Over 300 teams met in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona, for the 2023 edition of MLS NEXT Fest last week, bringing styles from all over the country together for a massive showcase event. After six exciting days of soccer, Minnesota United’s Academy teams left the Grand Canyon State with another valuable experience under their belts. While the younger age groups learned valuable lessons from some tough results, the U19s managed to put their skills on full display with a strong showing.
- MNUFC 2-3 CF Montreal
- MNUFC 0-4 NYCFC
- MNUFC 0-5 Philadelphia Union
Head Coach Thomas Harris’ U15 side got their first real taste of national competition last week, and it was filled with teaching moments. While the final scores provide lessons of their own, it’s what happened in the thick of each game that taught the youngsters, and their coaches, the most.
Match one was difficult but could have easily ended in MNUFC’s favor with a bit more luck. Tim Dennis’ early goal put the Loons ahead, only for two unanswered scores to leave them trailing at halftime. Brody Schauf equalized in the second half, but the Canadian side ultimately found the winner. MNUFC spent much of the match defending and struggling to create scoring opportunities. Keane Perkins performed admirably in goal, while U14 defender Max Harwood stepped into midfield and adapted well to a new position.
The subsequent matches saw a few of the younger guys get substantial game time, giving them exposure to a higher level and new positions. Harwood continued in the midfield, while Sam Roseblade started for the first time against the Union and played well. Mateo Molina got his first start in net against an MLS-level team in the NYCFC match, and several others stepped up when the team needed a few leaders. Griffin Giel was among the players that impressed the coaches the most.
“Tough moments allow us to see which players possess the resiliency to keep going despite the situation not being good,” Harris said. “We were really competitive at times throughout all the games, but we didn’t possess the quality to sustain the level we needed. The players conducted themselves well and represented the club well in the off-field moments.”
The main takeaways for this age group were the team-building moments, the exposure to soccer outside of Minnesota, and a new measuring stick moment to show the group where they are in their development. With plenty of soccer to come, this was a welcome test.
- MNUFC 2–3: San Jose Earthquakes
- MNUFC 1–2 LA Galaxy
- MNUFC 1–3: Real Colorado
From a results standpoint, this event didn’t turn out exactly as the U17s hoped it would. However, strong performances from several players helped show the young side a silver lining beyond the scoreboard, something that Head Coach Justin Ferguson found a lot of value in.
“These events are really important for us,” Ferguson said. “It gives us a chance to get outside of our region and test ourselves against a lot of strong opponents. These experiences are needed for us to stretch ourselves and help us continue the growth of the players. While we’re unhappy with several of the results, we were pleased with performances from the boys and felt we were unlucky not to come away with wins in several of the matches.”
Like their coach said, the 17s were painfully close to earning results in their first two matches. Despite going down early against San Jose in game one, the Loons found the equalizer before the half, courtesy of Aidan Martinez. A pair of goals conceded early in the second half could have easily ended the match outright, but the boys fought back to cut the deficit in half, falling just short in the end. Similarly, a strong performance against the LA Galaxy ultimately went against them, despite multiple chances to equalize before the final whistle.
- MNUFC 0-4 FC Dallas
- MNUFC 2-0 New England Revolution
- MNUFC 3-0 Chicago Fire
The eldest representatives from MNUFC found the most success on the field, earning two wins after a slow start against FC Dallas in game one. Though a mixture of nerves and a quality opponent got the better of them in their first match, the squad showed Head Coach Fanendo Adi the kind of quality and resilience that would make any coach proud.
“We held ourselves to a high standard after the first loss against Dallas,” Adi said. “The boys had some great performances against very good players. We’re happy with our performance and believe this should be our standard from now on.”
By sticking to their guns and playing their way, the U19s were able to rebound immediately in game two. Early chances set the tone, with Nathan Moua putting away the first of Andrew Heckenlaible’s pair of assists. Julian Banks got on the end of the second, doubling the lead and sealing the game at 2-0.
“We played really good football today,” Adi said. “We made it difficult for New England to play. We just had to learn a lot about ourselves, knowing we could be dominant against the winner of our division from last year. The boys were brave and pragmatic when necessary; an overall good reaction from the boys after yesterday’s loss.”
The final match saw Tamer Ibsais (2) and Julian Banks hit the back of the net. A fast start put Chicago on the back foot, with MNUFC’s high press forcing mistakes and leading to goals. After losing to the Fire earlier this season, the boys were glad to get a bit of revenge on the national stage.
With the fall season finished and NEXT Fest behind them, all three Academy teams have a break in the action. The 2023-24 season picks back up in mid-February, with an exciting second half of the season awaiting all three sides.