FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the second straight year, the New England Revolution Under-16 team is headed to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs.
Under the guidance of Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales and led by Home Grown player Diego Fagundez – who registered an astonishing 15 goals and 10 assists in 15 appearances with the U16s this season – the Revolution Under-16s won seven of their last eight regular-season games en route to a 13-7-6 overall record and a second-place finish in the Northeast Division. By virtue of their top-two finish in the division, the Under-16s clinched a spot in the playoffs, which will take place at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, from June 24-28.
The Revs will open their postseason schedule on Saturday, June 25, when they’ll square off against the North Carolina Fusion in the first game of the group stage. Additional matches against Texas Rush AJ Auxerre (June 26) and Southern California-based Pateadores (June 28) will follow with the top finisher in the group advancing to the fourth annual Development Academy Finals Week, which will be held from July 9-16 in Milwaukee, Wis.
“We’re in a very good group,” said Scales. “As we’ve said to the guys, getting through three games in four days will require everybody to play a role. You want to keep the lineup fresh.”
One player who’ll play a prominent role is central defender – and Storrs, Conn., product – Mitch Taintor, who was a consistently steady presence at the back while starting 23 of the 24 games in which he appeared this season. Taintor and the rest of the Revolution’s resolute defense conceded just 32 goals this campaign, while the club’s relentless attack led the division with 51 goals scored.
Taintor is one of many Under-16s who participated in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs last season when the Revs qualified for the first time since launching a Youth Development Program in 2008. While the Revs missed out on a spot in the national finals based on a tie-breaker last year, the experience will prove beneficial for those making a second appearance in the postseason.
“Last year, the team was really nervous,” admitted Taintor, who has verbally committed to the Rutgers men’s soccer program for the Fall of 2012. “It was the first time the club had made it to the playoffs. But I think this year the numerous guys who are coming back with experience will really help the younger guys get acclimated into the playoff setting.”
Scales agrees with his center back’s assessment, specifically recalling the opening group game last year in which the Revs surrendered a two-goal lead and settled for a 2-2 draw.
“I think we understand based on last year’s experience that you need to be aggressive – especially in that first game – and then see where the chips start to fall and tactically adjust based on that,” said Scales. “I don’t think the guys are in awe of the whole experience. I think they’re excited to get down there. They expected to get into the playoffs and we’ll see if we can get to the finals week.”
In order be successful, the Revs will have to manage the sweltering Texas heat much in the same way the first team had to adjust during a match against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in early June. With temperatures expected to approach triple digits, success could be dependent upon maintaining possession and dictating the pace of the game.
Furthermore, that perspective becomes particularly true when managing a grueling schedule of three games in four days.
“When we get down there we know we’re not going to be able to press, we know there are going to be times when we really just have to keep the ball and make the other team move,” said Scales. “I think we have an experienced group of guys who understand that. You need a little bit of luck. Hopefully we get a good result out of the first game and it can spur us for the next two or three games.”
Taintor pointed to the Under-16s’ progression throughout the season and particularly the club’s success in recent weeks.
“During the season, our passing has been getting better with each other and the movement with everyone (has improved) since we’re all getting familiar,” he said. “I think we’re really peaking. I think in the middle of the field and also on the outside, we have to keep it strong, keep working hard and we’ll do well.”
While the Under-18 team didn’t qualify for the postseason after finishing fourth in the Northeast Division, the Revolution’s more senior age group will also have a chance to participate in the festivities in Frisco. In conjunction with the playoffs, a Showcase will take place with the remaining 46 teams in each age group participating.
Scales is confident the U18s will put their best foot forward at Pizza Hut Park no matter the competition.
“Any time they’re representing the club, these guys understand that they’re expected to be pros,” he said. “Even though things didn’t work out getting into the playoffs for that group, they still want to finish strong. They still understand what it means to be a professional, to show up, to compete to win these three final games and to have fun.”