The LAFC Academy kicks off its most challenging season to date this weekend.
After five weeks of preseason, the Academy U15s and new age group U16/17s are in action in the Development Academy Cup on Saturday and Sunday in Sacramento and just outside of San Jose. The newly introduced, multi-staged tournament was developed to increase competition throughout the DA season with a high-stakes knockout tournament.
"This is a big opportunity for all the players to prove themselves. The season is just starting. Preseason was the moment to give enough game time to all the players. But now that the competition is starting, I would like to see the players under that pressure," said LAFC Academy Director of Coaching Enrique Duran. "As much as I would like to give chances to all of them, there is going to be a moment that they need to prove that they are at the level that we expect of them."
The addition of the U16/17 age group to the LAFC Academy is another challenge this upcoming season. While its a natural progression from U15, the addition of a mixed-age group presents unique challenges the Academy has not faced before. In addition to matching up against older players, the U16/17 team will be playing full 90-minute matches for the first time.
Duran welcomes these challenges as another step in the pipeline to the LAFC first team.
“It was a challenge to promote players and move players up. This will be the first season we have that opportunity with the U17s. Looking at what we would like to do, it’s building players for the first team. For that reason, this hard competition that they are going to be facing is going to help us speed up that process a little bit with them," Duran said. "I think that from the mistakes, from the challenges, the kids are going to be learning. In the last seasons, they didn’t have as many challenges. Or they didn’t commit as many mistakes as they are going to be making this season.”
The core of the U16/17 team is intact from the group that went to the DA Playoff final last season. Duran said a few players have been brought in with certain profiles and in positions the team lacked depth last season. The added competition from within is another piece of the puzzle for the Academy.
"This is what is starting this weekend. That competition between the players, because we think the competition between our group is going to be what helps the players get better," Duran said. "Having two games in two days will give me a chance to play all of them. But at the same time, it’s going to be challenging them. If they are not at the level, we are coming back to one game per week. They will be having challenges just to play or to have the game time they think they deserve to have.
“The most important thing at the end is U.S. Soccer is adding more competition, better games, and every game is going to be important to us from Day One.”