U19s Compete at MLS NEXT Cup

From June 16-19, MNUFC’s oldest academy squad was down in Tennessee competing with the nation’s best. As the club’s lone representatives in the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs, this special group of U19 players continued to leave their mark on the history of Minnesota United.

Every year, the best 32 teams in the nation at each age group gather for a single-elimination, bracket-style tournament to decide which team is truly number one. Qualification for this event comes via two avenues: regular-season performance or by winning your group at MLS NEXT Flex. The Loons qualified via the latter, and though they were knocked out of the tournament early, they showed out well across three matches.

In the first game of the trip, the Black and Blue came up against FC Dallas, whose respected academy has produced players like Weston McKennie, Ricardo Pepi, Chris Richards, and several more USMNT talents. It was always going to be a tough task to get one over this established program, but the Loons nearly got the job done. They fell 1-0 at the final whistle despite a valiant effort, ending their Cup run and leaving them with two showcase games to round out the trip.

In said matches, MNUFC managed to pick up a pair of wins. First, they took down Players Development Academy (New Jersey) 1-0 before beating Santa Barbara Soccer Club 2-1 in their final match to end the event with a positive result.

Since returning from Nashville, this group of talented players has been supplementing MNUFC2 and preparing for their next steps. Tamer Ibsais, Dom Mawing, and Justin Arias have all been mainstays in the most recent run of MLS NEXT Pro matches, and are just three of the 10 U19 players to earn a spot on a gameday roster. Goalkeeper Adam Heiden just made his professional debut against Houston, and with plenty of summer remaining, more big moments are sure to come for these young men.

Many of these talented players will be going off to play college soccer in the fall, a credit to the progress they’ve made in their respective soccer journeys. Though they didn’t lift the cup, this group accomplished something equally as meaningful: they inspired the next group.

Obviously, every club wants their academy teams to compete for and win trophies, but that’s just a small piece of the greater puzzle. Academy programs are meant to develop players, first and foremost, and push the game forward in their market. Those steps forward vary in size. Sometimes they’re huge, like a defender from Maplewood making his first start for the first team. Sometimes they’re small, like a U15 player being inspired by their U19 counterparts making it to Nashville.

A well-run academy sees things in the long term, and a well-run club understands that, without the little steps forward, the big steps wouldn’t be possible. Bravo, U19s, and thank you for pushing our club forward through your efforts.

First appeared on www.mnufc.com

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