A new season for the Development Academy teams is about to begin.
Following three days of tryouts last month, Colorado Rapids Senior Director of Youth Development Brian Crookham informed ColoradoRapids.com that the club has finalized the rosters for the three Academy teams that will participate in the 2013-2014 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season. The Rapids Under-18, Under-16, and newly formed Under-14 teams held their first preseason training sessions this past Sunday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (PHOTO GALLERY).
"We're at a point now in the evolution of our program where it's nice to have a core of players come through our system to make up these teams," Crookham said. "We definitely feel we got some great players from outside the system, as well, so I think blending those two elements together we're happy with our starting point this year."
The Under-18s, which finished sixth the country in 2012, have nearly all graduated, with 14 players committed to playing collegiate soccer this fall. The two remaining players are Isaac Martinez and Kurt Young, who will be joined on the U18s for the upcoming season by players from last season's Under-16 team - which finished third in the country at the Academy Finals in July.
"The entire 16s group moved up. Isaac and Kurt will stay with the 18s, and we brought in one outside player - Jacob Hanlin - who trained with us all spring," said Crookham, who will coach the team along with first-team assistant coach Steve Cooke. "The way that 16s group progressed, it was very difficult for any other outside players to break in to the group."
The Under-16 team will be stocked mostly with players from the Rapids U-14, U-15, and U-16 teams that participated in the Colorado Youth Soccer (CYS) association, as well as a few that stood out during the tryouts that were not part of the system. The Under-16s will once again be coached by Mitch Murray.
As announced in February, the first-ever Under-14 Development Academy Team will launch this fall. The Rapids had been preparing for the debut of the youngest elite-level team by treating the CYS Rapids Under-14s as a Development Academy team during the past six months, giving the players extra training sessions and more specific drills in anticipation of the fall move to the U.S. Soccer program.
"We ran the 14s as a Development Academy group last year," Crookham said. "But to really be able to create that environment with them - to get them competition that is truer to the Development Academy model - will be huge for us this year. We're excited about our ability to now stretch those players even further with the competition that will be provided to them."
As with many start-ups, the U-14 category will have some hiccups. The Rapids will play as an independent team, not within a conference or division. Crookham said that in addition to regional matches, the Under-14s - who will be coached by Gary Evans - are already penciled to play in an international tournament in San Antonio and the prestigious Dallas Cup.
With the recent success of the Academy program, which has sent three players to the Rapids first team, in addition to two top-seven finishes nationwide, Crookham cautions that the ideals of the program remain rooted to the development of the players, not the results on the weekend.
"The expectations don't change," Crookham said. "We've had some success competitively the last couple of years, but that won't be the focus. The focus will be being able to move the players through the system. There will still be times where we miss players for Reserve League games, and that has to be our goal - to move the players through the system and not get caught up in defining success for us as winning games. We want to win games every time we step on the field, but the player development piece has to be a bigger priority than a result on a Saturday."
During the 2013 season, eight Academy players appeared in MLS Reserve League matches for the Rapids.
The new Development Academy season kicks off on September 20 against the San Antonio Scorpions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.