The Development Academy season is off and running, which gives us an excuse to peer into the crystal ball and puzzle out which teams look like serious contenders this season. Here’s a look at three Development Academy squads loaded down with pro prospect talent. We start, of course, with a core group of defending champs poised to repeat down south.
FC Dallas U18
The true measure of a prime academy is what it does with the talent it incubates. Most MLS academies in the country have had quality players filter through their ranks. But the question then becomes what the integration of the academy and senior team means for them. FC Dallas made history last week when it started five Homegrown players in a match it won 3-0 over the Columbus Crew. Under Oscar Pareja’s care, it was a watershed moment for the league and a sign of what can happen when the system is heavily integrated and young players are given a chance.
The transition from U16 to U18 is a smaller thing, but it’s still significant, and FCD is the place to look this year. The U16 team became the first team to shut out the Red Bulls in 2014-15 in the championship match and won the title, and many of those players matriculated to the U18 level for this season. The team lurched off the blocks with a 1-0 win over Solar Chelsea on Aug. 29 thanks to an Edwin Munjoma goal. Munjoma was a starter in the U16 finale, and he’s joined at the U18 level by talent like Devin Vega, Brandon Terwege and Ben Hale. This team should be something to watch this season.
Weston FC U16
They didn’t get a ton of publicity because they were in the U14 ranks last season, but the bulk of this crew was silly good in 2014-15. They went 24-3-7 and sported impressive wins over player factories like PDA and a hard-won draw against a New York Red Bulls U14 team that’s as loaded as any in the country. This Weston FC team stood toe-to-toe with all of them. Last summer, Weston FC’s U14 team was rewarded with a trip to England to play in the Manchester United Premier Cup. Needless to say, the players graduating into the U16 team should be an impressive lot.
There’s a ton of talent abounding here, but perhaps the name to keep in mind is Nicolas Garcia-Morillo, who poured in 23 goals in in 34 games last year. Nobody else played that many, and nobody else scored that many either. Unleashing that amount of talent on the U16 division should be interesting, to say the least. Which of his teammates make the step with him and which makes the DA his playground will be an interesting thing to monitor. But the certainty here is that this group coming through right now is perhaps the most talented in the country. Anywhere.
Chicago Magic U18
Even though much of its roster turned over from last year, the Magic’s U18 team might win a most improved award in 2015-16. It isn’t that the U18 team was bad last year, or that the U16 team now swelling its ranks was unbeatable, but the fit of the old and the new should make this team one to watch this season. If for no other reason than for Emmanuel Sabbi. The feared U20 striker could miss some club time this season as he’s folded into Tab Ramos’ new U20 MNT cycle, but he’ll play enough to put the fear of God into opposing back lines.
That isn’t all, though. A Magic team made up of many of these players won the US Youth Soccer U17 national championship over the summer, which undoubtedly helped them gel. So as players like rocksteady center back Lyes Ghezali and metronomic midfielders Luka Prpa and Jesus Perez return, this team seems as well positioned to succeed and produce quality next level players as any. Also, keep in mind this team was young last year. Less than half of the players who saw playing time were 1996s, which means a more mature team this year. Look out.