The Colorado Rapids Under-16 team tied their third match of the Development Academy Playoffs on Friday morning in Frisco, Texas and punched their ticket for Finals Week in Houston next month.
"I'm very proud of the guys," said Head Coach Mitch Murray. "We knew what the third game meant, and that if they performed well they'd get to go to Finals Week, so it was a very tight game."
The teams started out pretty evenly, with only a handful of chances for both sides, but none were successful and the first half ended scoreless. Just three minutes into the second half, a ball was played from the midfield to Hayden Heinrich on the right flank. He beat his defender and found Edward Venta-Yepes with a cross who finished one-time to put the Rapids ahead, effectively securing their spot in Finals Week.
The U-16s held strong throughout the remainder of the match, but a foul in the box gave Revolution Empire a penalty kick which tied the game in stoppage time. Still, the 1-1 draw was enough to send the Rapids through and earn them the title of one of the eight best Academy teams in the country.
"This was a very tense game," said Murray as the team boarded the bus. "It had a great atmosphere, and the boys handled themselves well. It's all about their development, and being put in these situations helps them grow. I'm very proud of them and now we'll see what we can do in Houston."
Throughout the tournament, the Colorado Rapids U-16s earned a 2-0-1 record and seven points to finish first in their group. They defeated CASL Chelsea FC Academy 2-1 in a come from behind win on Tuesday, and shut out the Baltimore Bays 2-0 on Wednesday. They needed a win or a tie to advance to Finals Week, and did so with the 1-1 draw on Friday morning against Revolution Empire.
This is now the second consecutive year that the Colorado Rapids will send an Academy team to Finals Week; the U-18s advanced last year and finished sixth in the country.
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy Finals Week will be held in Houston, Texas from July 14-20.