Academy Returns for Final Stretch of the Season

Academy 3:27

With the GA Cup behind them, MNUFC’s academy teams were back in action this weekend to kick off the final stretch of the 2023-24 MLS NEXT season. All three age groups played across the last two weekends, and while the results didn’t go their way, the boys put together some positive performances while taking advantage of new opportunities.


The U15s took a trip down to Ohio this past weekend, facing both FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew on their journey to the Buckeye State. They picked up 6-2 and 2-1 losses, respectively, but Assistant Coach Jamie Carroll-Rolfe was pleased with his team’s resilience across the two matches.

Saturday’s match in the Queen City resulted in a big scoreline, but at this age, scores can often be deceiving. A few small mistakes can cost you big-time at any level, and that’s exactly what happened to the Loons in this one.

“The scoreline doesn’t truly reflect the story of the game,” Carroll-Rolfe said. “We needed to be cleaner with the ball and from set pieces, but those lessons, although tough to take at the time, will make this young group stronger.”

Sunday’s matchup with the Crew was a closer affair, ending 2-1 in favor of the hosts once again. This time around, it was two lapses in concentration that gave Columbus a way through, and against such a strong team, you can’t afford to switch off like that. The boys responded well after falling behind early, though, and felt unlucky not to come away from their second match of the weekend without at least a draw.

Both Tim Dennis and Jadan Bernard impressed their coaches this weekend, as Dennis scored and assisted against Cincinnati, and Bernard gave Columbus problems with his desire to get into dangerous areas and bring the ball forward. In the back, goalkeeper Mateo Molina continued to show great progress in his understanding of the position, making excellent saves and becoming a bigger presence in the net.


The U17 squad traveled down to Ohio as well this weekend, and their matches followed a similar theme to their younger counterparts. Several young players stepped up into older age groups for these matches, earning valuable minutes and experience at a level they’d not yet played at.

Against Cincinnati, a group of 2008-born players were given the chance to make their first real contributions of the season. They were forced to solve new problems against stronger, faster, and generally bigger players, making for a wonderful growing experience that can only benefit their development in the long run. Though they lost the match, Head Coach Justin Ferguson felt that the group adapted to the situation well.

In Ohio’s capital, another young group got the start and the bulk of the minutes. A pair of early injuries forced a double substitution at the half-hour mark, disrupting the flow of the match and helping Columbus take a commanding lead. Despite the lopsided final scoreline, Aidan Martinez was active early, creating chances and scoring his team’s only goal of the match from just outside the box. Unfortunately, Martinez was one of the early substitutions, and his creative spark went to the bench with him.


Though the U19s had this weekend off, they took on Shattuck St. Mary’s in Faribault last week. A close match saw the hosts come out as 1-0 victors, but a positive performance from the Loons left plenty to be proud of.

A 0-0 scoreline at the half saw the match balanced on a knife’s edge. An early second-half goal proved to be the difference in the end, despite MNUFC’s push to find the equalizer. The Loons created several good chances but lacked the finishing touch they needed to get anything out of the match.

Four U17 players featured for the older group in last weekend’s match, including goalkeeper Kai Zeruhn, who started and went the full 90 minutes between the posts. Aidan Martinez added a spark on the wing as well, excelling in his own 90-minute shift. The U19s will be taking a break from action before their participation in the MLS NEXT Flex Tournament, starting on May 10.

Just three regular-season matches remain for all three teams, meaning the MLS NEXT Flex Tournament and the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs will take center stage as the final horizons to strive toward. Before worrying about those events, though, another tough weekend awaits the U15s and U17s this week, with home matches against Houston and St. Louis on tap.