteps.