It’s a historic week for Austin FC in more ways than one as the U-15 Austin Academy team will be participating in the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs starting this week as they try to win the first trophy in Club history.
The tournament begins on Friday in Frisco, Texas with 32 teams competing for the title in a single-elimination tournament. The tournament is for four age groups (U-15, U-16, U-17, U-19) so the U-15’s were the only Austin team eligible to compete. They qualified for the playoffs and will have matches Friday, Sunday and Monday with more matches set to be competed next week. If Austin were to lose, they would be playing as part of the MLS NEXT Cup Showcase.
“I’m happy for the kids and I think for me the focus should be that tournaments and these competitive environments are a learning tool where the kids learn how to play with a little bit more on the line and to play with a little bit more competitiveness,” Austin Academy GM Tyson Wahl told AustinFC.com on Monday. “Our soccer culture needs that and it’s good for their development.”
The competition will be fierce with 31 other teams vying for the trophy, but the U-15’s have shown an ability to compete at a high level all season, as evidenced by their qualification into the playoffs.
Winning the whole thing would be an incredible accomplishment but just getting to this point has meant it’s been a successful season for the team.
“I think making the playoffs is a good first step and we have had a successful season thus far. We feel like we’ve grown and we’ve improved and we feel like we’ve made great strides,” said Wahl. “I think we can win games. If we’re at our best, I think we can compete with anyone and I think for us and our preparation it’s about getting the most out of our team and getting them to feel positive and confident about this week.”
What would it mean if the team were able to capture the first trophy in Club history? A whole lot, even though winning isn’t everything when talking about players at this age level.
“It would be amazing to win the championship,” said Wahl. “Those are always big moments where you can continue to build and create a ton of momentum. I know the Club would value that, not that the academy is all about winning, but I do think we want to have trophies here and have big moments and memorable moments so of course we’re striving towards that.”
These players obviously don’t play in a vacuum and it’s clear that Saturday was a special for the entire Club as the first team was finally able to play their first home match at Q2 Stadium, playing the San Jose Earthquakes to a 0-0 draw.
For the Academy players, it was another opportunity for them to see what possibilities exist down the road if they continue to progress.
“It’s another one of these moments where the connection is more real and they’re learning what it’s like to be like a pro and be at the game and really feel it.”