After a dominant 2014-2015 season, the New York Red Bulls Academy U-16 and U-18 teams earned spots in the United States Soccer Development Academy Playoffs. The field was selected from 21 automatic qualifiers and 11 wildcards. Both clubs earned automatic qualification spots.
The Academy Playoffs run from June 22nd through June 25th at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. The teams that finish first in their groups will play a single-match knockout round at the higher seed's home facility; the U-18 knockout round is on July 7th, the U-16 knockout round is on July 8th. The winners of these knockout matches move on to the Academy Championships which will be held from July 16th through July 18th at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California.
The U-18s, managed by Paul O'Donnell, are seeded fourth nationally and finished the 2014-2015 season with a 19-4-3 record, good enough for first in the Atlantic Division. They dropped two of their last four matches to D.C. United (2-1) and the Philadelphia Union (3-0). The U18s have a dominant attacked that scored 96 goals this season and a balanced core including New York Red Bulls II players Juan Sebastian Sanchez (16 goals), Ethan Lochner (11 goals), Marcello Borges, Kyle Zajec, and Derrick Etienne (9 goals), as well as contributions from keeper Thomas Lapnas, Cameron Harr (13 goals), Walter Calderon, Kyle Duncan, and Wesley Wade (9 goals). Etienne, who has been spending time with the Haitian U-23 National team and New York Red Bulls II, will be with the U-18s during the playoffs.
Blau Weiss Gottschee was founded in 1951 and frequently compete with the Red Bulls when recruiting players. The Brooklyn-based club finished second in the Northeast Division with a 13-8-5 record. They're led by leading scorers Callum Johnson and Grant Burg who combined for 15 goals in 26 matches. Gottschee isn't expected to trouble the Red Bulls, but upsets are frequent during the always unpredictable Academy Playoffs.
The Sporting KC U-18s finished in fifth place in the Frontier Division and qualified for the playoffs thanks to a wildcard spot. They went 14-8-5, scoring 63 goals while giving up 39. They are led by Hungarian youth national team player Daniel Salloi who scored 18 goals during the 2014-2015 season. Sporting is not a strong team defensively and will have trouble keeping up with high powered Red Bulls' attack.
The Chicago Fire U-18s, the Red Bulls' final group play opponent, finished first in the Mid-America division with a 14-4-9 record. Their leading scorer is Ryan Sierakowski who has 21 goals in 27 matches and is committed to attend Michigan State in the fall. Although they won their division, they under-performed against weak opposition and are the Red Bulls' main competition to move on to the knockout round.
Predicted result: Winning the group and advancing on goal differential, going 2-0-1 with wins over Gottschee and Sporting KC with a tie against Chicago.
The U-16s are managed by Simon Nee and have the first seed nationally after going an impressive and dominant 23-1-2 during the 2014-2015 season, finishing first in the Mid Atlantic Division. The Red Bulls are led by the dominant scoring tandem of Brian Saramago (23 goals) and Omir Fernandez (17 goals) as well as Mason Deeds, Jared Gilbey, Kyle Perno, Ryan Mingachos, Noah Powder, and Sean Teixeira. Goalkeeper Xavier Kennedy has started 19 matches for the club that gave up a mere 19 goals in 26 matches. This U-16 squad beat Independiente Medellin, 2-1, to capture the Premier Division of the 2015 Generation adidas Cup in April.
The Red Bulls were drawn into Group G with the IMG Academy (June 23rd), Solar Chelsea (June 24th), and the Portland Timbers (June 24th).
The IMG Academy -- an athletic training institute and private high school based in Bradenton, Florida -- are coming into the playoffs on a hot streak, having lost one of their last nine matches. They finished the 2014-2015 Academy season with a 18-14-4 record, good enough for sixth place in the Southeast Division an a wildcard spot. They scored 49 goals in 36 matches, led by Michael Saks' 12 tallies. They could continue their hot streak in the Playoffs, but they'll have their work cut out for them.
Solar Chelsea -- a Dallas, Texas-based development partner of English Premier League club Chelsea F.C. -- finished fourth in the Frontier Division with a 14-8-5 record. They're a dynamic team who find themselves in a lot of high scoring games. They're led by the attacking trio of Dwight Williams (20 goals), Malik Shaheed (13 goals), and Javier Leija (9 goals). Solar is capable of pulling off upsets, having beaten both the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas U-16s, and should not be underestimated.
The Red Bulls' third match will be against the second best team in the group, the Portland Timbers U-16s who finished in second place in the Northwest Division with a 16-8-8 record. They've struggled lately, having only won two of their last eight matches. However, the Timbers U-16s are a strong team who went 3-0 against non-conference opponents during the USSDA Winter Showcase. They're led by Jose Perez's 17 goals.
Predicted result: Winning the group and coasting to a 3-0 record. This is a strong team who was given a relatively easy trio of opponents.