Wild Card Qualifier Posts Key Victory Against Vancouver to Open Defense of 2010-11 Title
FRISCO, Texas –Pateadores U-17/18 Academy head coach George Larsen did the math with 10 games remaining in the regular season, figuring his team needed to minimally go 6-2-2 to reach the 2011-12 Development Academy Playoffs and get a chance to defend its title.
That is just how the team finished the regular season, earning the 11th of 12 wild card spots and snatching a place in the tournament with a team that went through an adjustment period but came together down the stretch.
“Obviously the nature of this is you put a group together and you hit the ground running into the season,” Larsen said. “There are no easy games and you’ve got to learn on the fly and do it quickly, especially in the SoCal Conference. We really don’t care how we got in. We earned our way here, we’re happy to be here and we’re going to try to make the most of it.”
“This is a group of guys that didn’t know each other coming into the season, so it took a little bit for us to mesh together,” said midfielder Casey Macias, who played during the team’s 2010-11 championship win against FC Dallas. “Once we kind of got into it and started getting to know each other, things started to click and the chemistry was there.”
Pateadores started the 2011-12 Academy Playoffs on a high note, scoring back-to-back goals and grabbing the game-winner in the 94th minute by TJ Casner to post a 3-2 victory against the No. 1 seed of Group 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Taking into account the end of the regular season, Pateadores is in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak that started April 14 with a 4-3 win against Chivas USA.
“We went on a spree where we won about five games in a row, but then we lost five games in a row,” said Casner, Pateadores’ leading scorer. “Right after those losses it was a whole different environment. We had this new desire to make the Playoffs and we realized what was at stake. Our team really came together and battled back.”
Casner tallied 15 goals in the regular season, and he credits assistant coach Thomas Dooley and the rest of the coaching staff in giving him confidence in the final third.
“He’s really pushed me and given me a little more freedom on the field,” Casner said of Dooley. “I just kind of came out running at the start of the season, had five goals in three games and worked my way up to 15. He’s been a huge influence on my play. That confidence boost is probably the thing that got the talent out of me to show that I could perform on the field.”
Though personnel turnover is a constant in any player development environment, Larsen says his team has some strong leadership qualities that should help for this year’s tournament.
“It’s always nice to have some guys with that experience, and a large group of these boys were USYSA national champions two years ago,” Larsen said. “So among the group there’s a lot of experience. We’re a senior-heavy group, too. Almost all these kids are getting ready to play college, so I like the fact that we’re an older, experienced team.”
As Day 1 showed, the Clemson-bound Casner continues to be the Pateadores offensive juggernaut.
“You’re not going to find a more technical finisher than TJ,” Larsen said. “He’s so efficient when he gets his chances in front of goal. He’s just really impressed me with his presence and the different ways he’s scored goals this year. Anytime you have a goalscorer like that, it definitely makes you feel a little bit better about your chances going into the day.”