Virginia Rush rallied from an early deficit to pick up a 2-1 win over the Richmond Strikers at Striker Park Saturday in U.S. Soccer Development Academy Under-15/16 play on Saturday.
Gil Topaz tallied his third goal of the season in the 18th minute for Strikers, but Rush equalized nine minutes later on a goal from David Kotarides off a corner. It was Kotarides’ first goal of the season.
The Strikers (2-16-3, 1-8-1 South Conference, Atlantic Division), despite their seventh-place standing, kept the match even with the first-place Rush until midway through the second half.
But Rush, controlling play with their pace and strong defending, picked up the matchwinner in the 74th minute from Cole Smith, who volleyed a deflected shot into the upper left corner of the net for his third goal of the season.
“We did get a good goal at the end,” Rush coach Jay Hoffman told The Soccer Wire after the match. “I think it was good, especially since we go down 1-0 and find a way to get ourselves back in the game and get it back to even.
“I’m very pleased with our level of play. I thought the ball movement was good. We created some good chances. It’d be nice to see a little bit more out of them, but at the same time, I think this group’s making some real good progress.”
He said there was good effort from the entire team in the match.
“I think the good thing about this team is that it is a team,” Hoffman said. “Everybody contributes…You look at our guys all the way through and they play on both sides of the ball, they compete, and to say that one guy is better than another – it’s a team. We need all of them to contribute.”
Goalkeeper Logan Ratner preserved the win with a key save late in the match, while Sebastian Joly, one of Potomac Soccer Wire's Korrio Players to Watch honorees this month, anchored Rush’s defensive effort.
With Rush (10-9-4, 7-3-2 Atlantic Division) facing a gap in the schedule until June due to high school play, Hoffman plans to have them train just once a week on the weekends, as most of Rush’s players will be playing twice or more per week with their school teams. He’s wary of overworking his players, with one on his squad still recovering, for more than a year, from an ACL injury after playing through the high school and showcase season.
Defensive midfielder David Tezza sat out the match after he told Hoffman that his hamstrings “were shot” from training with his high school team.
The fatigue factor is something that makes Hoffman look forward to the DA’s 10-month season that begins in the fall. At that point, DA players will no longer be able to play for both their high school and the DA team. Hoffman values the rest and recovery time structured into the academy program that he says will lead to better overall performance. Non-academy players, at times he said, are playing up to five games in 72 hours.
“It’s not based on performance, it’s based on 'last man standing' or who has the largest roster,” Hoffman said.
Some will face a tough choice, but Hoffman said that would be left up to the individual player and what he wants to accomplish in the future. He believes most will stick with the DA program for the potential college and professional opportunities playing at that level gives them.
“What we’ve done is, we’ve gone out and asked them what their situation is – ‘You make a decision,’” Hoffman said. “Because, at the end of the day, I know within our club, and probably in the community, we have some kids looking and going, ‘Hmm, I think I want to play over there.'
"It is what it is.”
Hoffman reminded that squad of the difference between what they can get away with in high school, and what they can’t get away with in DA games.
“I told them after the game, I said, ‘Right now, in high school, you’re going to be able to put the ball somewhere within a radius, and your guy’s going to get it. In the academy, that radius is severely limited, so you’ve got to be a lot more precise,’” said Hoffman, who also coaches the U-17/18 Rush DA squad (1-19-3, 0-12-0) which lost 3-1 to Strikers (3-15-3, 2-6-2) Saturday.
In that game, Strikers scored the lone goal in the first half from Todd Wharton in the 18th minute, and then the two teams exchanged three goals in a span of seven minutes. Luc Fatton struck in the 52nd minute, and four minutes later, Rush’s Thomas Whiteside cut the gap to 2-1 before Gawa Sunang-Sihle extended Strikers’ lead, providing the final margin of victory.
Hoffman said the club has made a conscious decision to go young with Rush’s U-17/18 DA squad, with six of them eligible to play for the U-15/16s. It might mean struggles now, having won just once and tied three in 23 matches this season, but he expects it to pay off in the next couple of years as his players mature and gain the full benefit from their experiences.
Looking to the future, Rush’s U-15/16 squad has just three 1995-birth year players, with the rest born in 1996. The inexperience led to some early losses, but the team has learned some quick lessons that are translating into positive results.
“I think in the beginning of the season, some of these guys were new coming over, and, no matter how you slice it, the academy is at a different level,” Hoffman said. “I don’t think, sometimes, that everybody realizes that.”
Notes: In other area DA matches, D.C. United started its spring by splitting a pair of matches with the New England Revolution Saturday, with the U-17/18s taking a 4-2 decision, and the U-15-16s getting shut out 3-0 in East Conference play.
In the win, Marcus Salandy-Defour started the scoring in the 16th minute, and Jannik Eckenrode picking up a goal in the 30th minute. New England pulled a goal back before the half from Peguy Ngatcha in the 41st minute. In the second half, New England equalized in the 58th minute from Mitchell Taintor before United took the lead for good in the 63rd minute, benefiting from a Willis Griffith own-goal. United added an insurance goal from Collin Martin six minutes later.
United’s two DA teams took the field again Sunday, with the U-17/18s picking up a 3-3 tie with FC Greater Boston, getting two goals from Jose Porteria and another from Patrick Foss. The Boston side, though, rallied from a 3-1 deficit to pull out the tie. Matthew Dias Costa, like Porteria, scored twice for FC Greater Boston.
United’s U-15/16s, meanwhile, fell for the second time on the weekend, getting a lone goal from Rafael Fagundo in a loss to FC Greater Boston.
Baltimore Bays Chelsea U-17/18s picked up two wins this weekend, going on the road to beat NY Cosmos Academy 2-0 Saturday on goals from Christian Morales and Michael Gamble.
Bays followed that up with a win Sunday against Met Oval, 5-1. Neither team scored in the first half before Bays unleashed a five-goal second-half barrage, which included two goals from Yaw Amankwa, another from Gamble and Morales and one more from Christian Porras.
Bays’ U-15/16 squad, meanwhile, picked up a 3-0 win against NY Cosmos Academy Saturday.