AFC AJAX, FC Barcelona,
Liverpool FC, China U-17, FC Bayern Munich, AC Milan, RSC Anderlecht, and FC
Dallas. Quite an impressive lineup, and quite a milestone for Youth Soccer in
the U.S. and the FC Dallas U-16 boys who represented their team, their league,
and their country last week in the Netherlands.
The Aegon Future Cup, hosted by AFC Ajax at de Toekomst training center in Amsterdam, was an impressive and exceptional youth tournament that invited only eight of the top soccer clubs from around the world to participate.
“The tournament, it was fantastic,” Oscar Pareja, Director of Player Development and FCD Juniors head coach, said. “It was first class. The level of play was very professional and the competition was as well.”
The FC Dallas Juniors were invited by Ajax and selected by Major League Soccer to participate in the prestigious event – an honor that Chris Hayden, Director of Coaching for FC Dallas Youth, said was a tribute to their hard work and first place performance in their division of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league last season.
“MLS was interested in
sending a team that would represent the league and the United States in terms
of soccer development on the biggest stage,” Hayden said, “and I felt like the
kids responded well to that.”
The Juniors started the tournament on a slow and likely jetlagged foot, losing their first game to RSC Anderlecht 4-1. Alex Frankenfeld scored the lone goal for FCD, and Pareja said it showed the team was somewhat unsure of what to expect in the first game.
“The first game was the one
that I did not like,” he said. “The boys showed nervousness and stress with the
fact that they didn’t know what to make of the tournament, the high
competition. They didn’t experience it before.”
Day two was notably different. The nerves quickly wore off and the boys played with the same level of talent and flair they are known for in the U.S. Jonathan Top scored the only goal of the game, giving the team a 1-0 victory over AC Milan.
“The boys played their best,”
Pareja said. “It was an excellent game. It showed our potential. It showed we
can not only compete, but we can win.”
Less than two hours after winning the game over AC Milan, the team faced Bayern Munich, where fatigued legs did not stop the FCD Juniors from battling hard on the field. In the end they lost a hard-fought battle 2-0 to the German side.
The game-packed format of the tournament was vastly different from what the team was used to. “Playing four games in three days is tough no matter who your opponents are,” said midfielder Marco Carrizales. “But these teams were pretty much the most talented we have ever faced.”
Day three’s schedule held none other than FC Barcelona for the Juniors side. Their play was good, but not quite good enough - they were defeated 2-1, with Michael Ambrose scoring FC Dallas’ lone goal.
Overall, the tournament was not so much about results as it was the competitive experience for young American – and FC Dallas in particular – players. In that regard, the FC Dallas coaches and staff agreed the event was an overwhelming success.
“I was very pleased with the performance of the boys,” Pareja said. “The experience was incredible. These kinds of competitions are the ones that are going to takes us to another level and the kind of competitions where we can measure ourselves.”
“You have to put things in perspective first and foremost,” explained Chris Clarke, Director of the FC Dallas Academy. “A lot of these clubs, the teams that were there, besides the Chinese national team and FC Dallas, those clubs have been around for a hundred years in a professional environment developing players, and FC Dallas as a club has only been around since 1996,” he said.
“As a youth club, in terms of
what we actually do with the juniors we’re only two years old. So to
answer the question how did we do, we did phenomenal in comparison. In fact, player
for player we matched up well with the more experienced European squads.”
As a result of exposing the FCD Juniors to a higher level of play, Hayden said he expects the players’ development and confidence to grow. “I know the trip will help our team individually and collectively.”
Overall, the FC Dallas Juniors coaches and staff agreed that the best way for the Academy players to gain valuable experience like they received in the Future Cup is to continue to play high level competition while working to get the level of play in the United States to an approximation of the level in Europe.
The FC Dallas U-16 Juniors return to the pitch on April 17th against Andromeda at 1:00 p.m. Central at the Andromeda training facility in Plano, Texas.
Stay tuned to FCDallas.com for more coverage of the FCD Juniors.