The IMG Academy soccer program U-18 Boys team travels to North Carolina this Friday with hopes it is just a stopover on the way to California. From June 25-29, Greensboro plays host to thirty-two U-18 Boys teams vying for eight spots in the National Championships at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. Eight groups of four will battle it out with each group winner capturing one of the eight bids.
Only FC Milwaukee, Vardar, and California Development Academy, respectively, stand between the U-18's and a group championship. Vardar is the only semi-familiar team. They have not met on-field this season but did meet in group play on the way to last year's National Tournament. Defensive Center Midfielder Jorge Risquez calls them a physical team. The California Development Academy is ranked eleventh in the nation. Jorge noted this is IMG Academy's last game of group play so they plan to leave everything on the field if necessary to advance.
IMG enters the tournament ranked sixth in the nation with a handful of returners from last year's team that advanced to the National Tournament and finished in third place. Coach Tom Durkin believes that experience will benefit the returners, while the lack of a significant number of returners will challenge the staff. "The ones that are returning to the playoffs can attest to the rigors of playing three competitive matches in four days and how to best manage the stress and regeneration and rest between matches. For the new ones it will be a whole new experience. Therefore it will be up to the technical staff to help them focus and use them in the right conditions so they can make the best impact and contribution that they are capable of."
Following the Spring Showcase in late May, the 20-5-5 team took a well- deserved hiatus before resuming training sessions a couple weeks ago. The team is training well and Coach Durkin is happy with its current form. "The attitude and spirit of the group has been good and they seem to have a good rhythm."
Jorge agrees, noting they have been playing well together. "Our chemistry is the most improved part of our game from beginning of the season until now. With teamwork, we can accomplish a lot because we have very good players. We have a diverse team that mixes well together," said the soon-to-be North Carolina State freshman.
The midfield boasts the majority of the team's goals with Martin Ontiveros tallying 25 alone in league play. But according to Coach Durkin, the team is solid all around, "They are well balanced between attack and defense and the ability to attack thru the middle and on both flanks. The goalkeeping has been solid thru out the 30 league matches," said Durkin. Overall, they are a patient team that works the ball around and builds to create scoring chances.
The Boys play their final match Tuesday morning before returning to IMG that evening. Absent of concrete expectations, midfielder Fernando Mares said the team just hopes to use the Greensboro stage to showcase themselves as one of the best Academy teams and propel themselves to a higher stage in California.