The Austin FC Academy recently completed its second season, highlighted by a run to the quarterfinals in the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup by the Under-15 squad -- who were the only team eligible to compete in the tournament. They lost in a penalty-kick shootout to the Philadelphia Union after playing to a scoreless draw.
Each of the Club’s three Academy teams -- U-13, U-14, U-15 -- had successful seasons playing in the Frontier Conference of MLS NEXT as they each finished near the top of the table.
“We have accomplished a lot to be honest. We have been able -- along with the support of Josh [Wolff] and Claudio [Reyna] and the ownership group and Tyson [Wahl] as well with his leadership -- to set up what I call the version 1.0 of the academy,” Austin FC Academy Technical Director Dr. Juan L. Delgado Bordonau told AustinFC.com this week. “We have a clear philosophy. We were lucky to have Josh available to share these ideas so that we could build a model that makes sense. The same language, the same principles adapted to the reality of the youth system. We’re really happy and satisfied with all the work we’ve done.”
The season wasn’t an easy one, starting with several months of Zoom sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fall mainly consisted of matches with in-state rivals before the teams were able to travel out of state and face some new opponents in the spring as travel restrictions were decreased or lifted.
Through all of that each team showed that they are ready to compete at the highest level with Delgado believing the Academy is already one of the top in the state.
“I think all three teams have done really well. We’ve been able to compete against Houston Dynamo FC and be better than Houston most of the time, which is a big accomplishment. We’re now ready to compete with FC Dallas, although they might be one level up, that’s our next step. Hopefully this season we’ll be able to accomplish that.”
Locally, Austin has shown there is a pathway to MLS for all youth players in Central Texas which is important when considering there is a USL Championship team -- San Antonio FC -- in the area.
“I envision a reality where some of our kids might end up playing at the USL level with San Antonio and some of the San Antonio kids end up playing at the MLS level. Overall it’s good for soccer in Central Texas.”
After the U-15’s run to the quarterfinals at MLS NEXT Cup, Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff said that some of the players had already trained with the first team.
With the players being just 14 or 15 years old, any professional contract is likely a couple years away, but there’s little doubt that the experience those players were able to have is not only beneficial to their own development, but every player around them.
“That was a huge step,” Austin FC Academy GM Tyson Wahl told AustinFC.com. “I kind of view it as a little taste. Several of our guys got a great experience training with the first team and it was really just a taste. You noticed those kids coming back into the academy, you noticed their motivation and level and their training intensity increased.”
Preseason for next season starts July 26, with regular season set to commence about a month after that. 2021-22 will be a little different for the Austin FC Academy with the addition of two new age groups as a U-12 team and a U-17 team will be introduced.
With new teams means new players and coaches and scouts have looked all across the country to bring in new players to the Club. Overall, Delgado says they have been searching for more athletic players as the players already within the Academy have a high level of technical ability.
“For a very technical player to shine and show his potential he needs a physical player next to him. Taking into account our demographics and the profile of players we have, we would like to have more athletic players. We have a lot of technical players with good decision-making but we might need the support of more physical players so they both can develop properly.”
The sky’s the limit for an Academy that has already established itself as the best in Central Texas. With the first team playing in front of raucous crowds at Q2 Stadium, we could see some of these players competing at the youth level taking the field in front of the Austin FC faithful in the near future.
“I think everybody’s going to see how we can use soccer to add value not only to win games but also to provide opportunities to make a career out of it. It’s going to be awesome, I can’t wait to see a Homegrown Player signed.” said Delgado. “It might take a couple of years but I’m sure with the quality of training, competition and talent we have in Texas, I’m sure we’re going to have young Academy products playing in Q2 Stadium.”