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Development Academy Finals Week in Full Swing at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

CARSON, Calif. (July 13, 2008) – U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy Finals Week kicked off this weekend at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., with all 16 conference champions from the regular season playing their opening matches in group play. Finals Week is the culmination of the inaugural season of the nine-month Development Academy and will crown the overall champions in the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age groups.

Before the opening eight games were played during the first two days of the Finals, the 320 players took part in an orientation on Friday night that included an appearance by U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Landon Donovan. The all-time leading scorer for the U.S. Men talked to the Development Academy players for an hour about a wide range of topics, including the process of becoming a professional player, how to consider options about your career, and some of the successes and failures in his personal journey.

During the orientation, there were also short presentations covering several areas of focus for the Development Academy. U.S. Soccer’s Director of Referees Paul Tamberino discussed the referee training program, and Director of Scouting Dave Sarachan explained the process of using the Development Academy matches to help identify players for the U.S. national team programs. Lastly, Ivan Pierra, the Men’s National Team trainer, talked to the players about nutrition and hydration and also gave an overview of NIKE’s cooling vests that are used to lower a player’s core temperature during and after matches.

On Saturday and Sunday, each team also took part in a media training session presented by the U.S. Soccer Communications staff, the first of a number of educational symposiums the players will have the chance to experience. During the course of the week, the players will hear from top level college coaches on the recruiting process for universities and how to position themselves in order to get recognized. In the highlight for all the participants, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Bradley will address all of the Development Academy teams on steps they can take to improve as players and ultimately try to achieve the goal of representing the United States in international competition.

With both the U-15/16 and U-17/18 age groups entering their second match day of group play on Monday and Tuesday, all the squads are looking to build upon the progress they have made throughout the season. After the round-robin group play, placement matches will be played on Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19. All eight placement matches will be broadcast live during the two days, highlighted by the U-17/18 championship match that will be live on ESPN 2 on Friday, July 18, at 8 p.m. PT. The seven other matches, including the U-15/16 championship match, will be broadcast on ESPNU.

During the first two days of games at the HDC during this past weekend, one of the most intriguing story lines centered around local squad LAFC, who have both the U-16's and U18's competing this week. Bolstered by raucous hometown support, the LAFC U-16s pulled off a stirring comeback Sunday morning, scoring two goals in second half stoppage time to earn a 4-3 victory over Albertson in Group A U-16 play.

"It was exciting. It was nerve-wracking. But I'm extremely happy for the kids because they've worked hard preparing for this event, just like they have all season long," said LAFC coach Ted Chronopolous. "We fought until the final whistle blew and we came out on top. This game is over now, though, and we need to start looking toward the next one."

The victory on Sunday rounded off an excellent weekend for the club based on Southern California. On Saturday, LAFC's U-18s were in scintillating form as they defeated Concorde Fire, 6-0, in U-18 Group B play. A hat trick from Carlos Alvarez gave the packed stands much to cheer about in what was the last game of an exciting first day of Finals week.

Also on Saturday, the Baltimore Bays jumped out to an early lead in U-18 Group A with a 4-1 victory against the Chicago Fire. Playing in what was the first game of Finals Week, 2008 Gatorade Player of the Year Chris Agorsor turned in a performance to remember, knocking in all four of his team's goals in the win.

In Saturday's early afternoon game, Colorado Rush and FC Westchester played to a 1-1 draw. Westchester's Jonathan Gallagher opened the scoring in the first half with a well placed free kick, and through some strong goalkeeping from Daniel Thau, took their slight advantage into the halftime break.

Colorado Rush responded admirably in the second period, and though Thau was doing his best to repel attack after attack, Rush substitute Zack Foxhoven finally broke through in the 64th minute. Foxhoven latched on to a beautifully weighted through ball from Midfielder Morgan Sacco, and finished confidently to earn his side an opening day point.

In the 4 pm game on Saturday, the Columbus Crew beat CASL, 2-0, with goals from Thomas Schmitt and Mike Green. Schmitt's quickfire strike in the second minute set the pace for the Great Lakes Conference Champions, while Green's fantastic solo effort five minutes of time sealed a deserved victory.

On Sunday the quality play continued, with Carmel United defeated Schulz Academy 2-1 in U-16 Group A action. Goals from Taylor Anthony and Austin Oldham in the first half were enough to give the Indiana team a victory. Though Schulz fought back in the second half, a goal from Jabari Garibaldi proved only to be a consolation prize for the squad from Boca Raton.

"It was the first game of the tournament and you always want to come out strong," said Carmel United's A.J. Corrado. "Today's first half was probably the best we've played all season. We got two goals and went into halftime with a lead that we deserved. They managed to pull one back, but in the end we got the win. We couldn't really ask for more in our first game."

In the U-16s Group B, the spoils were split between CASL and Chicago Magic, the two teams fighting to a 1-1 draw on Dave Vanole Field. CASL came out strong and took an early lead in the first half thanks to Matthew Wescoe. Despite being outplayed in the first stanza, Magic regrouped in the second half, and eventually got the well-earned tying goal. After a heated goalmouth scramble, Christopher Meingast finished from close range in the 52nd minute to level the score.

"Our guys were a bit nervous in pre-game warm-ups and in the locker room, but we talked about how important the first 15 or 20 minutes would be and I thought that we were very good," said CASL Head Coach Rusty Scarborough. "Credit to Chicago Magic, because in the second half they adjusted a few things, a couple different players came on and that turned the game in their favor. It was a tough match today, but we didn't buckle. We got a point and now we move on to the next game."

In the final game on Sunday, PDA snatched a 1-0 win against Real Colorado. A second half goal from Robert Barrera broke the deadlock between the two teams, though PDA needed some late heroics from goalkeeper Rafael Diaz to preserve the victory.

"It gives us good momentum going forward," said Diaz. "We got the first win, got the jitters out and hopefully we can carry it forward to the next game."

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