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Generation Adidas Cup 2019 U12 Academy and U11 Pre-academy

On Thursday, November 28th twenty-four excitable young soccer players forewent their traditional Thanksgiving day dinners and instead met bright and early at Newark airport to begin a journey to Atlanta, GA where they were to represent the New York Red Bulls in the annual Generation Adidas Cup.

The travelling party consisted of twelve members of the U12 Academy who would be competing in the MLS division of the 7v7 event, as well as twelve members of the 2009 Pre-Academy pool, who would be playing a year up and competing in the MLS affiliate bracket.

Both groups had been well prepared for the tournament, spending the weeks leading up to the event playing scrimmages against fellow MLS teams Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union and NYCFC.

After several weeks of preparation, the travelling party were excited to finally get the trip underway as they boarded the plane from Newark. For the youngest member of the group, Jonathan Condor (2010), it was his first experience of flying, and quite an experience it was too as the journey began with an incredibly turbulent take-off which was greeted with great joy and merriment by the players if a little less so by the coaches.

The group touched down in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon and checked in at their hotel which would be home base for the next few days. After a quick lunch upon arrival the players then had the opportunity to enjoy some down time and get settled in to their new abode.

After a gentle stroll around the hotel grounds to stretch the legs, the group then gathered to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner together. Before sitting down to eat, several members of the U12 Academy gave speeches to the group to outline what they were thankful for at this time of year, with Adri Mehmeti, Anthony Suarez, Collin Lyden, Mayowa Ajayi and Zidane Yanez all speaking with great poise in front of their peers. A wonderful Thanksgiving Day feast was then enjoyed by all.

Following dinner, Pre-Academy head coach Anton McCafferty then entertained the U11’s as he divided the group up into four teams and asked them to pick their ‘World Best XI’ and present them to the group before coaches Gleb Gershman, Gareth Tyack and Simon Barrow then picked the winners.

After a long day and some very early starts that morning for some of the group, it was then time to head to bed and get some rest ahead of the first day of competition the following day.

The Pre-Academy were up first on Friday and kicked off their tournament against Vancouver Whitecaps. After a slow start which saw the team go two goals behind, the boys showed great character and came from behind to record a 6-3 victory. Youngster Jonny Condor bagged two as did midfielder Deven Cadigan, with Darius Millington and Paul Sokoloff also getting on the scoresheet.

After their game, the Pre-Academy group then watched the U12’s as they opened their tournament with a 6-0 victory over Nashville. Aiden Costner started the event in fine form by scoring a first half hat-trick, with Zidane Yanez, Jack Swartz and Henryk Telakowski also finding the net.

Whilst the U12’s then prepared for their second game of the day, the Pre-Academy were treated to a behind the scenes look at the incredibly impressive Atlanta United training facility. Former Red Bulls Pre-Academy Coach and now Atlanta United Manager of Coach Education and Development Dean Atkins showed our youngsters around the facility, which included the opportunity to see the staff offices, fitness center, first team and academy locker rooms and most player’s favorite; the boot room. As well as being shown around by former Pre-Academy coach Atkins, the players also met fellow former Red Bulls Youth Coaches Zach Herold and Kellington Boddie, both now also working with Atlanta United.

After a quick lunch the Pre-Academy boys then headed to the field to cheer on the U12’s as they secured their second victory of the day with a 7-1 win over Minnesota United. Aiden Costner continued his fine form bagging a further four goals, with Gil de Souza, Zidane Yanez and Henryk Telakowski also getting on the scoresheet.

The U11’s then completed the action for day one, losing 0-3 against Michigan Wolves. The result did not really reflect the game, with the Pre-Academy boys playing well and creating several chances. However, they were unable to convert any of their looks at goal and then twice got punished on the counter attack late in the game as they pushed forward in search of an equalizing goal.

On the whole a good first day across the board, after which the player’s returned to the hotel for some rest, relaxation and some dinner before enjoying a team movie night to conclude their first full day in Atlanta.

Saturday would be a busy day of games, with both teams in action three times. The Pre-Academy group kicked off the day’s action against Real Salt Lake Arizona North in their final group game, knowing that they would need a victory to progress to the knockout stages of the event. Putting in a really impressive display against a far more physical side made up solely of 2008 birth years, the Pre-Academy ended up losing 0-2, again a result that did not really reflect the story of the match. It did however mean that the Pre-Academy group would drop into the consolation bracket in the MLS Affiliate division, with RSL Arizona progressing, and ultimately going on to win the affiliate division.

The U12’s then wrapped up their group stage with a 2-0 victory over FC Dallas. Henryk Telakowski scored both goals as the U12’s topped their group and advanced to the knock-out round.

The U12’s then dispatched of San Jose in the quarter final, with Zidane Yanez scoring twice. Goalkeepers Anthony Suarez and Jan Blaszczak also came up big, both making fine saves to keep the team’s clean sheet intact.

The Pre-Academy then won their consolation bracket quarter final as they defeated Real Salt Lake Arizona South 5-3. Jonny Condor put in an incredible display, scoring four goals including one solo run from inside his own half that had the onlooking fans amazed. Jun Tanaka completed the scoring with a fine left-footed strike from distance, as the Pre-Academy group produced their second come from behind win of the tournament.

Each team then had their third and final games of the day, with the Pre-Academy losing a tight game against Vancouver Whitecaps Alberta 0-1. Again, the boys played some excellent soccer, but the difference in physicality playing against 2008’s proved to be just too much.

After the game the U11’s then stayed to cheer on the U12’s as they played their semi-final against LAFC. Two of the best teams in the tournament produced a highly entertaining game of soccer, which ended in a 2-2 draw after the regulation thirty minutes. After going behind early, goals from Zidane Yanez and Gil de Souza gave Red Bulls the lead, before a second half fightback from LAFC took the game to penalties, which LA went on to win 3-2.

After a physically and emotionally tiring day of games, both groups headed back to the team hotel where they enjoyed dinner together, with both Academy and Pre-Academy players intermingled with each other and enjoying one another’s company in a manner which was great to see. Then it was off to bed for an early night, getting the rest that they would need before their final game of the tournament the following day.

Almost perfect conditions greeted the players once more on Sunday morning at the Atlanta United training facility, and the Pre-Academy produced a performance to match as they ended the week with an impressive 3-2 victory over NYCFC affiliate Met Oval. Despite going behind early in the game, the boys produced an excellent display and secured a well earned victory through goals from Deven Cadigan and two more from Jonny Condor.

The U12’s then secured third place in the MLS division as they won the third-fourth place playoff 2-0 vs hosts Atlanta United. A really well taken first goal from Zidane Yanez gave the Red Bulls the lead with the former Pre-Academy player celebrating his goal with the current Pre-Academy group. Victory was then sealed in the second half thanks to an Aiden Costner strike.

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.

Credits:

Photographs courtesy of Beata Spiewak & Hyuga Tunaka