Atlanta United, Texans SC Houston crowned Development Academy champs

CARSON, California (Via U.S. Soccer) – Atlanta United FC U-15/16s and Texans SC Houston U-17/18s ended the 2016-17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season as Champions on Sunday.

First year Academy program Atlanta United FC defeated FC Dallas 2-1 behind a brace from MLS homegrown signing Andrew Carleton, while Texans SC Houston earned the first national title for any Development Academy club in the city of Houston, defeating LA Galaxy 2-1 in the nightcap.

The day after the U.S. Men’s National Team saw a record number of Development Academy graduates featured in its 3-0 Gold Cup victory over Nicaragua (7), the U-15/16 Academy Championship featured its own star-studded cast of players, including U-17 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying players Carleton and Zyen Jones for Atlanta United, as well as Bryan Reynolds Jr. for FC Dallas.

After a scoreless deadlock to end the first half, Carleton was first to open the scoring in the 63rd minute, when he uncorked a free kick opportunity from the top of the box, over the five-man wall, and into the right side of the net.

Four minutes later, Carleton added his second goal, which would end up serving as the game winner, in even more spectacular fashion. Following a defender’s lob into the attacking third, the ball bounced forward off Jackson Conway’s head and found Carleton, who smashed a volley from 20-yards out and curled it into the upper right corner.

Despite a late stoppage time header from FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, Atlanta would hold on for the club’s first national title in its first year of existence.

“This is (the work of) more than just this season,” Carleton said. “Georgia United, Concord Fire, all the clubs that have been around for a while, came together and put it all together for Atlanta United. It just shows the development of soccer in Atlanta. It’s really a pat on the back to guys like Tony Annan and Dave Smith, and everyone who has been a part of promoting soccer in Georgia.”

“It was a feeling of absolute elation, that we’ve actually done it,” Atlanta United FC Academy Director and U-15/16 head coach Tony Annan said of his emotions after the final whistle blew. “We set out at the beginning of the season, in August, to do this and the boys have been absolutely fantastic and they’ve done it. And this is it. I’m so happy and I’m really happy for our kids.”

In the nightcap, Texans SC Houston had its hands full, as the LA Galaxy home crowd showed up in full force to Glenn “Mooch” Myernick Field.

Thirty-four minutes in, however, Houston landed the first blow. Following 10 minutes of intense pressure, Alejandro Alaniz struck a ball across the box, where it eventually met the right foot of Christian Cappis, who stuck the ball promptly into the back of the net.

Eleven minutes into the second half, the Galaxy found its equalizer from Efrain Alvarez. Building from the midfield, Alvarez settled a Ulysses Llanez pass and strategically delivered a quick, left-footed shot from the top left side of the box to the right-side netting.

With both teams continuing to fight for glory, the Texans’ most important goal of the season came in the 73rd minute.

After a sideline throw-in gave Alex Bruce a chance to cross the ball in, it was immediately headed away by a Galaxy defender. The ball landed in open space in the middle of the field, and was immediately chested down, one-timed off the bounce, and rocketed into the top right corner of the net by Omar Vasquez. The incredible strike was also Vasquez’s first of the season.

“The whole thing happened in slow motion,” Vasquez explained of his goal. “Before you knew it, I was crowded by all of my teammates, and it was just a beautiful experience.”

Houston then held on for dear life for the remaining 17 minutes to capture its first ever national title.

“All year long they’ve had a belief that no matter what the momentum swings are, they just find a way,” Texans SC Houston Academy Director and U-17/18 head coach Eric Quill said. “When (LA Galaxy) scored the goal, they could have easily let the moment get too big for them, but they decided to keep fighting. They kept pressing them and then a wonder-strike (happened). So I think a little bit of luck always helps.”

The dramatic finish was 10 years in the making, with the 10th Development Academy season officially coming to a close. It was only right to end the first decade of player development in the United States with two new champions as Academy Clubs continue to develop and grow.