GA Cup U-17

TORONTO – In MLS, September is generally when the regular season ramps up in anticipation of the looming Playoffs, but for three teams at the Toronto FC Academy, their league campaign is just about to kickoff.

Toronto will field three sides – U-15, U-17, U-19 – in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) for the 2018-2019 season with the action set to get underway this weekend when they travel to Illinois to face the Chicago Fire Soccer Academy on Saturday and Sockers FC, once home to Michael Bradley and Will Johnson, on Sunday.

It was announced back in June that the Toronto FC Academy's application to join the USSDA was accepted. The addition of the TFC Academy sees all 23 MLS academies represented amongst the nearly 200 clubs that comprise the league.

“First and foremost it's the level of competition that we're going to be exposed to there,” said TFC Academy Director Anthony Capotosto of the motivations to make the move. “We've been to the USSDA showcases; experienced very professionally run events against very good competition. We're going to get games like that week in, week out.”

“We've always been part of the Generation Adidas competition,” added Capotosto. “We've reached the point where we need to be playing against other MLS opponents on a weekly basis. [We're] looking for that level of competition with best against best: that's part of the development of the players here at the academy.”

It is in the cauldron of such competition that a player's mettle is forged.

“The experience is going to be more demanding,” explained Michael Stefano, who will lead the U-15 side. “We want the players to be tested every match. Making this transition will help get the best out of the players.”

“High level competition is a matter of not being able to take plays off,” continued Stefano. “The game is about who can make the fewest mistakes. You can only learn whether your players are capable of that if they're tested that way every week.”

The increased level and regularity of the competition will benefit the development of the players at the TFC Academy. 

“It's a matter of resistance,” detailed Capotosto. “What you get from the opposition. You cannot make mistakes in certain areas of the field because you will get punished. It requires a higher level of concentration, of focus, and execution from our players.”

The anticipation has been building all through this transitional year.

“We've had six months to progress, [attended] events like the USSDA Showcase in June in San Diego, where we could see what our player pool is like against teams there,” said Gianni Cimini, who will lead the U-17 side. “We also just came back from a Liga MX event where the top four Mexican sides and top four MLS academies compete over the course of ten days.”

Cimini's side won two of their three matches in San Jose, both against MLS Academy competition, and dispatched Atlanta United's side in the whirlwind Mexican tournament.

Stefano's U-15 group won the 2018 Montreal Impact L'International U14 Tournament over the Canada Day long weekend, dispatching three MLS opponents as well as Bologna FC en route to the final, where they beat the Italian side once more to bring home the silverware.

“The group haven't had anything meaningful besides a tournament in Montreal in July, so they're chomping at the bit, excited about the transition,” smiled Stefano. “They're ready to go.”

Danny Dichio will lead the U-19 side, a modified version of his Toronto FC III side who recently completed their final season in League1 Ontario and reached the final of the League1 Ontario Cup.

The structure of the USSDA will see all three sides play the same opponents at the same venues on the same weekend.

“We'll go down together, stay at the same hotel, travel as a group,” laid out Capotosto. “We want to see the teams supporting each other while the games are going on.”

“There is a huge benefit of having the teams traveling together, being on the same schedule,” explained Capotosto. “We need to start building a stronger culture within the academy. [By] having the groups there together we can get a lot done while we're on the road.” 

“It's not just about what happens on the field: we have meetings, there is a consistent message – not just from me, but from all the coaches,” added the Academy Director. “We'll be able to build a better synergy within the academy.”

That opportunity will not only strengthen the ties within the sides but between them as well, pushing all on to greater heights.

“We talk about us being a family here,” said Stefano. “Being on the road, in hotels together, spending time off, as well as on, the pitch, is going to consolidate the group and help everyone understand what it is going to take if you want to play this game at a high level.”

It will foster a useful symmetry.

“The coaches can work together more, be aware of the talent, the standards being set above and below,” said Cimini. “[For] the players, it will be much easier to develop relationships from team to team. The pregame meetings, the coaching during the games, that will all be uniform.”

Expectations going into their first season are high.

“The expectation, at a club like Toronto, is always to win,” said Cimini. “The first team has set the standards high. If we're going to be developing players at that level, we're going to have to get results, show that we're the amongst the best.”

“The guys are up for it,” added Cimini. “It's something the club has been seeking: that strong competition on a weekly basis. The boys understand it is a big component for their development. They're excited.”

So too are the coaches, chosen to lead their respective sides by dint of their experience and qualifications. According to Capotosto, Dichio, Cimini, and Stefano are the right mentors for the job.

“They're all great teachers of the game,” emphasized Capotosto. “We want to be able to bring our players along in our style, teaching our principles of play; making sure that when we watch a game, whether it's the 15s or 19s, there is some consistency on the field.”

Added Capotosto: “In the end, here in the academy, we are teachers with short pants.”