Earlier this week, the U16 age group punched its collective ticket to the Development Academy Finals later this month in Carson, Calif.
On Thursday, the U18s followed suit.
After a season fraught with the requisite ups and downs, an 80-team U18 DA field was whittled down to just four by Thursday’s end. FC Dallas, Nomads, the Vancouver Whitecaps and PDA round out the field for The Academy Championships on July 14-16 at StubHub Center in SoCal. For FC Dallas, Thursday was especially monumental as it marked the second team it put in the final four in as many days. Both the U16 and U18 teams have a chance the sweep DA titles, which would be a first in academy history.
There are also two former champions in the mix, as FC Dallas (2012) and PDA (2014) both have won U18 championships in the past. That’s in stark contrast to Nomads, which is making its first ever appearance on this stage after finishing third in the Southwest Division and with just the 19th-best overall record in the DA. The Whitecaps, meanwhile, have astoundingly lost just one match all season and ride a 33-match unbeaten streak into Carson.
Their one loss? Against Nomads.
Here’s a look at how each of the four sides in the finals booked their spots.
Nomads 2-1 Real Salt Lake
Nomads and RSL split the regular season series 1-1-1, but Nomads came out ahead in their crucial quarterfinal tilt thanks to a fast start and a suffocating defense that stymied one of the DA's best attacks.
Nomads got off to a scorching start, as Robert Castellanos redirected a free kick for a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the match. RSL did its best to level terms, and they got a gilt-edged chance off a free kick in the 53rd minute that went begging. Nomads punished them for their profligacy, as Adam Vargas tapped home a well-taken through ball in the 75th to double the lead.
RSL pulled one back in the depths of stoppage time on a penalty kick in the 96th minute, but they didn't leave themselves enough time for a comeback. As a result, Nomads moved into the final four for the first time.
FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City
A mad finish put the capper on a game that was decidedly more interesting than the low score line would suggest.
FC Dallas and SKC sparred for 90 minutes without release, as FCD had the better of the chances and, at one point midway through the first half, hit the crossbar twice in rapid succession. The match hit halftime with no goals, and then full time, and then got through the first halftime of extra time without a release valve. As the match plunged toward its terminus, it seemed destined for penalties.
And then the miraculous happened for FCD. A goal.
In the 108th minute, the third minute of the second stoppage period, Giovanni Montesdeoca cleaned up a loose ball after a free kick in the SKC box and drove it into the upper netting. Rocked back on its heels, SKC couldn't find the equalizer over the final 12 minutes, and the nucleus of the FCD U16 side that won the national title last year has a chance for another at the U18 tier in 2016.
Vancouver Whitecaps 5-3 Sacramento Republic
Games at this stage can tend to clam up as teams get tight with so much on the line. That certainly wasn't the case in this West Coast clash, as the Whitecaps and Sacramento Republic poured on a combined eight goals in a fun-to-watch barn-burner.
The Whitecaps got off to a roaring start when Daniel Sagno scored in just the second minute of the match. But the Republic, on the verge of their first ever final four, leveled terms in the 32nd minute off a well-struck free kick by Ryley Kraft. That touched off the firestorm. The Whitecaps hit back a minute later behind midfielder Thomas Gardner for a 2-1 lead, which is how it stayed into half.
Yet again, the Republic evened the match, this time 10 minutes into the second half on a goal from second half sub Francis Avoce. And yet again, the Whitecaps retook the lead a mere minute later. Gloire Amanda cleaned up a ball in the box for a 3-2 lead the Whitecaps, finally, would not relinquish. Terran Campbell added the fourth, and Andre Baires put the cake-topper on with the fifth with 20 minutes to go.
The Republic pulled one back with 15 minutes left via Gio Aguilar, but they couldn't halt a Whitecaps unbeaten streak that now stands at 33 headed into Carson.
Philadelphia Union 1-3 PDA
Just two years removed from their first ever national title, PDA dropped a steady Union side to inch closer to making it two in three years.
The match was an exciting one, as both generated a bevy of chances. PDA managed to strike the first blow, as Josh Burnett finished a fine bit of individual skill by beating the keeper in a one-on-one for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute. The Union fairly dominated the next 15 minutes, pouring on an immense amount of pressure before finally getting a reward with a penalty kick. Yosef Samuel finished the penalty low and to the right and the game was level.
But that was as close as the Union got. A bad Union giveaway in their own box led to a PDA penalty, and Burnett finished coolly for his second goal and a lead PDA never relinquished. The Union did their best to level terms with sustained pressure, but PDA was not to be denied.
Just days after providing the decisive assist for the U.S. U20 MNT in a 2-1 win over Japan to take the NTC Invitational title, Isaiah Young polished off a chance from close range to put the game away in the 63rd minute. That gave PDA a 3-1 lead, and the Union couldn't snag another goal to make it interesting late.