The world’s next generation of soccer stars are gathering in Bradenton, Florida for the 2023 Generation adidas Cup. This international youth tournament brings some of the world’s best academies together to test their mettle against one another, providing an important step in the development of the professional players of tomorrow. Both the U15 and U17 MNUFC Academy squads will be participating in this year’s competition, and are currently preparing themselves for their group stage games this weekend.
For those who are unfamiliar with the GA Cup, here’s a bit of background. In 2007, the Cup began as a way for MLS academies to compete in a tournament setting, giving young players valuable experience in a pressure atmosphere. As time went on, the tournament expanded to include international academies, upping the skill level and the general level of competition. Fans may recognize names like Chelsea, Arsenal, and even the mighty Real Madrid as some of the more notable names in this year’s tournament, but the list goes on and on.
With chances to play against international opponents difficult to come by, this tournament is an extremely valuable tool in both player and program development. U15 Head Coach Peter McDonnell sees this as a great way for players to see totally different ways to play the game, all in one place.
“This is the only event, at the moment, where we play against international teams,” McDonnell said. “Last year we were lucky and got to come against a lot of international teams, but it kind of depends on how you do within the group stages. Either way, the players will be able to watch games after they finish their games. They’ll be able to watch other cultures, see how they tackle, see how they run, how they move the ball, and I think that’s really important for them.”
With the groups drawn and the first three games already scheduled for both teams, there’s plenty to look forward to—and plenty to learn— in the coming days.
The U15s were drawn into a group with MLS clubs Houston Dynamo and Orlando City SC, as well as Danish side FC Nordsjælland. MNUFC’s U15s have come up against the Dynamo before, so they’ll know what to expect in that match. The remaining two opponents will present new challenges for the youngsters to overcome.
Obviously, the international matchup stands out the most, but Coach McDonnell sees a lot more similarities than differences between his squad and the Danes.
“Nordsjælland is going to be an interesting one for us, because it’s putting two similar cultures against one another,” he said. “I’ve watched some of their videos, and there’s a lot of snow banks in the background, so we’re both used to that. We play them on the first day, so we’ll see how fresh they are from traveling. They’ll be a quality academy; I know they do a lot of recruitment with analytics. Last year we played an English group, we played a couple of South American groups as well, this one being a Scandinavian group will be interesting.”
As McDonnell referenced, last year’s tournament saw the U15s play against several international opponents, with a shootout win against Manchester United highlighting the list. While that was a good way to start last year’s competition, the squad lost the following two games and failed to advance from the group.
“We were two nil up against LA Galaxy and lost 3-2, so there was a lot of learning in that last game,” McDonnell said. “It’s great for them to experience that. It’s good for them to understand that even if you have a really good start, you have to be consistent in the rest of the games.”
In the ensuing showcase, the team got the chance to play against French side Bordeaux and Scottish side Celtic — not a bad consolation bracket. Excitement is building for the young players this time around, but past experiences will help them to handle the pressure.
“It’s important for them to be excited about it, and it’s important for us to teach them what that excitement means and how they can use it correctly,” McDonnell said. “We want them to understand that they can be as good as these international players; they can be as good as these other academies. We want our market to realize that we’re on a world-class stage, and we want to compete on a world-class stage.”
For the U17 Loons, there have been a few key changes to the group stage. While the original group included Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, and Boca Juniors, the Argentine giants have since pulled out of the competition. In their stead, an IMG Academy team will be added to the group.
Similar to the U15s, the U17 squad is ready for another exciting trip to Bradenton.
“GA Cup is always an exciting time,” said U17 Head Coach Justin Ferguson. “You get a lot of international teams coming into the U.S., and we get to test ourselves against those international teams. The preparation for this kind of event is always huge. You get a lot of guys really starting to compete now and really starting to show their best. I think that’s exciting for the club because we get to test ourselves against really high-level players, which obviously forces us to grow and see where we’re really at as we help these guys improve.”
In last year’s tournament, the U17s made it out of the group stages, falling in the Round of 16. Many of the same players from last year’s squad will be returning this year, now on the older end of the age group. With valuable experience under their belts, they’ll be hoping to make it even further.
While good results are always a goal to shoot for, MNUFC Director of Youth Development Noel Quinn sees this tournament as an opportunity to accomplish something beyond the final score lines.
“I really think a successful GA Cup is the ability for us to go down to Florida, play against the international teams, play against the best teams in MLS, and make sure that when our boys go down there, they’re representing our football club in a way that we want them to,” Quinn said. “Not only in the performances and results, but overall in their approach to the tournament and the recognition that they’re playing in the highest level of football on the continent. The ability to say we’re Minnesota United and we belong here is a huge thing. It’s a moment where we can compare ourselves to the international level, and ultimately, the goal of our Academy is to be world-class. If you’re going to achieve that, you have to be able to see it a little bit.”
For those interested in watching the GA Cup, select games will be broadcast on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. The schedule for the whole tournament can be found here, with games updating after results come in.