FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Lost amidst the shuffle of the most hectic MLS offseason in recent memory was perhaps the most impressive showing in the brief history of the New England Revolution’s academy program.
The Revolution’s youth teams took the competition by storm at the recent U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase, compiling an overall record of 5-1-0 against some of the nation’s top clubs. Led by offensive catalyst Dominik Machado (one goal, three assists), the Under-18 squad won all three of its matches, while the Under-16s received a string of quality performances to go 2-1-0.
A vast improvement over the Revolution’s early showings on the national stage, the recent Showcase performance serves as a tangible example of just how much the program has grown since forming in 2008.
“I think our discussions as a staff a few years ago when I first came on board revolved around trying to win our first showcase game or getting into the playoffs and win a playoff game,” said Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales, who has helped turn both the U18s and U16s into perennial postseason teams. “[The Winter Showcase] was one of those events where we had a lot of experienced players who’ve been through these events before, who we’ve had in the program for two, three or four years and they played well in big games.”
The current presence of experienced players in the Revolution’s youth program is no coincidence, but rather the result of a carefully designed process put in place years ago. When assembling the squads in past years, Scales and his staff made a concerted effort to bring on some of the youngest talent. Not only did that approach allow the younger players to develop against older, stronger opponents, but it also increased the amount of time they could spend in the academy system.
“When I first came in, we as a staff wanted to take a gamble and take a chance on a lot of younger players,” said Scales, who oversaw the expansion of the Revolution’s youth program to add an Under-14 team this year. “That 1996 age group with guys like Danny Apajee, Zach Herivaux and Stevie Duncan; those guys have been in our program now for three years. So when they first came in, they were very, very young and they were thrown into the mix right away … All of that programming has been great for their development.
“It’s only the halfway point of the season, so we don’t want to go overboard with [the Showcase results], but it certainly is a good measuring stick at this stage to see how the progress is going.”
Another good measuring stick is the presence of Revolution players in national team camps and Academy Select games – stand-alone games played during showcases to highlight players in the national team pool. Within the past year, four Revolution youth players – Guy Kabala, Amadu Kunateh, Declan McCabe and Christian Sady – have spent time in U.S. National Team youth camps, while Sady and goalkeeper Austin Aviza participated in their respective Academy Select games at the recent Winter Showcase.
“There’s no doubt that as we methodically move through the process from year to year and our academy continues to mature, we expect to have more players in the Select games, or called into national team camps, or voted as some of the top players in the division,” said Scales. “I think that’s a byproduct of the hard work that happens in training, the scouting that goes on throughout the year and the maturity and the development of the players that come through the program. We’re proud of that.”