March 25, 2013 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Los Angeles Galaxy
DALLAS- The LA Galaxy Academy has ambitions the size of Texas for the Dallas Cup. The group of players, most of whom were part of the Galaxy's U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Championship team in 2011 and squad that traveled to Spain last year to play in the Real Sociedad XXVII Youth Invitation Tournament, feels they can add another feather to their cap by winning the tournament's annual Super Group.
The 34th annual Dallas Cup, includes some of the world's best Academies from Brazil, England, Germany, Mexico and MLS. Some of the marquee names here in Texas participating are Manchester United Club America and the defending Dallas Cup champion Coritiba of Brazil. But despite that list of luminaries, the Galaxy Academy players are not scared to go up against any of them.
"It's a good opportunity to play against them and show them that we are just as good," said defender Nathan Smith, who represented the U.S. at the =C2-FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2011. "They may be at Manchester United, but we play for the LA Galaxy and it's almost at the same level."
"It's a chance for us to prove that we can hang with these guys and show that soccer in America has grown."
This is the first time the Galaxy Academy has been invited to play in the Gordon Jago Super Group of the Dallas Cup, one of the most prestigious invitation-only Under-19 Youth Tournaments in the world. Twenty-two players and seven club officials traveled to Dallas for this competition, which opened on Sunday with a 2-1 come from behind win over Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany at The Cotton Bowl.
"We've been preparing for Dallas Cup the last couple of months, we've been putting this on a pedestal and our goal is not only to play in the Dallas Cup but to win it," said Smith. "This (tournament) definitely means something."
The players know the competition won' be easy.
"It's obviously going to be hard. They are all going to be tough games," said midfielder Willie Raygoza. [pictured above] "But I'm pretty sure at the end we'll get a result and compete."
Raygoza was part of the National Championship team and the team that traveled to Spain last spring. He=C2-s also the captain of the club's U-18 team, which has only lost two games this Development Academy season. His leadership, and those past experiences, will be beneficial in Dallas.
"All those experiences have helped me to see that there are very good teams out there in the world and they will definitely put us on our back and try to make us look bad, but we are prepared. Individually we'll be ready to play," he said.
Alex Yi, head coach of the Galaxy Academy U-18 team and the Galaxy's team here at Dallas Cup, credits the players for the group's ambition and level of confidence.
"I think it comes from themselves, really. We as a group never talk about results," he said. "I know as a staff we would like to get out of our group and be competitive over there, but individually for the players, it's kind of what they think about when they go home (after training) or what they imagine how they will do when the games start."
Yi, a former MLS defender who played for FC Dallas, can relate to being driven and very ambitious. But it's his job now to try to channel that energy and keep his players focused.
"The guys are really excited, but I think it's really important that our message to them is, 'yeah, the Dallas Cup is a big stage for them,' but ... make sure to still play the game and not so much the circumstances," he said. "Approach it the same way, try to do everything the same way as we always do."
No matter how far this team goes in the tournament, Yi says the Galaxy's participation in Dallas Cup has already been successful. The experience the players will take with them, and the manner in which they have prepared for such an important competition, will only help them with their development- which, for some of them, might include a professional career with the Galaxy.
"Already this is a big thing for our Academy that we are here for Dallas Cup and representing our club," said Yi. "We hope that one day- it could be next year, it could be a couple of years from now- these guys are getting considered for the first team. And when they travel away that they'll remember what it was like playing against a foreign team at a big stage."
"I think from a development and experience standpoint (Dallas Cup) is going to be a success."