TORONTO – A flurry of academy teams returned from Texas this week with a pair of championships in tow.
The Toronto FC Academy had five sides in Dallas for both the Generation Adidas and Dallas Cups, two of the largest events on the annual youth calendar in North America, between April 15 and 21.
The U15s and U17s competed in the GA Cup, which featured the best of MLS academies and international representatives, while the U12s, U16s, and U19s took part in the 40th edition of the Dallas Cup – both the U12s and U16s topped their respective age groups.
Greg Vanney was on hand for the final few days of competition and returned with a smile on his face.
“I was very pleased with our teams,” said Vanney on Tuesday. “Yes, we won a couple championships, but as I went down I heard a lot of discussion about how each of our teams looked very similar. The style of play was evident, the things the kids were trying to do was evident, they resembled what you see at the first team level.”
“That's when you know you're making progress; that development is happening,” continued Vanney. “Some of our players were being talked about as key performers in their age groups and the tournament. One of our young players, [15-year-old Gabriel] Pellegrino, won the golden ball; Jayden Nelson, Jahkeele [Marshall-Rutty] and others are getting talked about, but there was a lot of very good performers through the week. “
“That's exciting,” noted Vanney. “But you know your philosophy is working and spreading across the academy when people are talking about the style of play, the similarity, and how they love to watch our teams play. Within that, you're trying to develop individuals and prepare them to be pros.”
In the Dallas Cup, the U12s won all six of their matches: opening the tournament with a 4-2 win over Dallas Texans, before dispatching both Pumas USA Kickers FC and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds by 3-1 scorelines. They then beat Dallas Rebels Loya 3-2 and Solar U12 DA 3-1 before a 3-0 win in the final over FC Dallas U12 Academy South.
The U16s beat LVSA 03 Boys Silver 1-0 in their opener before a 1-1 draw with FC Dallas Youth 03 Premier. A 3-0 win over Diabolos DC Tesistan, a 1-0 win over Barca Academy 03, and a 5-1 win over SGV Surf 803 KL would follow before defeating Solar U16 ECNL 1-0 in the final.
The U19s dropped their opening two matches 3-0 to Monterrey Rayados and Real Salt Lake before a rollicking 6-5 loss to Arsenal FC dashed their hopes of moving on to the knockout stages.
At the GA Cup, the U15s took on a quartet of Mexican sides, beating each of Club Leon (2-1), CF Monterrey (2-1), CD Guadalajara (1-0), and Cruz Azul (2-0) before a rematch with Chivas ended level at ones and was decided on penalty kicks 5-4 in the opposition's favour.
The U17s lost their opener against Dinamo Zagreb 1-0, but responded with a pair of wins – 3-2 over Club America and 2-0 against NYCFC – before falling 3-2 to Olympique Lyonnais in their final match.
Vanney hailed the way every side stepped up to the challenge presented to them.
“A lot of times in the past we've gone to events and, because of our competitive structure – sometimes we don't get competitive games week in, week out – we have a hard time putting multiple quality performances together in tournaments,” explained Vanney, stressing the demand placed on players in these compact environments. “You have to play difficult game after difficult game after difficult game in order to be able to win a championship. All of our teams put together quality results, one after the other, backed them up, and did so within the style of play we're talking about. “
“The 15s were the best team in the tournament,” stated Vanney. “They beat everybody they came across; lost in shootout to a Chivas team they had beaten earlier. But having seen the teams, I'm comfortable saying they were the best team in the tournament.”
“The 17s were a good team, could have easily won the two games that they didn't early on, but they played some quality soccer,” continued Vanney. “I'm really happy with the 16s. They're a team that sometimes has some of their difference-makers up with the 17s, yet they were able to put together some really quality performances, played very good soccer and they were able to carry that through to a championship. And my heart is always with the 12s because I've got two kids there and I'm passionate about the game being taught at the youngest ages.”
He did mention something particularly special about that U15 team.
“The U15s, which is a really strong group for us, was our first U11 team,” said Vanney. “[They] started in our club when they were ten years old. [That's] the reason why at 15 now, they're one of the best teams across North and Central America.”
“They started here early, they've been locked in since, and we've continued to build with that group. We're seeing that process work. That's exciting,” emphasized Vanney. “It will ultimately be measured with these young players getting into the first team and making a difference. We're starting to see some of that as well.”