The goal of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy to provide the education and support in an everyday environment to develop world-class players. From an international standpoint, one player who has made some significant strides over the past year is forward McKinze Gaines.
Gaines performed admirably at the 2013 Academy Select Game, and the 2014 version kicks off Monday, Dec. 1, at 5 p.m. ET. It is a primetime event on the third day of the Development Academy Winter Showcase at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
The game serves as a platform for Academy players who have been hand-picked by U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors and Youth National Team staff to show their skills and get the opportunity to get noticed by a scouting network in a competitive environment with the chance to perhaps be called into the Youth National Team system.
U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team member Gaines understands the magnitude and the huge opportunity that this game represents.
One year ago, Gaines was playing in the Academy Select Game himself. Barely a few months after, he was called into the U-17 National Team and is now tied with teammate Haji Wright for the most appearances for the team in 2014.
“It was amazing,” Gaines said of being back in Florida with the U-17 MNT. “It just can show how much things can change in one year. Last year I had a really good game, and to be here was amazing; it was a great feeling.”
Gaines’ transition to being a vital participant of the U-17 MNT has showed the value of belonging and going through the Academy system, and the huge impact it can make toward sporting the Red, White and Blue.
In addition to his team-leading 21 caps this year, Gaines has also scored five goals, the latest coming during a 2-1 win against Australia on Nov. 30 at the 2014 Nike International Friendlies on the same field where merely one year ago Gaines was gaining the attention of Youth National Team coaches and Technical Advisors.
Gaines’ performance has been a terrific addition to an already successful offensive attack by the U.S. U-17s that includes 60 goals in 31 matches. Also, the forward has earned several minutes of play up front alongside team-leading scorer Haji Wright, a fact that does not go unnoticed by him.
“There is a lot of competition for spots and it makes you be at your best at all times,” Gaines said of earning playing time. “It’s awesome to score goals be able to see results like that. Anytime you can come in and play a good role in a team victory, it’s really rewarding and nice.”
Gaines and the U.S. U-17 MNT will close out the 2014 Nike Friendlies on Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m. against Brazil for the tournament title. The game will be a rematch of last year’s thrilling finale, which the USA claimed with a 4-1 victory.
“Last year we beat them, but they’ve got the upper hand in the past two results,” Gaines said. “We just need to come out here in our house, beat them and win the tournament.”