All that was then left to do was to take in the closing ceremonies with Philadelphia Union being presented with the trophy in the MLS division and Real Salt Lake Arizona North winning the affiliate bracket. On a personal level, Aiden Costner shared the spoils for Golden Boot in the MLS bracket, whilst Jonny Condor came in second place in the Golden Boot race in the affiliate bracket, an incredibly impressive achievement for a player playing two years up in the event.
From there the players returned to the hotel to shower, change and pack before embarking on an eventful trip back to the Metro area. The snow-storm that was hitting the north-east meant that the group were to endure two delays before eventually landing back at Newark airport at 2:00am on Monday morning, some five hours later than expected, where they were greeted by their parents. The boys didn’t seem to mind however, many of them delighting in the fact that the late arrival would mean a day off from school!
The trip as a whole had proven to be an incredibly successful one for all involved. The U12’s third place finish represented the highest that any Red Bulls team had ever placed in the U12 version of the GA Cup, in this their fifth time participating in the event. For the Pre-Academy, to bring a group of players to play a year up and go three and three in their six games in the affiliate bracket represented an impressive return, especially given the style of soccer that the group had displayed and bode incredibly well for the 2009 age group for the future.
From a larger perspective the U12’s success on the field was also an additional success for the Pre-Academy program, with all of the players involved having graduated through the Pre-Academy route. This success only demonstrates the strength of the Pre-Academy system and the pathway that it provides for players to make the next step within the club, as well as the fantastic work that Coaches Daniel Gutierrez and Anton McCafferty have done with the 2008 group this year.
More though than the results, the trip proved to be a success in so many other areas. For the players it is an opportunity to be taken out of their comfort zones, to be responsible for their own kit and equipment and for their own preparation, without mum and dad on hand to assist them. It also puts the players in the spotlight, both on the field and off it, as they represent the club in every moment, and it has to be said that they did so with great distinction, earning praise from hotel and airport staff as they travelled, as well as praise from opposition coaches and onlookers whilst on the field.
For both groups, the short term would see several days off to recover from the trip, before returning to training with a focus on continuing to develop, ensuring they are just as ready for when the next opportunity arises.