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D.C. Academy heads to Dallas Cup

WASHINGTON – Instead of getting to relax and rest on their spring break over the next two weeks, two D.C. United Academy teams are heading south to test themselves against some of the best youth clubs around at the 2011 Dallas Cup.

This time of year is usually a two-week break for D.C.’s Academy, but this year the coaching staff decided otherwise in an attempt to bring the team together.

“We are looking at it to not only give our players a chance to develop against good teams, but kind of bring us together during this off two weeks of the Academy,” D.C. United U-18 Coach Judah Cooks told MLSsoccer. “Usually this is used as rest, but as a staff we’ve decided that we can gain some cohesiveness these couple of weeks together.”

D.C. is sending two teams – a U-16 and U-18 side to the world-renown competition for the very first time in the club history. With a lot of players in school, and a U-17 tournament in Holland also taking place next week, Cooks said the team is going to be a bit younger in Dallas. Iyassu Bekele and Dallas Aminzadeh will lead the U-18s, while Andy Najar’s little brother Christian is set to travel with the U-16s.

On Sunday, the Academy will enter unfamiliar territory, both with the tournament itself and the competition. With 70 teams from abroad, this week provides an opportunity to play youth teams from around the world.

United’s U-16s are in Bracket A with CD Chivas Guadalajara, FC Premier and MTH PAC Tigres. The U-18s are in Bracket B, against Liverpool-based Knowsley Youth, Davis Legacy and Andromeda SC.

Not knowing much about the opposition isn’t a concern – Cooks said that the focus is not on the opponent, but rather on how the team performs in each game.

“We’ve looked at the schedule and we don’t know these teams that well,” he said. “We’ve never really worried about the team we’re playing, we worry about how we’re going to play and go forth that way.”

It’s been a mixed year for both D.C. teams in the USSF Development Academy League to this point – neither side has entered the heart of its division schedule, but each team remains in the hunt for a spot in the DA finals series.

Overall, he hopes that this next week is a springboard for success in the Academy league later this year.

“This could propel us to where we want to be – the national finals at the end of the summer. It’s going through hard times like what we’re about to go through that sparks stuff like that.”

Regardless, the experience is expected to be a step forward to D.C.’s Academy teams, and with big name clubs like Arsenal and Barcelona represented, Cooks said that there is plans to watch Barcelona play on Sunday.

“I think it’ll be great for all the kids to compare themselves with those guys – most of these kids would say that Barcelona is their favorite club right now.”

The Dallas Cup begins on Sunday, April 17.