On paper, few teams at the 2012 Development Academy Playoffs could come close to equaling the talent of the FC Dallas U18 squad.
Joining top prospects like Kellyn Acosta (Maryland commit), Michael Ambrose (Maryland) and Danny Garcia (North Carolina) on the team last week were full-time professionals Richard Sanchez and Jonathan Top.
The team cruised through its three games, as the U18s posted a 3-0 record against quality opponents, won the group, and didn’t concede a goal at the Academy Playoffs.
“I thought it went very well,” U18 head coach Chris Hayden told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “We obviously had high expectations coming into this season, that’s never easy.”
After dominating the regular season Development Academy season schedule with a record of 27-4-3, FC Dallas got the better of Real Salt Lake-AZ (1-0), McLean Youth Soccer (3-0) and Sockers FC (3-0) at the playoffs.
The key for Hayden was not just the team’s ability to defend, but also to keep the ball.
“We didn’t allow any goals, and it’s always easier to win when you’re not giving up goals,” he said. “I thought defensively we were very strong, also our possession helped us. We managed all three games well with the ball and were able to limit our opponents’ chances.”
Added Top: “I think we did really well last week. The most important thing is that we were really solid defensively.”
One of the most difficult tests of the week came in the 1-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake, as FC Dallas controlled possession for most of the game yet were unable to put away more than one chance, as Garcia missed a few gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal.
That blemish aside, Hayden came away pleased with the way his side handled all three challenges.
“I felt like the boys executed the game plan in all three games,” he said. “It was really three separate game plans – not adjusting to the opponent – but certainly understanding what they are good at being able to limit them and their chances, and also us being true to our style.”
Of course FC Dallas also had the advantage of playing in familiar territory. As the FC Dallas complex in Frisco hosted the games, players stayed at home, didn’t have to take a long trip either by plane or bus, and were all able to easily adjust to the hot conditions of North Texas.
Add to that the experience that players like Acosta and Garcia possess with their time with U.S. youth national teams (Acosta with the U17s and Garcia with the U20s) and it’s little wonder FCD was able to progress from their group, easily able to adapt to grinding out three results in four days.
“We have a lot of guys that have played at various national teams and they’re accustomed to going on trips and playing multiple games over a few days and having to play at a very high level on successive days, for instance,” Hayden said. “Similarly, a lot of the kids in the 18 team have been in our Academy for three or four years, so this is absolutely not new to them.”
The prospect of another trip to Finals Week – FCD’s fourth in the four years of the Academy – comes with the chance to win a first DA title for a number of the U18s. Eleven of the 18 players who were involved in last year’s U18 Final are set to return Finals Week, including Ambrose, Garcia and Acosta.
“Some of these kids have been a part of multiple trips to the finals, and I sense that the boys wanted to get back there,” Hayden said. “Obviously it was our goal to get back there, back into the finals, but there is a sense of unfinished business.
“I know we’re going to face some very good opponents in Houston, and obviously we’re going to be very focused on those teams, but there is a bigger goal, and I even mentioned it to one of our [coaches] that it didn’t look like we had won anything [after the third game]. I think we were expecting to get there but also focused on the preparation in the next couple of weeks, knowing that we were going to have to work hard and get ourselves ready to go.”
Acosta, a member of the U17 World Cup squad last year, spent the week playing up with the 18s despite also being able to play for the younger age group at the Development Academy. Regardless of his age, he impressed Hayden.
“He’s a really talented player, a kid training with the first team a lot, scored a goal in the last reserve match,” Hayden said. “He’s with the reserves, he’s got a huge, huge future, obviously we’re really happy to have him a part of our 18s this past week and then on to the finals.”
Finals Week won’t be easy as FC Dallas is set to face in state rivals Solar Chelsea SC, Baltimore Bays Chelsea and Chivas USA down in Houston starting the week of July 16.