The Kia Toronto FC Academy junior squad packed up their bags and hopped on a transatlantic flight last week in order to participate in the prestigious Aegon Future Cup at Ajax Football Club in Amsterdam.
The team for the tournament in the Netherlands was mainly composed of players born in 1996 and 1997. What waited at de Toekomst (Ajax’s Training Facility) was seven of the best clubs in the world and their U17 squads; Ajax, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Tottenham, Sao Paulo, Anderlecht and Benfica. With intense pride, the boys represented the club, city, province and country with great skill, heart and work ethic.
This trip was to be the first competitive matches the U17 team had played so far this season. Still in the middle of their preseason, the competition would allow the club to see where it stands on the international spectrum in terms of skill development, team and individual strength, and its current form in terms of match fitness ahead of this season.
The first day of arrival in Amsterdam was marked by training sessions at Ajax in the morning, cultural excursions in the afternoon and team meals interspersed throughout. The team managed to do a walking tour of Amsterdam, visit the Ajax Experience Museum, enjoy a canal tour and cap all of it off with an opening ceremony led by Wim Jonk during the Ajax Women’s match vs Anderlecht.
Ajax 1-0 Toronto
The competition opened on Saturday morning with a day that saw TFC play two matches. The first game was also the tournament opener in the training ground’s stadium versus host side Ajax. Facing a rowdy crowd and an acclaimed academy program, coach Anthony Capotosto’s squad did kept to their plan of organized, disciplined soccer that the Ajax squad had a lot of difficulty breaking through.
Ajax capitalized on the one mistake made by TFC defenders in front of the goal, resulting in a 1-0 lead in the first half. Later, a great run by striker Jordan Hamilton led the Ajax keeper to exit his 18 and handle the ball, resulting in a red card for Ajax. The Dutch side fell back to defend rest of the way and TFC was unable to break through and score an equalizer.
Toronto 1-0 Tottenham
A quick lunch onsite and back to the change room went the TFC squad as they had to prepare for their next match against Tottenham. The start of the game was marked by some tired legs by both squads but the English team found its rhythm and TFC had to fight off a number of offensive pushes. Goalkeeper Mark Rogal was fantastic in keeping the Academy in the game. With the matche level, Hamilton crossed a ball to TFC winger Marquis Pitt, who made no mistake in his shot past the Tottenham keeper to give Toronto the 1-0 lead. The reds defense led by captain Kevon Black and fellow centre back, Mateo Restrepo, held strong through the rest of the match, which also included some fantastic saves by Rogal to finish the game with a win.
Sao Paulo 2-0 Toronto
Sunday kicked off the final round robin game against a strong Sao Paulo squad - the Brazil champion - that was named to Aegon Cup two weeks before the start of tournament after it won the hotly contested Brazilian qualifier in order to travel. The start of the game showed the Reds to have some heavy preseason legs, and they paid for it at the 8th minute conceding on a volley from outside the 18. The rest of the game was marked by strong midfield battles for possession. Owen Pearce, Matisse Robert and Luca Uccello continued their organized tournament play, repeatedly making it difficult for the Sao Paulo squad to build their offence. Two defensive breakdowns by the TFC squad led to Sao Paulo penalty kicks. The first one was successful and the second one was stopped by Rogal. Final score was 2-0 to Sao Paulo.
Bayern Munich 3-0 Toronto
The round robin finale put Toronto up against Bayern Munich to fight for 5th place. The game was scheduled for the next day but not before all teams headed off to the Ajax Arena to watch the local team take on NEC. Amazing seats field side and a touching post game ceremony for three players sold on to other teams really hit home for our TFC players and provided further inspiration.
The final day was marked by our fourth match in three days. The Academy had also lost Hamilton and midfielder Derick Sequeira to the Canada U17 national squad the previous day. Two more, Kevon Black and Ian Fernandes would be leaving that same day as well to head off and meet their teammates in Florida as they prepared for Panama. The Bayern team in midseason form versus a slightly depleted Toronto squad on preseason legs would soon be highlighted in this match. A number of mental and physical breakdowns by the boys led to a 3-0 loss for Toronto against the reputable German side.
Final standings in the tournament were as follows – Anderlecht, Ajax, Benfica, Sao Paulo, Bayern Munich, Toronto FC, Tottenham, Barcelona.
In terms of competition environment, there could not have been a better line up of teams for us to play. In the next phase of the Academy’s progress we need to take on this level of competition in order to push ourselves and achieve Thomas Rongen’s goal of being one of the best in the world. While the Academy is only a few years old, we proved over our time in Amsterdam while playing clubs infinitely older that we are on the right track and the future is bright for the youth in Ontario and Toronto FC’s system.