D.C. United’s Under-16 Academy team held their own in one of the world’s elite youth tournaments over Easter weekend, compiling a 1-3 record in Ajax Amsterdam’s Aegon Future Cup, held at the famous Dutch club’s headquarters in southeast Amsterdam.
The tournament is classified as a U-17 event, so United’s boys faced something of a competitive disadvantage from the start. But several members of the team have spent time at the U-18 and even senior team levels, and Academy alum Patrick Foss was released from U.S. Soccer’s Bradenton Residential Program to join the squad in Holland, giving the D.C. coaching staff confidence that the team could compete in a talented group.
United opened play with a 3-2 victory over the U-17 Chinese National Team on Saturday morning, as Foss struck for a hat trick with Jalen Robinson providing an assist on his second goal. After a very brief recovery period, the Black-and-Red took on Belgian power RSC Anderlecht, and despite suffering a 1-0 defeat, coach Roberto da Silva saw reasons for optimism in the performance.
“The boys came out anxious and it showed as we didn't show as well as we wanted,” said da Silva of the opening match against China. “The team played better [against Anderlecht] but didn't get the result we were looking for. We controlled the ball better as a unit and played well out of the back, keeping position.”Anderlecht would go on to win the entire tournament and did not surrender a single goal all weekend.
Da Silva praised Robinson, Foss, Suli Dainkeh and Lars Eckenrode as several of the day’s standouts for United, saving special mention for reserve goalkeeper keeper Sam Legg, who stepped in to play due to a red card to Alec Dockser.
D.C. suffered two bruising setbacks at the tail end of the tourney. A 4-1 loss to Bayern Munich on Sunday morning left United in third place in the group behind Anderlecht and the German giants, setting da Silva’s side up for a third-place consolation match against Ajax Cape Town, the South Africa-based satellite club of the tournament hosts.
While the final score against Bayern did not reflect the match’s flow or competitiveness, United’s overall performance against Ajax Cape Town failed to meet expectations and a 4-0 setback duly unfolded.
While they could not reach their goal of becoming the first MLS team to advance out of group play in an elite overseas tournament, United took heart from several aspects of their Aegon Future Cup adventure.
First, there is Foss’ overall performance, which represents a major milestone in his rapidly-advancing career. The South Riding, Va. native won a share of the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s co-leading scorer along with a member of Ajax Cape Town, strengthening his case for a bigger role in the United States youth national team setup and showcasing his quality on an important European stage.
Perhaps more importantly, the entire squad got another extended taste of international play and all its trappings: enhanced speed, quality and gamesmanship on the field as well as the long-haul travel and cultural experiences that are part and parcel of it as well.
“The quality of the teams are very good and think that we benefit more from these tournaments than the opposition,” said da Silva. “The tournament setup is first-class and facilities are professional. We look forward to playing in more tournaments such as the Aegon Future Cup.”