U16 National Semifinals
FC Dallas

FC Dallas U-16s Only Two Matches Away From Third-Straight National Championship

FRISCO - Every year is different for Luchi Gonzalez, the FC Dallas Academy Director and Head Coach of the U-16 boys team.

Each year, he must oversee the influx of new players at all age levels into the FC Dallas Academy system, and also become the leader for a new group of talented teenagers. It's a role that presents new challenges to Gonzalez, but one that he has excelled at.

Gonzalez is looking to translate that success into another United States Soccer Development Academy U-16 National Championship as FC Dallas seeks its third-straight national title in the age group later this week.

After routing the Colorado Rapids 5-0 in Frisco in the USSDA quarterfinals last week, Dallas will head West for the USSDA National Semifinals in Carson, California.

"We recognize that there's only four teams left at this stage," Gonzalez said. "But we've also been a club that is going to go there with a mentality to do something and to take the opportunity and not just be happy to be there."

Atlanta United, FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake (AZ) and Vancouver Whitecaps are the four teams still vying for the U-16 national championship.

Dallas (the No. 1 overall seed) will face Real Salt Lake (the No. 9 overall seed) on Friday at 3:00 pm (CST) for a spot in Sunday's final. 

"I respect everything that RSL does and their concepts," Gonzalez said. "This is a professional game, that's the way we are going to approach it and that's the mentality and the preparation."

Both Dallas and RSL enter the match in great form, with RSL unbeaten in eight games and coming off a convincing 3-0 quarterfinal victory at Sporting Kansas City. Meanwhile, Dallas hasn't lost a game since October 2016.

Unlike the quarterfinal matchup with Colorado, there have been no prior meetings this season between Dallas and RSL. As such, Gonzalez and his coaching staff have studied video of both the Colorado match and of RSL in preparation for Friday's game.

"I thought the tempo and the dynamic movement wasn't there in the first half against Colorado, but in the second half it was," Gonzalez said. "It's a positive thing that the boys responded and made adjustments at halftime to increase tempo and show a little more desire to finish plays."

Against Colorado, it was a newcomer to the FC Dallas U-16 team that stole the show as Jesus Ferreira scored a hat-trick in first appearance for the team this season.

However, Friday's game could be decided by each team's prolific goal scorer. Dallas forward Brayan Padilla (30 goals) and RSL midfielder Sebastian Soto (34 goals) have each accounted for over 35 percent of the goals scored by their respective teams this season.

At the back, Dallas goalkeeper Michael Collodi has recorded consecutive shutouts dating back to the group stage of the USSDA Playoffs, although Gonzalez knows his team will need to be strong mentally to keep that streak alive.

It may be the third-straight trip to the National Semifinals for Gonzalez, but like every year, it's a brand-new experience for the group of players.

"They've got their own goals and they want to create their own history," Gonzalez said. "They're hungry."

Repeated trips to California have helped Gonzalez when it comes to the logistics and preparation of his teams at the tournament, but each group of players must quickly adjust and perform.

This year's team enters the semifinals fueled not only by a determination to avenge an early exit in this year's Generation adidas Cup and a loss in last year's National Premier League Final, but also by those who have come before them.

"They know the jersey has tradition," Gonzalez said. "They don't want to just hear stories of championships, they want to win their own."