Before we get to the review of the match, let us say straight up that we apologize for the lateness of this article. Holidays and work are the bane of everything we do here. Bah-humbug. Anyways, enough excuses and on to the review!
The match pitted the U-18s against their collegiate and pro counterparts, with the Alumni Cup on the line and pride amongst the kids. The Academy featured such stalwarts as Christian Lucatero, Juan “Charlie” Flores and David Koloko. Many thought that the Academy would have a leg up in that they were all familiar with each other, using their chemistry, and no small amount of natural talent, to outwit their older opponents. And they did for long stretches of the game, keeping the Alumni team pinned in their own half of the field. The movement and calm in midfield was impressive to watch.
On the Alumni side, it was fun to see Tyler Deric get another run-out. He played the first half of the match and, honestly, he didn’t have much work to do. For all the possession the U-18s had, they weren’t able to convert it into dangerous shots. The defense did well enough to hold them back and force them into low percentage shots that Deric was able to easily control. He quickly put the ball back in to play, hoping his teammates would catch the Academy on the counter. Which they did. Frequently. Many times the Alumni got forward quickly, catching the U-18s off balance. More often than not they were able to recover just in time but a few times they weren’t, leading to dangerous chances.
The star player for the Alumni was Memo Rodriguez, who was both a screen for the defense but also the first attacker on the team. When he got the ball deep, he pushed forward quickly with smart passes and great runs up the middle. It was easy to see why he was signed to the team and Dynamo fans will be very excited to see him perform either in USL (with the Charleston Battery) or with the full Dynamo team. Rodriguez was subbed out in the 69′ minute with what looked like an upper thigh strain or a groin injury. Now, to be clear, it wasn’t a serious one. He walked off the field under his own power and the staff treated him. No need to get worried about the new signing.
The Alumni opened the scoring in the 27′, when the U-18 defense turned the ball over cheaply outside their box. Left midfielder Irvin Ramirez (High Point) collected the ball and curled in a blistering shot past the keeper for a beautiful goal. The momentum started shifting in the Alumni’s favor and they kept the pressure on. In stoppage time of the first half, Bryan Moya (Dynamo U-23) sent a low shot at Andy Rios, who did well to block the initial shot (only to give up a rebound). Zachary Jackson (Tulsa) sent a one-time shot back towards net, which Rios blocked as well but he wasn’t able to stop the third attempt as Jackson tapped it home to double the Alumni’s lead.
The second half started much better for the U-18s who came out with a vengeance, wanting to get back in the game. They put the Alumni under hard pressure, keeping them firmly pinned while sending in crosses and through balls to get behind. For a while the defense bent, but never broke. However, that all changed in the 56′. A cross came in from the wing which found Giovanni Pacheco unmarked in front of net. He rose up and headed home the cross to halve the Alumni’s lead. They U-18s quickly set up for a restart.
As the Alumni kicked the ball around the defense, Roberto Marquez caught Leo Castillo (Tyler Junior College), who came in for Deric at the half, unawares with the ball at his feet. Castillo tried to play it quickly away but Marquez stole the ball and tapped in an easy goal to tie the match up, just a minute after the last goal. This pushed the momentum almost fully into the U-18s side. They kept up the pressure, trying to catch the defense on another mistake or whip in another well placed cross but were unable to do so. The Alumni defense, lead by CJ Odenigwe (UNC), recovered enough to get a draw.
The game went to penalty kicks. The Alumni took their spot kicks cooly and cleanly, converting all but one of their kicks. Johan Welch saved Antonio “Gato” Valdez (Dynamo U-23) penalty kick to give the U-18s a huge advantage. The U-18s were very confident going into PKs, scoring many “cheeky” goals. David Brown Panenka converted the last PK to give the U-18s the win and the Alumni Cup.
The U-18s were able to lift the trophy and celebrate with…sparkling cider (no champagne, they’re teens now). The crowd gave them a standing ovation and their Alumni counterparts congratulated them fully on an impressive come-from-behind victory.
The best part of the game was seeing many new faces attending an Academy match. Many fans came up to us, commenting on how impressive various players were and how bright they see the future is now (it is). Congratulations to the Dynamo Academy U-18s on a hard fought, and well deserved, victory. We’re sure that next year the Alumni will come back, looking to reclaim their title.The Houston Dynamo Academy U-18s celebrate winning the annual Alumni Cup, 2014. Photo courtesy of BBVA Compass Stadium Twitter account