The Austin FC Academy opened its 2020-21 season on Saturday with wins in its matches at all three levels over solid San Antonio FC academy teams. Austin FC Academy General Manager Tyson Wahl sees the results — an 8-2 win for the U15s, a 3-0 win for the U14s, and a 2-1 win for the U13s — as good reflections of how the players are learning and growing.
“Across all the age groups, we’re trying to play the same way with the same identity,” Wahl observed, noting that the philosophy was especially well represented by the U15s — a team composed of players born in 2006, the majority of whom are in their second season with the Academy.
“We kept a large structure in possession, which allowed us some spaces to exploit,” he explained. “Our players came into pockets of space and were able to turn a little better than they did last year. That was a huge improvement, to see them turn in those dangerous pockets and then make passes to the attacking players.” That, in turn, led to plenty of scoring opportunities as evinced by the scoreline.
The matches, at Austin FC Academy’s temporary home field, were the first for the teams under the MLS Next banner. MLS Next, the new American soccer player development system, spearheaded by Major League Soccer, includes the Academy’s three youth squads among its nearly 500 teams.
The U14s debuted with a shutout victory, which Wahl attributed to a strong effort throughout the match. “They've been training very well and performing really well in training,” he said of the group, who played their first match together in verde. “Our defenders made big plays. The opponents had some opportunities, but our backline made good plays to recover the ball in dangerous areas. It’s fantastic for a goalkeeper’s confidence to get a shutout in the first game.”
The U13s battled to a 2-1 win, scoring the opener and surrendering the equalizer but coming back with a game-winning goal. “They're learning a lot, completing a lot of passes and playing forward balls and breaking lines,” Wahl noted. Though the SAFC U13s were a physically bigger team, the Austin FC squad met the challenge with a mix of physicality and smarts. And, as Wahl observed, the result reflected a solid mindset.
“It’s obviously great for their resilience,” he noted. “When you think about it, this is the highest level of competition they can face. A lot of the players on this team aren’t used to losing a lot or even giving up a lot of goals,” adding that managing the frustration of losing a lead, and then being able to regain a lead, is critical in a young player’s development.