Thursday evening will see the annual Dynamo Academy v Alumni match kick off, showing off many of the top talents available at the Academy level and in the collegiate and pro ranks. The game will be held at BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston at 6:30 PM, with tickets free for everyone. To familiarize everyone with the players on the field, here is a quick guide on what to expect and who to keep an eye out on.
The U-18 Academy is headed by attacking midfielder, and highly touted prospect around these parts, Christian Lucatero out of Pasadena High School. He is a player with flair, capable of creating magic out of nothing. That in and of itself makes him worth watching on the field, to see what he does with the ball, but what really makes him stand out is his two-way play.
Like Stuart Holden years before, Lucatero tracks back defensively very well, stripping opponents of the ball and instantly moving forward in the attack. He has great vision, picking out teammates with precision passes. His runs are timed well, drawing defenders to open up his teammates or to find pockets for himself to get shots off. Expect Lucatero to press hard against the Alumni, challenging the defenders to keep a wary eye on him lest he pick them apart to rack up the goals or assists.
The striker corps is lead by Juan “Charlie” Flores out of Wheatley High School, a striker with great pace and size. He is great at dipping into midfield to help corral the ball and initiate the attack and has the speed to get ahead of the ball to make himself available for a crisp pass. He also has the legs to get above a defender to head the ball into the net. Flores has the talent to terrorize any defense, so expect him to constantly be testing the defenders.
The last part of the Academy to keep an eye on will be David Koloko, a central midfielder who can dominate the middle of the park. Koloko is an intelligent player, smart with his movement on the field and clean with his tackles. His relationship with his fellow midfielders has allowed him to have, what seems at times, a psychic link, knowing where they are on the field. Capable of moving forward when given the chance, Koloko is a dominating presence in midfield, shielding the defense while being the first link in the offense.
The first alumnus to mention would be Tyler Deric but everyone should be familiar with the goalkeeper at this point. He took over for the injured Tally Hall last season and was an admirable fill-in, an improvement in several areas while a few others still need some work. His performance in Toronto was insane, inspiring many fans to dub him “Saint” Deric. But that’s not who we will highlight first.
The first player has to be Jose “Memo” Rodriguez, recent signing to the Houston Dynamo senior squad. The central midfielder will be looking to learn from Ricardo Clark and emulate the Dynamo legend’s tireless work rate and dominating midfield presence. This will be the first chance for fans to get a long look at Memo to see just how much all the months of training with the senior squad has rubbed off on him and will be looking to see him screen the defense and his ability to move the ball cleanly. Considering the likelihood of him going out on loan to the Dynamo’s USL affiliate (currently unnamed) for the upcoming season, this may be the last chance fans will get to see him in person for some time.
Defender Chibuzo “C.J.” Odenigwe out of the University of North Carolina is another top player to watch. CJ helped lead the Tarheels to a quarterfinal appearance this past season in the NCAA Championship. For decades now, UNC has been a leader in producing quality professional talent, both for the men’s game and the women’s. Any player capable of hanging with such a group has a lot of talent. It will be interesting to see what CJ has learned while away and just how ready he might be for a professional career (the Dynamo do need some help defensively…). At 6’1″ and 197, he’s a physically commanding presence, something that the Dynamo have lacked at times.
Abe Matamoros is a regular with the Tulsa Hurricanes, starting all but one game as a striker (or advanced midfielder), bagging two goals and a pair of assists on the season. With the offense side of the Dynamo being heavily rebuilt after a very disappointing 2014 campaign, he is another player to keep an eye on. While he isn’t likely ready to go pro just yet (he is currently a sophomore), any player getting regular minutes in the collegiate level, especially those bagging some goals, is worth keeping an eye on. With one Homegrown slot already filled and the team looking to add at least 1 (possibly using all 4), he’s a striker worth monitoring.
The more experienced Alumni players are likely to take the kids to school, using their collegiate experience to overcome their Academy opponents. Still, the sheer talent of the U-18s will cause trouble against a talented, but unfamiliar, group of players. The Alumni take the game 3 – 2, using their age and experience to overcome the disadvantage of lack of familiarity to hold off their talented Academy opponents.