While the MLS NEXT Pro and MLS seasons approach their final stages, academy soccer is just getting started. On September 2, the 2023-24 MLS NEXT season officially began for the Loons, and with games scheduled until late May, there’s plenty more action for the MNUFC Academy to look forward to.
Week One Takeaways
All three teams started their seasons with matches against Lou Fusz Athletic, a club based out of St. Louis, Missouri. A traditionally successful organization in the youth soccer world, Lou Fusz is currently playing in their first season of MLS NEXT action, and MNUFC gave them quite the welcome.
Three games ended in three wins for the young Loons, with the U19s and U17s both winning big. The U15s played a tighter contest but ultimately came out on top in a 3-2 battle. The club’s Vice President of Youth Development, Amos Magee, was pleased with the performance of all three squads in week one and excited for what’s yet to come.
“The 17s and 19s were dominant,” Magee said. “They were really effective at breaking down opposition and putting the ball in the net, and they played some creative, engaging soccer that we're excited about. The 15s played some really good football as well. They got punished for mistakes that led to two goals and ended up winning 3-2, but I was quite pleased with the lessons that we were able to teach the kids in their first MLS NEXT game, which for a lot of them is a big step up.”
With the first win of the season already in their back pocket, the focus for the whole program shifts once again toward consistency and continued improvement. After marked advancement from year one to year two, the MNUFC Academy is hoping to continue their upward trend in their third year since restarting, and there’s reason to believe that such a goal is realistic.
“We feel like in year three of the kind of rebooted academy, we're starting to see really exciting players come through at each age group.” Magee said. “We've had a U17 group that had some fantastic results last year. But inconsistent. And now a large core of those players have moved up to the 19s, and they’re doing really well, pushing the existing U19 players.”
In many ways, MNUFC’s Academy is more ready than ever to take on the MLS NEXT calendar. For several players, academy soccer may feel a bit easier after their experience in the development pathway. During the current MLS NEXT Pro season alone, 15 different Academy players have featured on MNUFC2 game day rosters, with nine of them earning valuable minutes on the field. On top of that, even more players have earned the chance to train with the Twos, giving them useful experience and showing them what it takes to make it in professional soccer.
“We continue to add staff and try to build one of the top academies in the country,” Magee said. “And as we do that, you know, our coaches continue to try to push the envelope on development. And, you know, our relationship with the second team and the second team staff continues to build and grow. We're really pleased with how we communicate with the second team, and we're really pleased with how we're all trying to create an outstanding developmental component of Minnesota United that we think will benefit the first team in future years.”
The best clubs in the world are known for having the best academies as well, whether you’re talking about Barcelona’s famed La Masia or Chelsea Football Club’s talent factory that has produced so many top-level players. Between the continued development of the Academy and the youth development pathway, MNUFC hopes to one day be mentioned in the same breath as these legendary programs.
While club growth is an important aspect of what the Academy is trying to accomplish, there’s more to it than that. Each individual player is learning and growing, a reality that isn’t lost on the Academy staff.
“Really, we continue to focus on individual development and pushing players forward in their soccer careers,” Magee said. “Our coaches are committed to that as a goal. But to get the most out of our players, we know we have to play good teams in competitive games. And so we have to create a winning mentality that we hope, for some of these kids, will carry over into first-team football.”
The season is set, the rosters are ready to go, and the ball is already rolling. The MNUFC Academy will be back in action on September 16, when the U15 and U17 squads will be taking on Shattuck St. Mary’s while the U19s face Wave SC in their first road match of the year. Visit mnufc.com/academy to stay up-to-date on all things MLS NEXT this season and keep tabs on the progress of the young Loons, and check out all of the tournament action coming their way this season here.