On July 8th, the New York Red Bulls U16s coasted to a 4-2 win against Chivas USA, a result that was never really in doubt. In a match hosted at the Red Bull Training Facility in Hanover, New Jersey, Omir Fernandez put the home team up in the 5th minute and Brian Saramago tallied a hat trick with goals in the 36th, 49th, and 73rd minutes.
With that win, they earned a semifinal match against Georgia United at 7 p.m. on July 16th at the National Training Center in Carson, California. Georgia United are the only non-MLS Academy still alive in the Development Academy Playoffs.
Whomever wins this match advances to the U16 Development Academy National Championship match on July 18th and will play the winner of FC Dallas versus the Philadelphia Union.
THE LAST TIME THEY PLAYED
The Red Bulls and Georgia United matched up this season at the Development Academy Winter Showcase in Bradenton, Florida. The Red Bulls won, 5-2. Jared Gilbey and Brian Saramago hit for a brace and Zach Ryan put the match out of reach in the 65th minute. Georgia United’s Andrew Carleton pulled two back in the 66th and 69th minute, but the match was already out of reach.
Despite the shellacking, Georgia has improved by leaps and bounds and haven't lost a match since February.
What is Georgia United?
Soccer America profiled the club.
Since joining the Development Academy in 2011, Georgia United’s teams have made the playoffs at both U-15/16s and U-17/18s each year until the U-18s came up short this season. The key to success, says Annan, is that Georgia United is a conglomeration of clubs: United FA (which merged with Norcross SA), North Atlanta SA, Lanier SA and Southern Soccer Academy.
"In 2010, myself, Dave Smith [NASA] and Iggy Moleka [UFA] sat down and decided that the only way to make an Academy club work in Atlanta, which is such a strange market, is if we worked together, checked our egos at the door," says Annan, who was Norcross' director at the time. "We continued our clubs, but played in the Academy under the umbrella of a neutral club, Georgia United."
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Managed by Dave Smith, Georgia had a very successful regular season, finishing second in the Southeast Division with a 21-8-7 record. Hints of the team’s elite potential were present in wins over powerful clubs like the Dallas Texans and Beachside SC.
United entered the Development Academy Playoffs with the 10th seed. They stormed through group play with a perfect 3-0 record, beating PDA (3-1), Real So Cal (3-2), and BW Gottschee (4-0). They advanced to the quarterfinals, beating the Vancouver Whitecaps in a shootout after tying 2-2 in regulation.
New York Red Bulls
Led by Manager Simon Nee, the high scoring Red Bulls U16s based in Hanover, New Jersey went an impressive 23-1-2 during the regular season and finished the year ranked first in the country. The team is strong on both offensive and defense, scoring an impressive 74 goals during the regular season while only conceding 19. In April, the Red Bulls took home the Premier Division of the Generation adidas Cup with a 2-1 win over storied Colombian club Independiente Medellin.
They’ve blitzed through the playoffs, scoring at least four goals per match. During group play they beat IMG Academy (5-1), Solar Chelsea (6-1), and the Portland Timbers (4-2). They easily handled Chivas USA, 4-2, in the semifinal.
Patrick Okonkwo (FWD) – Every strong Academy team tends to have a striker who puts up huge numbers and Okonkwo is that player for Georgia. He scored 34 goals during the regular season and was on fire during the group stage of the Academy playoffs, putting in six goals in three matches. Okonkwo is a dynamic , lethal finisher, and is constantly pestering center backs. He doesn’t make it easy for defenses, making sure that almost every clearance and header is contested.
Andrew Carleton (MID) – Carleton is the top rated player in the class of 2018. Only 14-years old, he’s playing in the Academy with the U16s and has been dominating competition. The "do everything" midfielder scored two massive goals against Vancouver in the quarterfinal, including a perfectly placed free kick from 25 yards out, and hit the game winning penalty during the shootout. Carleton is a fearless, creative, hardworking midfielder who puts in effort on both sides of the ball, sets up his teammates for easy finishes, and isn’t afraid to test the keeper from anywhere in the opponent’s half. He's already been tapped as a potential future star for the United States, constantly scoring for the United States U15 National Team.
Ernando Manrique (DEF) – Manrique is a dangerous right back who frequently makes marauding, swashbuckling runs up the right side of the field and joins the attack. He is an accurate crosser of the ball and is a source of assists for Okonkwo's headed goals. His twin brother, Diego, also starts on the back line for Georgia.
Other key players – Samuel Morton, Andreas Jackson, Qur'an Thomas
New York Red Bulls
Brian Saramago (FWD) – Here are some numbers: 23 goals in 26 regular season matches and 8 goals in 4 playoff matches. Saramago is dangerous whether he’s playing on the wing or at striker. He can beat you off the dribble, in the air, or simply shoot from distance when given a foot of space. Saramago will be a handful and Georgia will be hard-pressed keeping up with him; he scored two goals in the 5-2 win when these teams met in December.
Mason Deeds and Kyle Perno (DEF) – The dominant center back pairing anchored the U16s to a Generation adidas Cup title. Both players are prototypical center backs: good in the air, willing to get stuck in on tackles, unafraid to push to the wings to shut down one on ones, good touch on 40 yard passes, and have the speed to track down attackers. The Red Bulls Academy is turning into quite the center back factory with Deeds and Perno being the next two coming through on the conveyor belt. Both are already committed to powerful college programs: Deeds to Georgetown and Perno to UC Santa Barbara. They'll be tasked with shutting down Okonkwo which is no easy feat.
Omir Fernandez (FWD) – The Pippen to Saramago’s Jordan, Fernandez scored 17 regular season goals and four in the playoffs. He benefits from a strong midfield and is capable of both working well with Saramago and as a secondary option in the attack.
Other key players – Ryan Mingachos, Sean Teixeira, Jared Gilbey
HOW GEORGIA UNITED COULD WIN
By outscoring their opponents, obviously, but that's no easy task.
The Red Bulls have yet to be shut out this season in the Development Academy and it’s doubtful that streak will stop today considering that they’ve scored 25 goals in their last five matches. The Red Bulls are dangerous because if an opponent focuses on stopping their main and secondary scoring threats, they have other dangerous players who will step up and take the reins. So it will be up to Okonkwo and Carleton to try and match their opponents’ attack in what should be an entertaining, high scoring match. They're both capable of individual brilliance and can carry their team when expected.
HOW TO WATCH
The match is on Thursday, July 16th at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on ussoccer.com. We'll tweet out a direct link before the match starts.