3 MNUFC Academy teams. 6 days. And, more than 300 of North America’s top youth soccer squads.
That’s right, MLS NEXT Fest is here once again for 2023, and your Loons have traded the Minnesota cold for the dry heat of Arizona. MNUFC’s U15, U17, and U19 Academy teams have made their way down to the Southwest for what is sure to be an energetic environment filled with an endless amount of love for the game of soccer, up-and-coming talent, and opportunities for those young players looking to stand out from the crowd.
In fact, NEXT Fest participants are well aware that this event will play host to many collegiate, national, and professional scouts and coaches. As an event designed to discover and distinguish the next generation of MLS stars, NEXT Fest is just as big a deal for the gentlemen roaming the sidelines and doing their best to guide the way to victory. MNUFC’s U15 Assistant Coach, Jamie Carroll-Rolfe, spoke on the big opportunities this event has in store for everybody involved.
“The reason they join the Academy and the reason they love playing for Minnesota United is because they get to play against the best in the country. And, we as coaches get to test ourselves against the best in the country. So, it's an amazing opportunity for them. These are the ones the players are really eager to get to. They make sure the training always intensifies the weeks before because they will fight for a spot. So yeah, they're in a good spot right now and we're looking forward to the time in Phoenix.”
For the U15 squad, there will be some tough tests ahead over the course of the week, as they will be facing formidable talent such as top-notch academy squads from Montreal FC and Philadelphia Union. But, as Carroll-Rolfe was quick to mention regarding the impressive opposition ahead, “It's gonna be best to kind of challenge these guys.”
For MNUFC’s U17’s, Academy Assistant and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Tomaz Marinelli, is looking forward to seeing how his squad can handle the different styles of the play they will be facing throughout the tournament.
“We want to see what we can do playing teams that we really haven't seen before. We have San Jose Earthquakes, who play with a very different player pool than us. Northern California is going to be a different kind of soccer than what we see in the Midwest, just athletes that look different. Coaches' ideas are mostly going to be the same—we all play the same game—but a very different speed of the game that they're used to playing at their youth level compared to up here.”
But, like their younger counterparts, the U17 squad is just as confident in the roster they have and the team’s ability to compete at a high level when facing off with some of the top prospects in North America. As Coach Marinelli put it, “I would say the big goal is not just to compete in those games. We've proven that we can win competitive games. So, we'll be looking to win.”
For the U19 Loons, NEXT Fest will be about embracing the challenge of a tournament schedule that includes some of MLS’ top-notch academies in FC Dallas, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire. But, the boys in Black and Blue will bring some top tier talent of their own in Kage Romanshyn Jr and Darius Randell. Both have shown they can be dangerous around the opponent's net, specifically with Randell’s finishing touch helping to earn the squad positive results so far this season. Hopefully, the U19’s will be able to find that same kind of success within their tournament play at the event.
Ultimately, for all of MNUFC’s Academy squads, MLS NEXT Fest will be a beneficial experience for the players in terms of further developing their skills against top level talent. And, hopefully, each squad can find just as much success in their tournament play and further develop the winning culture that MNUFC Academy Vice President of Youth Development Amos Magee has been working to build since his appointment in October of 2022. For all these young Loons, let’s hope that MLS NEXT Fest can serve as a proving ground for finding success on the pitch and more opportunities off of it.