Real Salt Lake Academy U-15 team captures MLS NEXT Cup title
By Meg Van Dyk (@MegVanDyk1), rsl.com
On Friday night the Real Salt Lake U15s lifted the first-ever MLS NEXT Cup trophy after defeating the top-ranked Philadelphia Union U15s 2-0 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Jude Wellings and Evan Pickering scored goals on either side of halftime, and Fernando Delgado made multiple key saves in the match to solidify the victory. [Watch Highlights]
“It’s been a long road, that’s for sure,” Head Coach Andrew May said. “I’m so happy for the players. To have this experience at such a young age is so special. We are off to a good start in terms of the academy, so super excited for everybody. It’s about a group, it’s about a team, even through these adversities and I’m so proud of this team — As One!”
Wellings who wore the captain’s armband for the RSL U15s opened the scoring in the 15th minute collecting a backpass from Izahi Amparo before calmly slotting the ball into the unmarked goal to take the early 1-0 lead.
“It was a great bit of work from Izzy [Amparo], and he set it off perfectly so it was almost an open net, if I miss from there it would have been pretty bad,” Wellings said in a postgame interview while being drenched in celebration by his teammates. “It feels amazing to win this first tournament ever and to captain us to it, it’s a great feeling.”
For his performance Wellings was named the adidas Player of the Match.
In the second half it was Pickering who doubled the lead and generated distance on the scoresheet between RSL and Philadelphia when he rose above the backline of Philadelphia and headed home an Angel Morales corner kick for the 2-0 lead in the 65th minute.
Once again Delgado put on a clinic in between the pipes to keep the Union from scoring, snuffing several chances with top-caliber saves, including one at point-blank range in the 75th minute to keep the scoreline at 2-0. He was aided by Carter Burrup, Gershon Henry, Braydan Morrell and Noah Segura on the backline who kept Philadelphia at bay to earn the clean sheet.
“Through all these games he has made amazing saves and kept us in it,” Wellings said. “He’s a great keeper and he put his body on the line and came up big.”
Forward Axel Kei was awarded the MLS NEXT Cup U15 Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the tournament, leading the way with five.
The win marks the first major trophy for the RSL Academy since relocating to Herriman, Utah and opening Zions Bank Real Academy and is the first since RSL won the 2012-13 USSDA U15/16 National Championship at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
RSL was one of 32 teams in the nation who qualified to participate in the MLS NEXT Cup Tournament. The team defeated Orlando City, Total Futbol Academy, Sockers FC and San Jose Earthquakes on their way to the final.
The MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs is a single elimination competition with 32 teams in each age group. Teams qualified for MLS NEXT Cup Tournament on a points-per-game basis from their performance in the MLS NEXT regular season.
Real Salt Lake Academy U15 Roster: Izahi Amparo, Abokye Bikyeombe, Carter Burrup, Fernando Delgado, Isiah Flores, Chris Grote, Matthew Hagan, Gershon Henry, Axel Kei, Blake Kelly, Angel Montesinos, Angel Morales, Braydan Morrell, David Noguera, Evan Pickering, Noah Segura, Logan Veloria, Jude Wellings