Niel Boyal U-18s 2017-07-05

The Seattle Sounders Academy U-18s will host in-state rival Crossfire Premier in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy national quarterfinals on Friday, July 7, at Starfire Sports (Field 12, 6 p.m. PT). Friday’s clash will be the fourth time these two sides have faced each other this season.

The first meeting came last September in the first match of the USSDA season. The Rave Green won 3-1 behind goals from Shandon Hopeau (two) and Alex Mejia. Hopeau, playing in his first game after joining from Homegrown Territory Hawaii, scored his first with a blast into the top corner and the second with an improvised scorpion kick in the 80th minute.

After winning handily in the first match, the young Sounders suffered a disappointing defeat in April. At the time, the U-18s were struggling to garner positive results in league play, which saw them fall down the table and out of the playoff spots. A free-kick goal in the 91st minute condemned the Rave Green to a gut-wrenching loss.

That deflating experience against their rivals spurred the young Sounders on their way to the playoffs, rattling off a 10-match unbeaten run in the wake of the defeat. Their turnaround in form culminated in a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Crossfire in May with striker Greg Sutton and winger Dylan Teves (U-16) providing the goals.

How They Got Here

Placed in a group alongside New York Red Bulls, FC Dallas and Beachside Soccer Club, the U-18s knew they’d need to be in top form to advance.

The young Sounders kicked off the group stage with a 1-0 victory over NYRB. Center backs Jackson Ragan and Sam Rogers, who re-joined the U-18s from S2 for the first two matches, anchored the backline while Felix Chenkam scored the lone goal off a clever pass from Paul Rothrock. In the next match against FC Dallas, the reigning U-18 national champions, the young Sounders fell behind 3-0. Sutton and Hopeau added late tallies late, and the U-18s nearly drew level in the dying minutes, but ultimately suffered a 3-2 defeat. Needing a big win to secure a spot in the quarterfinals, they downed Beachside Soccer Club 3-0 behind goals from Hopeau (two) and Ragan.

USL Experience

In addition to thriving at the Academy level, a number of key players for the U-18s have spent time with S2 this season. Two players, Rogers and Hopeau, signed directly with the USL side, and several others have made their professional debuts while still playing in the youth ranks. Rothrock and goalkeeper Trey Muse have made the matchday roster on several occasions, while Australian midfielder Jamie Dimitroff and winger Milo Barton have combined for 903 minutes of USL action.

Ones to Watch

If the U-18s are to come away with a win, they’ll need big performances from their three central midfielders: Neil Boyal, Dimitroff, and Rothrock. Boyal, who started the season as an attacking winger, has blossomed since moving into the No. 6 role. His ability to set the tempo of a match with his passing and tackling will prove crucial against Crossfire’s well-balanced midfield. Dimitroff, a No. 8, will be expected to cover a lot of ground defensively while also establishing possession. Rothrock, who can play any position in the attack, will likely occupy the No. 10 role tasked with providing creativity in the final third and applying defensive pressure on Crossfire’s talented No. 6.

Scouting the Opposition

The Crossfire U-18s perfectly personify the word “team.” Sure, there are several individuals with the quality to change games, but the identity of the squad is centered around the collective. They press opponents for the entire match and are lethal in transition. But the young Sounders will be intimately familiar with their opponents, having played with or against most of Crossfire players since they were 10 years old.

Hal Uderitz, the son of former MLS player Scott, is a holding midfielder with the propensity to step into the attack and find the back of the net. He recorded eight goals in league play this season. Striker Quinn Fahling, the younger brother of Sounders Academy alum Burke, has 14 goals from 18 starts for Crossfire.

Coach’s Take

“We have some really talented players, but what I like about the group right now is it feels like a collective rather than an assortment of really talented individuals. I think it speaks volumes to the quality of soccer in the Pacific Northwest that the only two academies from Washington are both in the quarterfinals. As a Northwest guy, born and raised here, I’m partial to the players that come out of this region.

“When you look at the teams we beat down the stretch — we beat Real So Cal, tied Real Salt Lake and beat Crossfire — all three of those teams are in the quarterfinals. So when you look at the teams that are left, everyone internally has the belief that we can win.” -- U-18 Head Coach Wade Webber.