The Development Academy playoffs kick off next week in Westfield, Indiana. The U18 age group is the pinnacle of the Academy structure and a point of pride for all clubs to show the progress that players make while playing for their respective outfits.
This year’s U18 playoff has the normal favorites, but it also has some new surprises this season. Which teams will emerge from the first round of the playoffs? TopDrawerSoccer takes a look at all 32 teams.
D.C. United (18-6-2)
Resume: Second place in Atlantic Division, No. 8 overall seed
Scoop: The D.C. United U18 squad is one of the most exciting groups to pass through the MLS team’s youth program. With a number of top prospects and national team hopefuls, D.C. United finished in the top eight in the national standings and earned the right to be the top seed in a group. While some of the notable names on the roster have garnered plenty of attention this season, the key has been the depth surrounding those players accord to head coach Thomas Torres. “Overall, the group has a lot of depth at each position,” Torres told TopDrawerSoccer. “Whenever we have had an injury or dips in form, players stepped in without missing a beat. Training, since September, has continued to be extremely competitive and many of the players are responsible for keeping the sessions very intense.”
Vancouver Whitecaps (19-5-8)
Resume: Fourth place in Northwest Division, No. 1 wildcard
Scoop: The Whitecaps already accomplished a big part of the Academy’s goal by pushing Marco Bustos forward to a professional contract. The talented midfielder is the leading scorer on the team despite only playing in 12 games this season. Whitecaps have only won seven games in 2015 out of 18, which is a bit of a concern in terms of form heading into the playoffs.
Shattuck-Saint Mary’s (13-3-11)
Resume: Second place in Mid-America Division
Scoop: Shattuck-Saint Mary’s has fairly consistently been in the playoff hunt since its arrival in the Development Academy. Given that experience, head coach Tim Carter highlighted how his team needed to improve in order to win Group A and advance to the next round. “Play-offs require your team to find another level of play,” Carter told TopDrawerSoccer. “Every team is capable of winning on the day and while you have to be confident in your own abilities, you also need to make sure that you are mentally ready for the opponent’s best effort. ”
Oakwood Soccer Club (10-8-8)
Resume: Third place in Northeast Division
Scoop: Oakwood Soccer Club needed a little help to get into the playoffs. With New England Revolution’s loss in it’s final game of the season, Oakwood nabbed the final spot from the Northeast Division. The late arrival does not correlate to an early exit from the postseason. There is a talented group of players in this Oakwood team, which could be a good recipe to pull off a surprise in Indiana.
Real Salt Lake-AZ (32-3-4)
Resume: Champions of Southwest Division, No. 2 overall seed
Scoop: RSL-AZ already smashed the goals scored record for the Development Academy. Is a National Championship next? The first step is in Indiana where Real Salt Lake is trying to keep the good times rolling. “I think the key for us in the playoffs is to continue to play the RSL way where the team is the star,” RSL coach Tony Bruce told TopDrawerSoccer. “Staying humble and working hard for each other. That is what got them to where they are now and it will their motivation going forward.”
FC Dallas (15-6-6)
Resume: Third place in Frontier Division
Scoop: FC Dallas’ team has been close to a revolving door this season. Players have gone in and out and in again as FC Dallas plucked the best pieces from this age group up to the first team and eyed some of the others for different opportunities. Only two players on the roster have appeared in more than 85% of the games, so cohesion could be an issue in Indiana.
Chicago Magic PSG (14-6-7)
Resume: Third place in Mid-America Division
Scoop: Chicago Magic’s greatest strength is the attack. The Illinois club tallied 71 goals this season, which was the best in the Mid-America Division. Typically, that’d be enough to give a team a fighter’s chance in a group but RSL-AZ is a machine in goal scoring so the Magic defense will need to be ready.
Concorde Fire (17-12-7)
Resume: Fifth place in Southeast Division, No. 10 wildcard
Scoop: A win over GA United on the final day of the regular season sent Concorde Fire into the playoffs as one of the last wildcard teams. The Georgia club has relied on a core group of players throughout the season will need that group to step up now they have made it into the playoffs and the level is higher.
Resume: Second in Southwest Division, No. 7 overall seed
Scoop: Pateadores have been one of the surprises of the 2014-2015 Development Academy season. In the shadow of LA Galaxy, Chivas USA, and Real Salt Lake AZ in the Southwest Division, Pateadores have quietly put together an impressive team capable of playing attractive soccer. It has not been easy though. “We lost three key players to season ending injuries half way through the season,” Pateadores Academy Director Teddy Chronopoulos told TopDrawerSoccer. “So I would say our depth has been key and our commitment/work rate as a group.”
Resume: Third in Atlantic Division
Scoop: Can PDA defend it’s national championship? The quest starts in Group C of the Development Academy playoffs. PDA only has a few returners from that team, but they make up the spine of the squad. Anderson Asiedu and James Murphy are one of the best midfield pairings in the Development Academy.
Colorado Rush (14-7-6)
Resume: Fourth in Frontier Division, No. 2 wildcard
Scoop: For Rush to be successful in Indiana, the Frontier Division squad will need to be problem solvers. “We know that each match is going to pose different problems,” Colorado Rush head coach Sean Bushey told TopDrawerSoccer. “We are going to have to be good at solving those problems if we are going to succeed.” Experience from last season’s team, that made it to the quarterfinal round, should help Rush figure out how to navigate a difficult Group C.
Sockers FC (12-7-8)
Resume: Fifth in Mid-America Division, No. 7 wildcard
Scoop: Sockers have relied on a consistent group of players this season with five players starting over 90% of the games for the team. The reliance on that handful of players helped the Illinois club into the postseason. Dockers will need a cohesive unit in order to excel in Indiana.
Capital Area Railhawks (26-4-6)
Resume: Champions of Southeast Division, No. 4 overall seed
Scoop: The Capital Area, or CASL, assembly line produced a top notch squad in the U18 age group this season. The Railhawks Academy team is a dominant team with the ball and an unrelenting group without it. “With the 18’s, we are a very hard working – process oriented group,” Capital Area Railhawks head coach John Bradford told TopDrawerSoccer. “The players have bought in to our style of play and we are at our best when the boys collectively fight for one another and for the common goal of winning each game.”
Seattle Sounders (20-6-6)
Resume: Second in Northwest Division
Scoop: The Sounders’ success has come at the detriment of the academy team. The individuals who have excelled over the course of the past few seasons with the Sounders have been pushed up toward the Sounders 2 team, which made the second half of the season a bit of a problem for the U18 team. “Our U18s have been very consistent until the last month or so,” Sounders Academy Director Marc Nicholls told TopDrawerSoccer. “With many top players playing for our S2 team, the group has been unsettled of late, all in all a good problem!”
Real So Cal (21-12-6)
Resume: Fourth in Southwest Division, No. 3 wildcard
Scoop: Real So Cal sent a player onto the U.S. U23 Men’s National Team this year. Defender Sam Strong appeared for the U23s last month at the Toulon Tournament after being a part of Real So Cal for the first half of the season before enrolling at UC Santa Barbara. The Strong scenario is a microcosm of the season for Real So Cal, which has had good players, but has not enjoyed the luxury of having those players all the time. “We had a lot of different obstacles this year and we used a large pool of players within our club,” Real So Cal coach Zachary Feldman told TopDrawerSoccer. “I would say the key to our success was our clubs depth of players that where able to come in and help out at the academy level. We had a few players that really developed over the course of this season and became starters for our team and impacted our season at very key moments.”
Solar Chelsea SC (13-7-7)
Resume: Sixth in Frontier Division, No. 6 wildcard
Scoop: There are only 16 players on the Solar Chelsea SC roster, which makes it one of the smallest in the Development Academy but it has hardly mattered. The Texas team navigated a tough division to book a spot in the postseason and now takes on a difficult group in the playoffs in Indiana.
Montreal Impact (22-2-2)
Resume: Champions of the Northeast Division, No. 1 overall seed
Scoop: Impact enters the postseason with an 11-game winning streak. The Canadian club is rolling right along thanks to a defense that has only let in 17 goals this season, which is by far the best in the Development Academy.
Kendall SC (23-10-3)
Resume: Second in Southeast Division
Scoop: The Florida club enjoyed a balanced attack this season with six players score seven or more goals. That helped Kendall rack up 85 goals over the course of the season. The challenges ahead for Kendall in a difficult group will be using those multiple options to stay unpredictable and escape the suffocating Impact defense.
LA Galaxy (22-11-6)
Resume: Third in Southwest Division
Scoop: After getting smashed 7-0 by River Plate at Dallas Cup, LA Galaxy finished the Development Academy season with a 7-4-1 record. It was not a convincing end to the campaign for the banner franchise of Los Angeles. The playoffs trip to Indiana could go either way though. The talented group of players could rally and prolong this season into July or it could be an unceremonious end for a number of players who already won a national championship last summer at the U16 age group.
Philadelphia Union (12-8-6)
Resume: Fourth in Atlantic Division, No. 8 wildcard
Scoop: The playoff draw was not kind to the Union. The opening game will be a rematch against Impact, which was a 4-1 win in favor of the Canadian side. If Union want revenge, the rematch will need to be a much better effort as a team against a well-organized side.
New York Red Bulls (19-4-3)
Resume: Champions of the Atlantic Division, No. 4 overall seed
Scoop: Red Bulls ended the season with a 10-1 win over Baltimore Bays Chelsea. BW Gottschee, Red Bulls’ first opponent in Indiana, only scored 40 goals all season. The Red Bulls attack is capable of bursting out in any game, but the team can also be frustrated.
Chicago Fire (14-4-9)
Resume: Champions of the Mid-America Division
Scoop: At times, the Chicago Fire struggled to find its form this season. But the team preserved in a difficult division and ended up as champions. The talent on paper is greater than the record indicates, which makes this a group that should challenge for the top spot in the group.
Sporting KC (14-8-5)
Resume: Fifth in Frontier Division, No. 4 wildcard
Scoop: After losing their first two games on 2015, Sporting KC only lost once over the next 15 games. The hot streak helped the team clinch a spot in the playoffs. The offense has been a focal point for Sporting KC, as the team has only managed to shut out one team in its last 20 games.
BW Gottschee (13-8-5)
Resume: Second in Northeast Division
Scoop: BW Gottschee is one of the lower ranked teams in the playoffs, but there are some things working in the New York club’s favor. BW Gottschee already defeated Sporting KC this season when the teams played in Florida in December with Callum Johnson and Grant Burg scoring in a 2-1 win. The history might come in handy as BW Gottschee faces off against Sporting KC in the final game of group play.
San Jose Earthquakes (23-7-3)
Resume: Champions of the Northwest Division, No. 6 overall seed
Scoop: San Jose Earthquakes ripped, rattled, and roared to the top spot in the Northwest Division this season. The Bay Area franchise’s roster is highlighted by youth national team standouts, which has been a growing trend at the club.
Texas Rush (17-3-7)
Resume: Second in Frontier Division
Scoop: Texas Rush was another surprise side this season. The team kept pace with Houston Dynamo for the top spot in the Frontier Division, but came up just a couple of points short of winning it. The successful campaign has been a point of pride for the club. “The team concept as itself, boys are willing to sacrifice what they had for what they wanted to be,” Texas Rush head coach Alejandro Cardenas told TopDrawerSoccer when asked about his team’s success this season. “[The key to success in Indiana is] hard work, discipline/structure and show their talent in that order.”
Indiana Fire Academy (14-8-5)
Resume: Fourth in Mid-America Division, No. 5 wildcard
Scoop: Indiana Fire Academy depended on goalkeeper Ryan Clark to lead the way in Florida during the winter showcase, but did not provide much help for him. If Fire can help him, the team could prove to be a troublesome matchup.
Charlotte Soccer Academy (16-10-10)
Resume: Fourth in Southeast Division, No. 9 wildcard
Scoop: Since the turn of the new year, Charlotte Soccer Academy has been on a roll. With the confidence that comes in a hot streak, Charlotte has eyes on a strong showing in Group G.
“Our success has been our consistency in 2015 having lost only three games in 19,” Charlotte Soccer Academy Director Richard Butler told TopDrawerSoccer. “It has meant a confidence has been building with every game over the course of this calendar year. The team has been very focused at training and in games to play a certain style that has led to good productivity on the field.”
Houston Dynamo (19-5-3)
Resume: Champions of Frontier Division, No. 5 overall seed
Scoop: It’s a simple recipe for the Houston Dynamo side in Indiana according to Academy Direction James Clarkson. “We need to stay humble and be the hardest working team,” Clarkson told TopDrawerSoccer. It helps that Dynamo has one of the best midfielders in the country in Christian Lucatero too.
Crossfire Premier (20-6-6)
Resume: Third in Northwest Division
Scoop: A coaching change normally derails a season, but Crossfire Premier’s season went the opposite direction, which was a testament to the players and the support from the club. “This year's U-17/18 group has been a real source of pride for us, performing well on the field and off, overcoming all sorts of challenges, including injuries, other player moves and a coaching change, all while playing consistently excellent soccer,” Crossfire Director Bernie James told TopDrawerSoccer. “The team has gone on a great run since Mark Collings' taken over and are playing their best soccer yet."
Orlando City SC (19-9-8)
Resume: Third in Southeast Division
Scoop: Orlando City did a great job of pulling the local talent back home after many had left the area to find Development Academy opportunities. With the local players back in the club, Orlando City is looking at a bright future and a chance to make some noise in the playoffs this season.
Resume: Sixth in Mid-America Division, No. 11 wildcard
Scoop: Vardar finished the season with a pair of losses, but had just enough to hold onto a spot in the playoffs thanks to the last wildcard position. The Michigan club will need a change in form if it hopes to emerge from Group H.