On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, an excitable group of 12 highly talented young soccer players departed Newark, NJ, heading to Dallas, Texas, where they would be representing the New York Red Bulls in the 2016 Generation adidas Cup (GA Cup). The group of players, all of whom are members of the Red Bulls Regional Development School (RDS), were selected for the event after a four week tryout process. The group spent the next four days competing against team from MLS, Spain and Mexico.
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Red Bulls U-12 academy coach Kobie Johnson was also in attendance to scout the next batch of academy hopefuls.
In it’s second year at the U-12 age group, the GA Cup grew to 16 teams from four different countries, providing players the opportunity to compete against some of the top players in their age group. Toyota Soccer Center in Dallas, Texas, hosted the event.
Preparation for the tournament was in short supply for the RDS squad, with the roster finalized only a month before the tournament. In that time, the players assembled for four practices, including a scrimmage against last year’s RDS 2003 GA Cup team. This also gave current RDS players the opportunity to speak with these experienced players, asking them questions about what to expect from the trip.
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In additional warm-up events, the players had the opportunity to be ball boys at a New York Red Bulls home game, watching the Red Bulls come from behind to beat Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena, 4-3, as well as representing Red Bulls Training Programs in a demonstration at the Red Bulls Youth Club Summit.
After a smooth flight to Texas, the team touched down in Dallas and headed straight for their hotel. Once checked in, the boys went immediately to their first field session to get their legs moving and prepare for their first game against Villarreal the next morning.
Game 1: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (1) vs. Villarreal CF U-12 (4)
The RDS boys faced Spanish giants Villarreal in their opening game of the competition. Far from ideal soccer conditions greeted both teams, with a strong wind gusting across the field.
The game did not start well for the Red Bulls, conceding within the first minute of the match, with nerves affecting the young team from New York. The one goal deficit quickly became two as the Spanish side showed their quality early on.
After surrendering two goals, the Red Bulls settled into the game. Athan Ladas came off the bench and displayed great composure on the ball to help New York build out from the back while Kevin Terhune keeping the score at two with a couple of fine diving saves. A strong end to the half was dampened by a late goal for Villarreal as New York headed into the break trailing, 3-0.
The Red Bulls came out with great vigor for the second of the 15-minute halves and pulled a goal back through Simon Adjakple after good work by captain Michael Olivieri. The gap was almost closed further as Phil Koutsaftis cut in from the left wing, beating two players before seeing his right footed shot fly inches wide of the far post.
The Red Bulls continued to look dangerous with Jacob Lee pulling the strings in the midfield and Adjakple a constant threat down the wing. However, as the Red Bulls pushed for a second goal, they were caught on the counter attack with Villarreal striking a late goal to make the final score, 4-1. Far from being dejected, the team had played some very good soccer against a quality side and had it not have been for the slow start to the game, it could have been a very different encounter.
Game 2: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (2) vs. Houston Dynamo U-12 (4)
After the first of many, many bananas of the week, as well as a granola bar and some water, the boys were back in action for their second game of the day. They took heed of the lessons they had learned from game one, this time flying out of the blocks at the opening whistle.
Just minutes into the game, Mikey Olivieri notched his first goal of the tournament as he fired in a right-footed free kick into the bottom corner of the net. The lead was short lived, however, as Houston struck back to tie.
Olivieri scored his second of the day to restore Red Bulls’ lead - again direct from a set piece - this time curling the ball around the wall and into the side netting at the back post with a perfectly placed shot. The game itself was not a thing of beauty, as both teams battled and fought hard in the blustery conditions, but struggled to get the ball down on the perfectly manicured grass and combine effectively. It was the Dynamo who emerged victorious, 4-2, as the Red Bulls ended day one with two defeats.
After heading back to the hotel to debrief the first day, the team endured a regeneration session in the frigid hotel pool.
After the pool, it was back to the field for the boys so that they could cheer on the New York Red Bulls U16 academy team as they competed in the U-17 bracket of the GA Cup. Despite their two defeats earlier in the day spirits were high, as the RDS team sang and cheered as they watched the U16s battle back from a goal behind to tie Valencia U-17. The tie meant the game would result in penalty kicks to decide the winner, and the RDS boys did their best to distract each Valencia taker. To good effect too, as the Spanish team missed each of their first three kicks to see the Red Bulls come away with a win from the spot, 3-0.
Dinner that night was followed by a video analysis session as the RDS coaches took the boys through some footage from the Houston game, highlighting some aspects of the game that the boys needed to work on ahead of day two as well as showcasing some of the best moments from day one’s play.
Game 3: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (2) vs. FC Dallas Blue U-12 (0)
An early start on day two saw the Red Bulls square off against the host side, FC Dallas. Perfect soccer conditions greeted both teams, with the sun shining and only a slight breeze blowing. From the offset, New York appeared more confident and comfortable than on day one, moving the ball well and dominating possession.
They didn’t have to wait long to take the lead in the game either, with Mikey Olivieri and Simon Adjakple continuing their goal scoring form from day one, bagging a goal apiece. At the other end, Oscar Bowring was fantastic at the back alongside Athan Ladas, with goalkeeper’s Owen Moore and Kevin Terhune both making fine saves to oversee the team’s first shut out of the competition.
Another fine performance came from Jacob Lenhard, stepping off the bench to drive the Red Bulls forward from the middle of the park with his trademark work rate and determination. Perhaps the brightest moment of the tournament thus far came in the second half, with a passing move involving Oscar Bowring, Brian Babovic and Nico Beninda, which resulted in Simon Adjakple setting up Athan Ladas, only to see his first-time strike fly wide. With the win, 2-0, it was a job well done and the first three points on the board for the RDS team.
Game 4: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (3) vs. Portland Timbers U-12 (1)
Buoyed by their success in the first game of the day, the Red Bulls took to the field for game two brimming with confidence and looked the better team from the offset. Two goals from Simon Adjakple - the first a wonderful strike on his left foot after turning his defender following a good ball sent into his feet by Ethan Choi, and another from Mikey Olivieri - were enough to dispatch of a hard working Portland side.
Brian Babovic and Jake Lee also came close as the Red Bulls created several good goal-scoring chances, only to see the Portland goalkeeper make some excellent saves. It was a game that the players clearly enjoyed, with the Red Bulls U-16 squad returning the gesture from the day before and coming out to cheer on their younger counterparts.
The RDS team spent the afternoon recovering from their morning exertions, including another regeneration session in the pool, before unwinding at a players lounge event organized by adidas where the boys played table tennis, table football and FIFA.
The highlight of the event was a chance to listen to Real Madrid and Spain legend Raul speak, including a Q&A session about his career. From there, the boys enjoyed another fabulous dinner at the local steak house before spending the evening going over video footage from day two as they reflected on what they had done so well earlier that day, and prepared for the challenges ahead of them the next morning.
Game 5: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (0) vs. Orlando City SC U-12 (2)
Saturday morning saw the RDS team face fellow east coast side, Orlando City. The Red Bulls started the game with a relentless press, creating numerous scoring chances and dominating possession and territory. Nico Beninda looked sharp in the midfield and was at the heart of many of the Red Bulls best attacking moments.
Orlando City struck first against the run of play to see the RDS come in at one goal behind at the break. The second period continued in the same vain as the first, but the Red Bulls could not get the best of an Orlando goalkeeper in inspired form and eventually fell two goals behind.
Orlando’s Braedon Seymour (a RDS summer camper himself) put his side two goals ahead, striking against his peers. Brian Babovic came mightily close to scoring a 25-yard screamer that whistled just wide of the post, but try as they might, the Red Bulls could not haul themselves back into the game and were left bitterly disappointed in the result.
Game 6: New York Red Bulls RDS U-12 (0) vs. Atlanta United FC U-12 (3)
The loss against Orlando meant that the RDS would face Atlanta in their final game of the competition. Again the Red Bulls played some great soccer, building well from the back through Oscar Bowring and Ethan Choi and combining to good effect through the midfield.
Sadly, they were not able to convert the chances that they created and saw Atlanta strike twice before the break. Atlanta furthered their lead in the second half on a free kick.
Despite the results on the day, the view in camp was that the results did not reflected the team’s performances and in fact received many plaudits from opposing coaches and onlookers alike.
The final day of the competition ended with the Red Bulls RDS U-12s watching Villareal U-12 against Chivas Guadalajara U-12 in the final match of the competition, before watching the Red Bulls U-16s close out their week against the Mexico U-17 Men’s National Team.
Saturday evening saw the RDS team head to the local bowling lanes. Some interesting techniques were on show throughout the night, with Owen Moore, Oscar Bowring, Ethan Choi, and Phil Koutsaftis all putting in impressive performances. None however could top Coach Zach as he was crowned RDS bowling champion for 2016. Nico Beninda did however have one last impressive performance inside of him, as he set a new all-time record on the ”Crossy Road” game as the boys enjoyed some time exploring the arcades before heading back to the hotel.
A final team meeting rounded off the trip, giving the team a chance to reflect on what they encountered this week, and how it may benefit them moving forward. The boys then headed off to bed to set their alarms in time for the 5 a.m. departure that awaited them the next morning.
The following day saw the team return to Newark, N.J. The players were greeted by family and friends, and shared their newfound experience for the rest of the day.
This trip may well have served as one of the most important aspects of each player’s development to date. The tournament opened players’ eyes to the depth of talent out there, providing them with the inspiration to improve as individuals to earn more opportunities to play at such a high level in similar prestigious, professional events.
Each and every player was a credit to themselves, their families, the RDS program and the New York Red Bulls as a whole, with both their performances on the field and their behavior off it drawing praise from all that they came in contact with throughout the trip.