HOUSTON - This team likes to keep things interesting. At times, you thought it would be another disappointing end to an otherwise amazing season, but after 90 minutes, the FC Dallas U-18 Academy team won the U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship Sunday night with a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In the first championship match featuring two MLS-affiliated clubs in the Academy's five-year history, FC Dallas became the first MLS side to win it all at the U-17/18 level. But at times it looked like Vancouver would be the side to win the title and claim that honor, as FC Dallas created chance after chance that went unfulfilled.
In the 10th minute, Homegrown forward Jonathan Top got the team's first chance, but sent his header just wide of the goal. A minute later midfielder David Robledo put a shot on goal that was saved by Whitecaps goalkeeper Callum Irving before being cleared out by a defender. On the ensuing corner kick in the 12th minute, defender Mark Ashby headed his chance just over the crossbar.
Vancouver got its first chance in the 16th minute, when star midfielder Ben Fisk beat FC Dallas goalkeeper Eduardo Cortes with a long range shot from the left side, but Fisk's attempt hit the inside of the far post and bounced straight back out without clearing the goal line before ushered out of danger by the Dallas defense.
Fisk would not be denied in the 24th minute however, as Vancouver built a counter attack after Irving made a save on Nick Rochowski, who normally plays right back for FC Dallas but started in a forward position in the championship match. Fisk carried the ball up the left flank before playing a little give-and-go with forward Caleb Clarke in the attacking third. Clarke played the ball back to Fisk, who gave it a first-touch strike to score the opening goal of the game.
The Texas side tied the game in the 31st minute when Danny Garcia earned a penalty kick after being tackled by Irving in the box. Irving saved the initial shot, but Garcia pounced on the rebound to put away the game-tying goal.
FCD nearly took the lead in the 35th minute, after recently signed Homegrown midfielder Kellyn Acosta dribbled the ball up the right flank and passing it to Top. Top returned the ball to Acosta near the top of the box with a slick back-heel pass. The midfielder's shot rang off the crossbar to deny Dallas the go-ahead goal.
Instead, the go-ahead goal came in the 42nd minute in Vancouver's favor. With the Whitecaps pressuring, Clarke sent a cross into the FC Dallas box. Midfielder Flavio Guzman attempted to clear the ball out of the box, but instead the cross deflected into the goal to give the Canadian side a 2-1 lead just before the half.
FC Dallas made one change at the half, bringing forward Jose de la Tejera on to the field in place of Rochowski, a move which head coach Chris Hayden later said was a premeditated tactical plan to bring a jolt of energy into the game. And the plan worked.
With de la Tejera on the field, the FCD offense gave Vancouver's defense fits for the rest of the night. In the first 20 minutes of the second half, FC Dallas put two shots just wide of the frame and forced Irving to make four tough saves to hold onto the lead.
But the Whitecaps' lead vanished in the 69th minute after a defensive miscue. De la Tejera intercepted the ball and broke in on goal from the left side before beating Irving with a well-placed shot low to the far post to tie the match for FC Dallas.
After several more chances at the match-winner either sailed just wide, were block or saved by Irving, the forward notched the game-winner in the 84th minute. Acosta played a short corner to Garcia from the right side and the Central Conference Player of the Year sent a ball over the top into the box that de la Tejera headed home to secure the first national championship for the FC Dallas U-18 Academy team.
The win capped off an outstanding season that the squad dedicated to the memories of former teammate Jose Perez and club icon Bobby Rhine, both of whom passed away within a week of each other just days before the start of the 2011-12 Academy season. It was also the perfect way to send off the 11 players on the week's 18-man roster who will move on from the program after this championship match.
VAN - Fisk 24'
FCD - Garcia 31'
VAN - Own Goal (Guzman) 42'
FCD - de la Tejera 69'
FCD - de la Tejera 84'
FC Dallas lineup: Cortes, Ambrose, Ashby, Guillen, Acosta, Guzman, Robledo (Laverde 89'), Carrizales (Ortiz 79'), Garcia (Edet 86'), Rochowski (de la Tejera 46'), Top.