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Development Academy Success Stories Impact U-17 Men's National Team


CHICAGO (Feb. 4, 2009) – The U.S. Soccer Development Academy has to look no further than the U-17 Men’s National Team to find stories of successful player development and scouting. Members of U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program, former Vardar standout Soony Saad and FC Dallas’ Jose Perez both credit their time in the Academy in providing opportunities with the U-17 MNT. Both are part of a 22-player roster that is currently participating in the La Serena Cup in Chile.

Saad, who at age 15 earned Development Academy Player of the Year honors in the combined U-15/16 age group, is taking full advantage of his time with the U-17 MNT Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. Since joining the program in the Fall 2008 semester, he has scored three goals in 12 international appearances.

Though he was part of the Under-14 National Developmental Program, National Team coaches believe that his time with Vardar, specifically in the inaugural year of the Academy, helped aid his player development immensely. With more training and more consistent games against better competition, Saad began to realize his potential.

“I was part of U-14 and U-15s,” Saad said. “I was probably on the fringe with those teams to be honest, but with the Academy and all of the opportunities that came along with it, I had new incentive to work harder.”

He also reaped the benefits of a growing network of U.S. Soccer scouts, first catching the eye of National Staff Coach Roberto Lopez early in the inaugural Academy season and eventually other members of the scouting network, including Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore.

“When Vardar started in the full Academy program, Soony was playing up a year in those games,” said Lepore. “He was a U-15 player but was playing in the U-15/16 combined age group. We were able to see him pretty regularly in good games and we had a few different sets of eyes that saw him. He was scoring a ton of goals for Vardar, so when (U-17 head coach) Wilmer Cabrera held a mini-camp last spring he was one of many Academy players in attendance. During that camp he proved that he belonged.”

Saad was brought into a U-17 MNT training camp in April 2008 alongside other Development Academy players. Cabrera liked what he saw from the Dearborn, Mich. native and continued to keep an eye on him. Eventually, he traveled to Central America with the U-17s and it wasn’t long before Cabrera offered him a place in Residency for the Fall 2008 semester.

“To a certain extent, Residency is set-up similarly to the way we’d been playing with Vardar,” said Saad. “We trained four times a week, which was more than we’d been training before. The level of play wasn’t quite what I have now in Residency, but it was definitely competitive. That made the step I was taking seem a little smaller.”

Perez, one of the Residency Program’s most recent additions, saw immediate rewards from FC Dallas’ first year as part of the Academy. Benefiting from the fall games played by the Texas Division, Perez was noticed early on by U.S. Under-20 assistant coach Dave Dir, the National Team scout assigned to the Dallas area.

Working closely with former Under-17 assistant and now FC Dallas Director of Player Development Oscar Pareja, Dir knew Perez was a player that was worth a second look. Now Perez, after just a few weeks in Residency, is on his first international trip and has appeared in his first international game, coming on in the second half of a 2-0 win against Chile.

“I always wanted to go to Residency,” said Perez, on the phone from Chile. “One of my teammates went there before and I just wanted to get up there with him. I just really wanted it, so I worked really hard to get there and playing with FC Dallas for Chris Hayden and Oscar Pareja really helped me a lot in developing both my skills and fitness level. These are my first international games and there was definitely a different level of play than I’m used to. It’s been fun though.”

Lepore says that Perez, and other youth national team players like him, are signs that the scouting process is starting to work.

“Every week we hold a conference call with a representative from every youth National Team,” said Lepore. “On a typical week we talk about upwards of 40-50 players. It’s really exciting when players come through and have success on a national team and we can remember when they were first talked about on a call and who spotted them first. It’s a sign that the system is beginning to work.”

As the U-17 MNT builds toward the 2009 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship that will qualify four regional teams to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October, Saad and Perez are among 21 players from Development Academy clubs currently on the 40-player Residency roster and are vying for a spot on the 21 player World Cup Qualifying roster.

The U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team will open its CONCACAF Championship campaign against Cuba on April 21 at Estadio Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. They will play Canada on April 23 and round out Group A play against Honduras on April 25. Should the U.S. advance out of their group, they will cross over to play one of the top two teams from Group B, which is made up of Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, in the semifinals. Semifinalists will also earn a berth to the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, slated for Nigeria from Oct. 24-Nov. 16.

Cabrera will be at the helm of his first qualifying tournament, and will attempt to continue the U.S. streak of being the only team to qualify for every FIFA event at this age level, dating back to 1985. At the biennial event in 2007, the U.S. advanced to the Round of 16 in South Korea. The USA's best-ever finish at the event was fourth place in 1999.


U-15/16 Results
Sat, January 31, 2009

Irvine Strikers 1, Crossfire Premier 3
Pateadores 1, Washington Premier FC 3
Concorde Fire 0, CASL Chelsea FC Academy 1
LAFC Chelsea 0, Nomads SC 0
Real So Cal 1, Arsenal FC 2
AFC Lightning 2, Greensboro Youth Soccer 3
North Meck SC 3, Bridge FA 1
South Charlotte SA 0, Virginia Rush AS Monaco 0

Sun, February 1, 2009
Concorde Fire 2, Greensboro Youth Soccer 3
AFC Lightning 0, CASL Chelsea FC Academy 1
South Charlotte SA 3, Bridge FA 1
North Meck SC 3, Virginia Rush AS Monaco 0
Irvine Strikers 0, Washington Premier FC 3
Pateadores 0, Crossfire Premier 0

U-17/18 Results
Sat, January 31, 2009
Irvine Strikers 2, Crossfire Premier 1
Pateadores 2, Washington Premier FC 0
Concorde Fire 0, CASL Chelsea FC Academy 1
LAFC Chelsea 4, Nomads SC 3
Real So Cal 1, Arsenal FC 4
AFC Lightning 1, Greensboro Youth Soccer 1
North Meck SC 3, Bridge FA 3
South Charlotte SA 0, Virginia Rush AS Monaco 2

Sun, February 1, 2009
Concorde Fire 3, Greensboro Youth Soccer 3
AFC Lightning 2, CASL Chelsea FC Academy 3
South Charlotte SA 4, Bridge FA 1
North Meck SC 0, Virginia Rush AS Monaco 3
Irvine Strikers 2, Washington Premier FC 0
Pateadores 1, Crossfire Premier 2


U-15/16 Upcoming Schedule
Sat, February 7, 2009
Time     Home vs. Away                                                                              Location
12 pm   Concorde Fire vs. Atlanta Fire United                                        Georgia Soccer Park - Field 1
1 pm     Greensboro Youth Soccer vs. Bridge FA                                   Bryan Park - Stadium Field
1 pm     LAFC Chelsea vs. Irvine Strikers                                                 La Canada High School
1 pm     New York Red Bulls vs. Baltimore Bays                                    NJIT - Lubetkin Field
1 pm     Real So Cal vs. Nomads SC                                                       Pierce College - The Pit
1 pm     Richmond Kickers vs. North Meck SC                                        Sports Backers Stadium
2 pm     CASL Chelsea FC Academy vs. Virginia Rush AS Monaco   WRAL Soccer Center
4 pm     Richmond Strikers vs. South Charlotte SA U-15/16                Striker Park - Field 3 (Turf)

Sun, February 8, 2009
Time      Home vs. Away                                                                              Location
9 am      Empire United vs. Carmel United SC                                        Sahlens Sports Park
9 am      CASL Chelsea FC Academy vs. Bridge FA                               WRAL Soccer Center
10 am    Richmond Kickers vs. South Charlotte SA                               Sports Backers Stadium
10 am    Richmond Strikers vs. North Meck SC                                      Striker Park - Field 3 (Turf)
10 am    Arsenal FC vs. Pateadores                                                          University of California, Riverside
11 am    Greensboro Youth Soccer vs. Virginia Rush AS Monaco      Bryan Park - Stadium Field
12 pm    Birmingham United vs. AFC Lightning                                      Sports Blast Soccer Complex - Field 3
1 pm     Washington Premier FC vs. FC Portland                                   Washington Premier FC


U-17/18 Upcoming Schedule
Sat, February 7, 2009

Time    Home vs. Away                                                                                Location
2 pm    Concorde Fire vs. Atlanta Fire United                                         Georgia Soccer Park
3 pm    Greensboro Youth Soccer vs. Bridge FA                                    Bryan Park - Stadium Field
3 pm    LAFC Chelsea vs Irvine Strikers                                                   La Canada High School
3 pm    New York Red Bulls vs. Baltimore Bays                                     NJIT - Lubetkin Field
3 pm    Real So Cal vs. Nomads SC                                                        Pierce College - The Pit
3 pm    Richmond Kickers vs. North Meck SC                                        Sports Backers Stadium
4 pm   CASL Chelsea FC Academy vs. Virginia Rush AS Monaco     WRAL Soccer Center
6 pm   Richmond Strikers vs. South Charlotte SA                                  Striker Park


Sun, February 8, 2009
Time         Home vs. Away                                                                              Location
11 am      Empire United vs. Carmel United SC                                         Sahlens Sports Park
11 am      CASL Chelsea FC Academy vs. Bridge FA                                WRAL Soccer Center
12 pm      Richmond Kickers vs. South Charlotte SA                                 Sports Backers Stadium
12 pm      Richmond Strikers vs. North Meck SC                                        Striker Park
12 pm      Arsenal FC vs. Pateadores                                                           University of California, Riverside
1 pm        Greensboro Youth Soccer vs. Virginia Rush AS Monaco        Bryan Park - Stadium Field
2 pm        Birmingham United vs. AFC Lightning                                        Sports Blast Soccer Complex
2:45 pm  Washington Premier FC vs. FC Portland                                    Washington Premier FC

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