The pitch at Pizza Hut Park was busy Saturday, hosting not just the FC Dallas first team’s match against DC United, but also the FCD Juniors match against the U-17 U.S. Men’s National Team. The Juniors were able to set the winning trend early, coming from behind to down the USMNT 2-1.
The match was part of a 10-game tour by the USMNT to face top Development Academy Clubs around the nation, including the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew Academy teams in addition to FC Dallas.
“I think we played a very, very good game – there was a very good level of soccer between both teams,” Wilmer Cabrera, U.S. U-17 MNT head coach, said after the match. “FC Dallas is well-known to play good soccer, so it’s very positive for our kids to come over here, play at the stadium and in the stadium environment and play a good team at the same time.”
The FC Dallas Juniors rostered 19 players for the match – a mix of their U-16 and U-18 squads – four of whom have been a part of a national team roster (Richard Sanchez, Marlon Duran, Jose Perez and Jonathan Top). Kellyn Acosta, a current member of the U-17 MNT, is also an FCD Juniors player and was among the starting XI for the U.S. squad on Saturday.
“Its helped me improve greatly, practicing against top-notch players every day,” Acosta said of his experience as part of the U.S. MNT residency program. “But I love playing with FC Dallas. It’s great; I love the team and all the people. I love playing with them.”
Coaches and players on both sides of the pitch agreed that the experience was an important one.
“It means a lot to us,” said Luna, whose goal in the 85th minute tied the score for the FCD Juniors before an own goal from the U.S. in stoppage time sealed the victory. “The team was good, a good selected team. I think we were a little stronger, a little more physical, but in the attack to goal we were pretty evenly matched.”
The evenness of the two sides could also be attributed to a common denominator; FCD Juniors head coach Oscar Pareja grew up playing with Cabrera in their native country of Colombia. It was the first time the two had faced each other as head coaches.
“We share the same philosophy, the way we see things with the game, so having him at the other side of the bench was one of those great experiences,” Pareja said. “I think for us, the second half went much better. The first half was a little slow, but the boys figured out how to change their rhythm and make things better.
“We’re happy to get the win, especially facing a national team.”
The U.S. U-17 MNT will wrap up their tour of Development Academies on May 22 when they face the Houston Dynamo’s developmental squad, and Cabrera says the experience gained is essential in developing the next generation of American soccer players.
“It’s tough for them because the teams they face are usually two or three years older,” Cabrera said, “but that’s the good thing. They need to match up with the quality and speed and try to figure out how to beat them playing soccer. It works very well for us because we, at the end, develop quicker because we can play these games.”
“I think this is the kind of game the national team is looking for,” Pareja said of the match. “They want to play prior to the professional games, in the stadium and against good opponents. I think we gave them all of that today.”
The FC Dallas Juniors U-16 and U-18 squads, who are both currently in first place in their National Developmental Academy League conferences, returned to the pitch only a day after their victory over the U-17 MNT squad. They faced Andromeda in regular league play on Sunday, where the U-18s notched a 3-0 victory and the U-16s suffered a rare loss, 0-2.
Both the U-16s and U-18s are back in action on Saturday when they take on TSC Houston in Houston at 2 and 4 p.m.