The inaugural USL Academy Western Conference Regional Event in San Antonio wrapped up on Monday, and after an exciting four days, the competition set an exciting precedent for what’s to come from the brand-new initiative that has the potential to change the landscape of American soccer.
Hosted by San Antonio FC at Toyota Field (home of the club’s USL Championship side) and STAR Soccer Complex, the tournament showcased some of the country’s top youth prospects competing against each other and offered unique off-field development opportunities for coaches, players and referees. Three games were streamed worldwide, drawing thousands of live viewers and providing incredible exposure for those on the pitch.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have finally hosted the first USL Academy Cup event, and we were honestly blown away with the level of support it received from our clubs, players and communities,” said USL Sr. Director of Youth Development Liam O’Connell. “In addition to a high competitive standard of play, our clubs came together to prove that this platform can be used to collectively drive our game forward in this country. We’re confident that when we look back at this event in years to come, there will be a number of players competing in our senior team leagues who took their first steps through the USL Academy path.”
The RGV FC Academy ended the tournament with a 1-1-1 record. On Friday, October 11, the Toros earned their first draw, 2-2, against the Austin Bold FC academy. The second day, the young Toros suffered their first loss against Saint Louis FC, 0-1. On the last day of the tournament, RGV FC defeated FC Golden State 3-1 as they earned their first win in USL Academy play.
One Toro who stood out in the tournament was Alejandro Salazar who assisted in the attacking side by finishing the opportunities he was faced with. In addition, Salazar earned a brace against FC Golden State.
Aside from the action during games, those in attendance at the event had the chance to learn and exchange best practices for youth development. The referees at the tournament gathered on multiple occasions for development sessions, led by Dick Triche of Officials Management Group. USL Academy will continue to emphasize improving the quality of officiating at its events in the future, with the ultimate goal of having these initiatives trickle up to the professional game.
On Saturday night, coaches from nearly every team met for a Youth Development Workshop, where San Antonio FC Pro Academy Director Nick Evans presented a case study on his club’s unique talent identification and integration philosophy. The coaches then broke into small group discussions to bounce ideas off each other and explain youth development strategy at their clubs.
At Sunday’s Pro Pathway Panel, players heard from experienced coaches, academy directors, and professional soccer players about the potential pitfalls in building a professional soccer career. Moderated by USL Senior Director of Youth Development Liam O’Connell, the panel included Union Omaha’s Jay Mims, Phoenix Rising’s Jon Pearlman, San Antonio FC’s Ryan Roushandel, and Austin Bold’s Sonny Guadarrama.
The panelists discussed the lack of a defined pathway when they were growing up and stressed the importance of taking advantage of the evolving opportunities like USL Academy that are growing and building new avenues to reach professional soccer in America. Mims emphasized that soccer is now more available than ever, and that young players should play and watch the game as much as possible.
Roushandel, who retired from professional soccer earlier this year, said that most professionals hear the word “no” more than they hear the word “yes.” The former San Antonio FC player told the attendees to keep pursuing the dream through the rejections, and to never stop playing.
With the first-ever USL Academy Western Conference Event complete, attention now turns to the USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event, which will take place in February 2020 at the Premier Sports Complex at Lakewood Ranch in Bradenton, Florida. Teams from the East and the West will then meet for the inaugural USL Academy National Event, where both U13 and U17 national champions will be crowned.
To stay up-to-date on everything going on with USL Academy, visit usl-academy.com or search #USLAcademy on social media.