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Three Perennial Powers Kick Off Great Lakes Season

The Development Academy philosophy is based around fewer but more meaningful games in order to focus on the quality of the match rather than the quantity. It’s safe to say that the Great Lakes Division will feature high-quality games throughout the remainder of the season.

Through the first three seasons of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, no part of the country has left its stamp as prominently as the Great Lakes. These teams have burst onto the scene to capture five of the six Finals Week championships that have been contested, including a sweep of both age groups last season.

With a shifting of Conferences and Divisions ahead of the 2010-11 season, there are now four clubs who have won an Academy championship competing within the Great Lakes Division. The Chicago Fire (2010 U-15/16), Derby County Wolves (2009 U-15/16), Indiana United Academy (2008 U-15/16 and 2009 U-17/18) and Vardar (2010 U-17/18) have all raised the trophy in the brief history of the Academy.

Joe Sochacki, who works with both the U-15/16 and U-17/18 Indiana United Academy teams says that the structure of the program makes it important to understand why each game is meaningful, especially now that his younger players have a pair of games under their belts.

“The players, especially the newer players, have a better appreciation for the game itself after these first two games,” Sochacki explained. “I had some kids who only played 15 minutes in each game but now they know that their role is just as important as anybody else’s. The guys know that they have to maintain their focus in order to be successful.”

Gary Parsons, head coach of the Derby County U-17/18 team, agrees.

“The players know that within this division, and within the Academy as a whole, they can’t afford to play at 75 percent and get results,” said Parsons. “In all these division games, there are really no weak teams. We were expecting last weekend’s games to be quality games and we got that. I think moving forward we expect more of the same. We always want to do well and win, but we want to play good soccer and hopefully the process takes care of itself.”

In the Academy season, each team plays approximately 30 regular season games. On paper, the Great Lakes Division will play one of the most difficult regular season schedules in Academy history. The four former champions will be navigating those games in the hopes of returning to Finals Week.

“It really keeps the guys sharp and focused, knowing that each time they step onto the field they can make a statement and really impact whether they go on to play in the postseason,” said Sochacki. “We want to be part of that group of 32 teams in Frisco [site of the 2011 Academy Playoffs] later this year that are playing for a place at Finals Week.”

The top 32 teams in each age group advance to the Playoffs, and from there, eight teams move on to Finals Week. Every game played during the season factors into which teams have that opportunity.

The four former Academy championship clubs will be competing for only two automatic berths to the playoffs.

The only club in Academy history to win two championships, Indiana United Academy wasted no time getting into the heart of their highly competitive Division season. They traveled to Michigan to take on Vardar and Derby County Wolves in consecutive days last weekend.

Derby County Wolves and Indiana United Academy split their two games on Saturday, with the Wolves taking a 4-1 win at the U-17/18 age group and the Indiana club earning a 3-1 win at the U-15/16 level. Indiana United picked up two wins on Sunday against Vardar.

“We knew we were going to go up there and get two quality games early in the season,” said Sochacki. “We were very pleased to get a good start to a long and very competitive season.”

The weekend’s games were part of a regular season that is just getting underway for teams in the area. In fact, they were the first divisional games played within the Great Lakes.

Parsons believes that if his team continues to train and play at a high level, the results will take care of themselves.

“I don’t think there’s ever an issue with the players wanting to win,” he said. “They all want that and they come in and compete hard. They all want a championship and to be successful, so we just have the expectation of wanting to go in and play good soccer so we’ll see what happens if we do that.”

In the meantime, divisional play continues this weekend with Derby County Wolves and Vardar playing host to Crew Soccer Academy Internationals. Indiana United Academy will take a two-week break before getting into the heart of their season.