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USSDA sides prepare for playoff test

At the end of June, three of the Toronto FC Academy teams will compete in the United States Soccer Development Academy playoffs at the SoCal Sports Complex in Oceanside, California.

The U15’s play on June 20,21,23, with the Final on June 25.  The U16/17’s play on June 18,20,22, with the Knockout Round on June 25. The U18/19’s play on June 17,19,21, with the Knockout Round on June 24. 

The final four teams in each age group will qualify for a championship tournament on July 8-11.

The playoffs will mark the end of the TFC Academy’s first season competing in the USSDA. Previously playing in the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), the TFC Academy was looking for stronger competition and a more serious travel schedule to better prepare for the professional game.

The U15 team is currently in first place in the league with a record of 19-0-1 with one game remaining in the regular season. The U15’s have scored 101 goals in just 20 games, which also leads the league.

With one game remaining in their season, the U16/17 squad is currently in third place in the league with a record of 18-2-1. With 87 goals the U16/17 team ranks second in their age group.

The U18/19 team has a record of 13-6-2, good for second in their conference and eleventh in the overall playoff standings. The U18/19’s are ranked fifth in goals for with 63. They also have one game remaining in the regular season. 

Each squad plays their last regular season match on June 1. All three squads have qualified for playoffs, so playoff match days have been determined.

Toronto FC Communications intern Luc Alchesi had the opportunity to sit down with U15 coach Michael Stefano, U16/17 coach Gianni Cimini and Academy Director Anthony Capotosto to discuss the first season in the USSDA and the upcoming playoffs.

Gianni Cimini - Head Coach U16/U17

How has the inaugural season gone so far for your team?

The team has done very well. The challenges we faced early on with entering the “DA’s” is the amount of travel, and it took some time for our players to adjust. But overall the boys responded well. The team has done very well, sitting second in the conference. The challenges have been different from the challenges we’ve experienced in the past, playing in the OPDL. Tougher games, tougher challenges, but they’ve responded very well.  

How do you think the team has adjusted to the new competition?

I think seeing the group --  the 17s are in second place in the group -- they’ve done very well. We’ve adjusted to the fact that there’s a lot of travel involved for our boys, so the recovery sessions become very important, managing our time throughout the week, managing minutes for the players on the weekends as well, it’s been a challenge for us. But overall the players have done well.

How have the boys found dealing with the travel schedule?

A lot of recovery sessions, nutrition on the road, proper sleep, we try to educate them on taking care of their bodies on the off days as well.

What are some things to focus on as you head into the playoffs?

Focusing on our strengths. Continuing to do what we’ve been doing very well. Obviously, some of the areas we need to touch up on before the playoffs become very important as we’re leading up to the event. We’re at the end of the season here and it’s really about maintaining the standard that we have set and also improving in the little things we can before playoffs.Is there any player or players who have impressed you most this season?

Is there any player or players who have impressed you most this season?

There’s been a couple good players with this group. The u17 group is a very deep squad so there are a lot of them. Obviously the standard Jacen Russell-Rowe up top for us that has been pushed up with the U19s, but I think he’ll be joining us for the playoffs. We’ve picked up some very good players starting in 2019 with Matthew Radivojsa, Deandre Kerr, who was added to the squad, Julian Altobelli, Rohan Goulbourne. This squad is full of depth, we have a lot of talent so we can’t really put one player above anybody else. 

Do you think the USSDA will help the development of Toronto FC academy players and or coaches?

Yes, of course. The games are challenging for the players but also for the coaches. There’s more quality and more depth in America.

Michael Stefano - U15

How has the inaugural season gone so far for your team?

This season has been good. It’s everything that we expected it to be going into the season. The objectives that we essentially wanted to check off were:  better competition for the groups, a schedule that is more closely mirrored to what is happening in the first team to help develop and prepare these players for that level at some points in their careers. Quite frankly, I would say we’ve checked all the boxes with our inaugural season. And the players are enjoying it, you can see that there’s a real camaraderie that they’ve built, they spend so much time with each other both on and off the field. Travel has helped with that as well. And I think a big part of being able to build that camaraderie is going though these obstacles together and being able to adjust and adapt to these processes. It’s been positive all around.

How do you think the team has adjusted to the new competition?

We’ve adjusted well. When you make the players more aware of the challenges that they face sometimes it can get into their subconscious a little bit. But I think, by and large, we’ve been able to really focus on what the solutions will be moving forward and I think that’s really helpful in our decision making process and their ability to adapt to things in a pretty seamless way. And I think that’s going to help them throughout their careers as they move up the chain towards the first team.

How have the boys found dealing with the travel schedule?

I think they’ve taken it on really well. One of the special things that I enjoy about this particular group of players is that we’ve built a culture around a little bit of street football. One of the things that we enjoy doing for 20-30 minute block, if we have a match the following day, is after a meal the boys will organize themselves, throw down a couple t-shirts on the ground to create some goals and really just enjoy the time together and really bring back that spirit and enjoyment of what street football provides. Certainly, we’re building a culture on the filed, but also off the field, of players that love the game, and that’s nice to see. 

What are some things to focus on as you head into the playoffs?

Nothing different than what we’ve been doing throughout the season. We’re going to continue to do things the TFC way. We’re going to continue to focus on the process, continue to do the things that have helped us to get where we are in the hopes of them being more aware that the results are coming as a consequence of being so focused and detail oriented on the process. The group understands what it is we’re looking for as far as where we want their attention and their engagement through the year and to say that we’re going to focus on something different now in the playoffs would be contradicting to what we’ve been doing to this point. We’re going to keep driving the same way.

Is there any player or players who have impressed you most this season?

By and large the entire group has performed very well. From a statistics standpoint we have 101 goals in 20 games. We have five or six players that are among the top 10 goals scorers in the entire league. Coming back from Dallas we had a number of players come back with accolades from that event as well. You look at the entire roster, and I think we have a bright future ahead and we have players who are ready to make a difference when called upon. 

Finishing up on an invincible season, what has differentiated your side from opposing teams?

Our ability to adapt in an almost seamless way. Our preparation is key to that adaptability, being able to kind of anticipate what’s going to happen and how we can adjust in the flow of the game has been key. To the process of preparing them that way there’s a large amount of confidence that comes with that as well. With that trifecta I think the players do believe in themselves and they understand that there’s nothing wrong with feeling comfortable and prepared and confident going into a match and whatever the match throws at you, you have to deal with it on the fly. If we can get the 80% right at the start in preparation, we’re confident in the players’ ability to adjust themselves during the game

Anthony Capotosto - Academy Director 

How has the inaugural season gone for the academy?

I think this was an eye-opening experience for us as an academy, being in the USSDA for the first time. We had heard a lot of stories from other clubs of what the USSDA was like, but to actually experience it was a very positive experience. The fact that we were able to play against other MLS academy competition on a regular basis has heightened the overall quality of competition schedule. Not to mention the other DA teams that have provided a lot of good resistance for us. 

How do you think the teams have adjusted to the new competition?

We’ve been playing locally here in Ontario for quite a few years and now to branch off into USSDS provided a whole different type of competition for us, where we have not necessarily seen these teams before. We don’t really know what to expect outside of the scouting that we’re able to do on video. So, in that respect I think it’s been a very interesting and fulfilling experience for us. 

How have the boys found dealing with the travel schedule?

There’s been a lot more travel than what they’ve been used to. But this is something that they need to prepare for anyway. Those that move on to play the game at the pro level need to be able to establish habits and behaviors while on the road and again using that time in the hotel to work on things like our culture, our style of play, principles of play. It’s nice having everyone in the hotel at the same time where we can address multiple teams and again make it more of a holistic approach.  

Do you think the teams have to focus on anything heading into the playoffs?

I think we continue doing what we’ve been doing the entire year. There’s no point now introducing new variables or teaching new things. I think right now we’re in a maintenance period making sure that our players are physically healthy, that they’ve gotten enough rest in recovery so that they’re able to perform at their best in the playoffs. That’s what we want to accomplish.

Is there any player or players who have impressed you most this season?

There’s been several players across the academy that have impressed the USSDA we could mention players like Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty with the U15 team. We can talk about a player like Deandre Kerr with our U17s who has done extremely well. With our U19s Antonio Carlini. These are just three examples across the three teams, but we could name several players who have big impacts.

Do you think the USSDA will help the development of Toronto FC academy players and or coaches? 

Definitely, I think there’s a lot more accountability for players and coaches in terms of our levels of preparedness going into games. Knowing our opponents, making sure that we are always showing our style of play on the field, and demonstrating our principles of play are things that we believe deeply here at the academy and that we have an opportunity to showcase on a regular basis in a high level game each week. 

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