Hundreds of club teams battled throughout the winter and spring, with 32 club soccer teams in the U-16 and U-18 groups earning a trip to Greensboro this past weekend for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs. The top team from all eight divisions (four teams in each division) in each age group make the final round in California's Home Depot Center.
U-18s Day 1 (IMG 4, Vardar 2)
For the U-18 boys, the request from coach Tom Durkin to his 18-man roster was simple, "Since we are here, we might as well win."
A 6 p.m. Friday kickoff was on the mind of the team all day and once the whistle blew, it was time to let out all of that energy. Quick fluid movement through team captain Luis Ocejo pushed the attack and no time was wasted getting on the score board, with Reinaldo Brenes putting IMG up 1-0 in the 2nd minute. But Vardar didn't falter, and an unexpected counter attack led to a 1-1 game at halftime.
During the break, though, something changed within the team. As a storm brewed in the distance and rain coming, it was a back-and-forth battle until substitute Fernando Mares entered the game and put IMG up 2-1. The smell of victory was quickly ended by a Vardar cross that found the head of their forward to tie the match at 2-2.
Who would step up? Enter Tyler Currence.
No more than five minutes after coming onto the pitch, Tyler caught the end of a cross by Brenes and put IMG up 3-2. Pounding rain flooded the pitch, and IMG put a nail in the coffin came with two minutes left in the game, as Luis Calzadilla beat his man one on one to score and give IMG a 4-2 win.
U-18s Day 2 (IMG 3, Richmond Strikers 1)
With both teams entering the game with one win each, IMG and Richmond knew that this match could likely decide the winner of the group.
Just like against Vardar, Brenes gave IMG a well-needed fast start.
Brenes shocked the crowd after launching a high, curling shot from 30 yards out that beat the Strikers' goalkeeper into the side netting. Miguel Medina and Benny Barshai kept the offense going by playing wide and constantly looking for that elusive through ball behind the defense.
Richmond took advantage of their one quality chance in the first half, streaking down the right wing and connecting inside IMG's box - tying the game 1-1 heading into halftime.
Five halftime substitutes raised the level of play for IMG. Captain Luis Ocejo scored the final two goals for IMG propelling them to a 3-1 victory of Richmond. With one game left vs. FC DELCO Monday afternoon, the Home Depot Center is within sight. You can expect a well-rested IMG side to come out Monday, June 29, with a purpose... California or bust!
U-16s Days 1 and 2
Facing two of the top teams in the country, the U-16s fell 4-0 to the NY Red Bulls on Friday and 2-1 to the Chicago Fire on Saturday. The boys will finish their tournament against FC Westchester on Monday.