Rick Yeatts

Academy showcases national teamers in GA Cup

FRISCO, Texas -- Representing your country is among the highest honors an athlete can receive, and it is an honor a number of FC Dallas Academy and Home Grown players competing in this week’s Generation adidas Cup at Pizza Hut Park have earned.

"Playing on the international level is one of the more meaningful moments in a player's development path," said Oscar Pareja, director of the FCD Academy. "Players are exposed to a different environment and talent level, and so they learn to react differently and gain confidence."

The 2011 Generation adidas Cup consists of a U-15 and U-17 tournament for Academy teams of MLS clubs. Included on both FCD squads are players who have the notice of their country’s national federation, including two who suited up for their national teams in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico – goalkeeper Richard Sanchez (Mexico) and defender Kellyn Acosta (U.S.).

The GA Cup marks Sanchez’s first FCD appearance since the U-17 World Cup.

Sanchez helped the Mexico U-17s win the World Cup championship, playing in all seven of El Tri’s matches for the full 90 minutes. Mexico defeated Uruguay 2-0 in the Cup Final at Mexico City’s famed Estadio Azteca in front of a crowd of more than 100,000.

"I learned a lot, not only as a player, but as a person,” said Sanchez. “On a personal level, I got to speak to different players from other nations and learned about their cultures. Soccer-wise, I was exposed to different styles of play by the European and African teams.”

Three of Sanchez’s teammates on the FCD U-17s GA Cup roster played for the U.S. in the U-17 World Cup – Acosta, forward Alfred Koroma and center back Alessandro Mion.

A number of their U.S. teammates are playing for other academy teams in the GA Cup, including forward Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), midfielder Andrew Souders (Columbus Crew) and goalkeepers Kendall McIntosh (San Jose Earthquakes) and Fernando Pino (Houston Dynamo).

Acosta is one of the youngest players in the U.S. Residency Program and started for the U.S. in matches against Cuba and Panama in the 2011 CONCACAF U-17 Championship. The defender logged 113 minutes in an overtime win against El Salvador in the quarterfinals, which clinched a spot for the U.S. in the U-17 World Cup.

Acosta was also the youngest player on the U.S. U-17 World Cup team, and played in all four of the team’s matches from start to finish.

Acosta attributed his growth and national team success to his beginnings in the FCD Academy.

"There are several national team players in the Academy," said Acosta. "The coaching staff is great. They pushed me every day to become a better player and helped me get to the level to play for the national team."

Other FCD players in the GA Cup have received national team attention.

Fernando Laverde, a regular on the FCD U-17s in the GA Cup, has spent time in the U.S. U-17 Residency Program, while two FCD U-15s in the GA Cup, Martin Salas and Christian Ramirez, have spent time with the U.S. U-15s.

Producing national team players is not a first for Dallas. A number of FCD Academy and Home Grown players have suited up for their countries.

FCD Home Growns Moises Hernandez, Bryan Levya, Ruben Luna and Victor Ulloa have all been called up by U-20 national teams -- Hernandez and Ulloa by the U.S., and Levya and Luna by Mexico.

Four players have spent time with the U.S. U-18s -- Michael Ambrose, Jack Coleman, Boyd Okwuonu and Home Grown player Jonathan Top. Ambrose and Okwuonu were named to the 18-man U-18 roster that recently competed in Northern Ireland at the 2011 Milk Cup.

"We have two primary goals in the Academy," said Pareja. "First is to develop players to put on the path towards either the first team or college. The second is developing players to where they have a chance of playing for their national team. The strength of the Academy can be measured in part by the number of our players featured on national teams. It's an honor for the program."

Pareja said players returning from national teams bring confidence and experience back with them which in turn spreads to their teammates. That experience has contributed to FCD’s success in the GA Cup. Through their first two games at the tournament FCD's U-15s have outscored their opponents 4-1, and the U-17s went unbeaten in the groups stage to win Group A and a chance to compete for the championship.

"My time with the national team helped me grow as a player," said Acosta. "I got to play with the best players of my age group in the country and my time with them helped prepare me for the Generation adidas Cup."