7_3_22 MLS NEXT Cup Champions Under-19 (2)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.A.J. DeLaGarza knew as well as anyone the talent within the New England Revolution Academy Under-19 team, having worked extensively with that group last year while guest coaching and obtaining his U.S. Soccer B Course license. A veteran of 14 MLS seasons – including three MLS Cup titles and three Supporters’ Shield trophies – DeLaGarza has a winner’s mentality, and he saw that within the Revolution youngsters while working with them on the training ground.

On Sunday evening the Revolution Under-19s proved that pedigree beyond a shadow of a doubt, completing a remarkable tournament run and claiming a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Glens en route to being crowned MLS NEXT Cup champions for the first time in club history.

“That’s huge,” DeLaGarza said of winning a title at the youth level. “At that level, in MLS NEXT, which is very big – it wasn’t like club soccer when I was playing club soccer. They have a lot of really good talent all around this country and it showed this weekend at the tournament, and for those guys to pull out and win it was good for them mentally and it shows their success.

“They’ve now set a bar, I think, for themselves to come out each and every day in every tournament and expect to win and play like that.”

Several players shone throughout the competition, highlighted by Jack Panayotou, an 18-year-old Georgetown University commit who registered six goals in five games, including both tallies in the 2-1 semifinal win over FC Dallas and the lone goal in Sunday’s title decider over San Francisco. Malcolm Fry caught plenty of eyes with three goals and a penchant for beating defenders on the dribble, Isaie Louis showed an ability to both score and create, and Triton Beauvois was the architect of Panayotou’s winner on Sunday with a brilliant bit of skill down the left side. Goalkeeper Max Weinstein played all but 45 minutes in the tournament and kept a clean sheet in the championship match.

As a longtime center back now converted to outside back, DeLaGarza was focused on the backline, heaping praise on young center back Jack Burkhardt.

“I was watching the game before our game and just looking at the left center back, and just the way that he carries the ball into the midfield and passes and draws defenders, he’s so calm and collected and that’s something, as a center back, you love to see in our young kids growing up,” said DeLaGarza. “So, bright futures all around the field, especially our attacking corps, as well. Just a good sign for the future.”

The Under-19s’ title is yet another sign of the precipitous upward trend within the Revolution Academy, which has improved by leaps and bounds since Curt Onalfo arrived as Technical Director in 2019 and the club hired Rob Becerra to lead as Director of Youth Development just a little more than one year ago. New England’s Under-15 team reached the MLS NEXT Cup Semifinals last year, only to be one-upped by the national champion 19s, coached by Rolando Uribe, on Sunday night.

“I saw how much talent there was out there last year,” said DeLaGarza. “It’s amazing to see what they did and all the success that they’ve had since then, for not only themselves, but for this club. Since Curt has taken over, and Rob, it’s really been a 180 with the Academy. It’s great to see and hopefully we can get a lot of those guys into Revs II and then to the first team.”

That, of course, is the objective with both MLS NEXT and MLS NEXT Pro – to create a pro player pathway that leads directly from the youth levels all the way up to the first team. And while there’s still plenty of work to be done for those players on the Revolution’s Under-19 team to make that dream a reality, Sunday’s championship was a surefire sign that the talent within this group is worth watching.

“That’s the goal for everyone,” DeLaGarza said. “When you get these kids in here at 14, your goal for them – even at 14 – is to continue up the ranks through the age groups and get to the first team. The more players we can have do that, I think the better this club will be and the more young talent we’ll continue to get.”