Three Minnesota United Academy teams took part in MLS NEXT Fest last week, representing the club in a field of nearly 500 teams. All three squads performed well, showing the type of improvement the coaching staff was looking for at this tournament.
MLS NEXT Fest followed a typical tournament format: each team was guaranteed three matches. After being put into a group of four teams, each squad played one another in round-robin style. All three Loons teams won their first two matches, leaving themselves with the chance to win their respective groups on the final matchday.
MNUFC’s teams participated in the U15, U17, and U19 divisions. For the U15 and U17 teams, this event was used for seeding the Generation Adidas Cup that will be played early in 2023. For the U19s, this tournament served as a showcase and capstone for the fall season.
The U15s kicked off their tournament with a 3-2 victory over eventual group-winners Toronto. They followed up that performance with another narrow 2-1 win against the Colorado Rapids Academy and ended their stay with a 4-1 loss to Inter Miami. All-in-all, it was a successful run for the U15s, earning them a spot in Pot 2 for GA Cup seeding.
Likewise, the U17s fared well in their efforts. They didn’t lose a single game in regular time, forcing two shootouts against Colorado and Charlotte. Though they beat Colorado in PK’s, the shootout loss to Charlotte ultimately decided the group, leaving the Loons in second place. Their tough showing was good enough to earn a spot in Pot 2 for GA Cup seeding.
MNUFC’s Director of Youth Development, Noel Quinn, recalls a nice moment in the U17s final match.
“Our U15s and U19s weren’t playing at the time, so they all came to cheer them on,” Quinn said. “There were probably a couple hundred people watching in total, so when we scored the late equalizer to force penalties, we had a nice moment where all the boys celebrated together.”
For the U19s, there was less on the line. However, that didn’t stop them from putting their best foot forward. Six different goalscorers stepped up for the U19 Loons, helping them to earn a plus five goal differential across three games. Several MNUFC2 players featured and scored, including Devin Padelford, Geremy Rodas and new signing Loïc Mesanvi. They ended the tournament with two wins and a loss, finishing second in the group.
This year marks MNUFC’s second time participating in MLS NEXT Fest. As a relatively new program, Quinn understands that success looks different for his club than it does for some of the more established teams.
“Last year, we came in and we were hopeful. This year, with more experience, there was a lot of optimism surrounding our chances,” Quinn said. “We played really well, there was definitely an improvement in our performance. Our performances and results are really starting to match our expectations, there’s plenty more to come.”
Along with his pride in MNUFC’s performance last week, Quinn also spoke about how the program approaches tournaments in general.
“We always try to teach our players to be adaptable and dependable,” he said. “We’re prepared to play in any environment at any time. We always adapt really well to tournament settings, and I was pleased to see that was the case last week.”
With the fall season coming to an end, it’s time to move indoors for a bit. Quinn and the rest of MNUFC’s Academy coaches are left satisfied with their performance and progress this season, and will be eager to keep working towards a better future. The Generation Adidas Cup will be held in April, serving as the next big test for the young Loons.