MLS youth competition drawing worldwide interest, importance


By TIM BOOTH - AP Sports Writer



The most important competition to the future of Major League Soccer this week will take place just outside of Dallas, and it has nothing to do with any MLS game being played.

The Generation Adidas Cup featuring 32 youth academy teams from MLS and clubs around the world will begin Friday at the Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas. Nineteen MLS clubs will send their U-17 academy teams to compete with 13 youth teams from clubs around the world such as Real Madrid, River Plate and Club Tijuana. It’s a showcase of development and identification to help find the next generation of homegrown players the league hopes develops into stars.

“We’ve seen that the gap is narrowing and that’s why this type of competition is so important with us to be able to measure where we are with the clubs doing this for some time,” said Alfonso Mondelo, the MLS technical director of competition who is overseeing the Generation Adidas Cup.

Only three MLS teams — Minnesota, Vancouver and Montreal — will not be sending teams to the week-plus event that concludes April 15. The teams are broken into premier and championship divisions based on qualification events. Eight of the international clubs — Real Madrid, Independiente del Valle (Ecuador), Flamengo (Brazil), Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), River Plate (Argentina), Malaga (Spain), Club Tijuana (Mexico) and Estudiantes de la Plata (Argentina) — will be competing in the championship division. The other five international academies will join 11 MLS teams in the premier division.

This will be the fifth year that international clubs are sending their academy teams to the event. While the showcase is on the games and the play on the field, there is also a teaching component in which the various clubs share ideas and practices. Mondelo said many of the international clubs have been targeted to bring in a variety of styles of play and teaching.

He also had to reach out to some personal contacts in Spain to land Real Madrid this year.

“I’ve been after them for a few years,” Mondelo said.

It’s a fairly significant list of players that have participated in this event. Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta, Bill Hamid, DeAndre Yedlin, Gyasi Zardes and Ian Harkes are just a small list of those that have taken part in previous years.

Many of them have become homegrown players for their MLS clubs, a critical component of the league’s structure allowing young players to grow through the club’s system before eventually being added to a first-team roster.

“The vision we have along with Adidas is to turn this into a top world-class event,” Mondelo said. “Almost a youth World Cup of clubs at the age of 17, making this truly a week of player development.”

HAT TRICK: Erick “Cubo” Torres continued his torrid start to the season and was voted MLS player of the week after his hat trick, the first of his career in MLS play, in Houston’s 4-1 win over the New York Red Bulls . Torres has taken over the league lead in goals with six in four games.

Torres also became just the third Mexican-born player in league history to score a hat trick. Jose Vazquez of the L.A. Galaxy had the first on Sept. 21, 1997 against San Jose, and David Estrada had a hat trick for Seattle against Toronto in 2012.

Torres has scored in four straight matches to start the season, tying the second-longest streak in league history to begin a campaign. With a goal on Saturday at New England, Torres would match Brian McBride’s mark of five straight games, achieved with Columbus to open 1998.

EXPANSION UPDATE: St. Louis may be out of the picture for MLS expansion after voters turned down public funding this week to help build a 22,000-seat stadium as part of an effort to attract an expansion franchise.

Meanwhile, a group looking to expand to San Diego plans to ask the City Council to place its proposal for a $1 billion development at the Qualcomm Stadium site on the ballot as part of a special election in November. The development would include a stadium that an MLS team could possibly share with San Diego State.

MATCH OF THE WEEK: Not many great options this week, so let’s go with FC Dallas hosting Minnesota. Dallas will be returning to league play for the first time since beating New England 2-1 on March 18, and after a heartbreaking loss to Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals on Tuesday.

BEST OF THE REST: Los Angeles hosts Montreal in a meeting of two clubs that have gotten off to underwhelming starts; Chicago and Bastian Schweinsteiger hosts Eastern Conference-leading Columbus; and Toronto hosts Atlanta in its second straight home match.

BEST OF MARCH: Atlanta forward Josef Martinez was voted the MLS player of the month for March after scoring five goals in Atlanta United’s first three matches. Martinez is sidelined after suffering a left leg injury in World Cup qualifying for Venezuela.

By TIM BOOTH

AP Sports Writer