All three MNUFC academy teams showed out quite well at last weekend’s MLS NEXT Flex event at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland. While just one of our squads won their group, it was a good weekend of quality soccer from all three teams.

At this qualifying competition, 64 teams from each age group competed for a spot in the 2024 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs. Each division was divided into 16 groups of four, with the winner of each group guaranteeing themselves a spot in June’s playoffs. Seeding and qualification for the event were based on regular-season league matches from September 2023 to March 2024.

The U15s opened up the tournament with a 3-0 loss to eventual group winners Toronto FC. A strong rebound performance against Santa Barbara Soccer Club saw the boys respond well, drawing the match 4-4. Though they lost the shootout, the U15s set themselves up for a good final day.

On the final matchday, goals from Lazar Angelovski and Sam Roseblade ended the tournament with a win. Despite finishing third in Group G, the youngest Loons showed a lot of spirit in Maryland, fighting until the very final whistle and picking up results even after a tough loss in game one.

Coach Justin Ferguson and the U17s likewise faced two American clubs and one Canadian, and while their results were quite similar, the order of events and the way their tournament played out were unique. A 4-2 comeback win against Sacramento Republic saw the boys off to a strong start, behind goals from Aidan Martinez, Denilson Romero, Irvin Hernandez, and Donovan Sinicropi.

When they came up against CF Montreal in game two, though, a comprehensive 4-0 loss hurt their chances of topping the group. Despite the loss, the lads kept pushing, drawing against their coach’s former youth club—Real Colorado—0-0 and earning the win in the subsequent shootout. Ramon Lujano-Salto saved two penalties en route to his team’s second win of the tournament.

Montreal ended up topping Group B with nine points, while the Loons secured second with five. Once again, Head Coach Justin Ferguson was proud of his team and said as much following the event.

“It’s really important that we get competitive games to push forward the development of the group and its individuals,” Ferguson said of MLS NEXT Flex. “This event is really good for our guys to stretch themselves in high-pressure moments.”

Strong performances from both goalkeepers (Kai Zeruhn and Ramon Lujano-Salto), Aidan Martinez, and Ty Perkins were bright spots in an overall bright tournament for the U17s, who will look to close out their season strong when they return to league play this weekend.

Though the entire academy performed admirably, it was the play of the U19s that stood out the most. Three wins from three saw them top Group E in dominant fashion. Gritty results showed great moments of ingenuity, making for an overall mature performance from Alex Morawiecki’s men.

They kicked things off with a 1-0 win against PA Classics, a club that has produced such players as Christian Pulisic and Zarek Valentin. Another 1-0 win against NEFC saw the lads take a commanding lead in their group, putting them in pole position to book their ticket to the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs.

The final match was also decided by a one-goal margin, but unlike their first two games, this was a barn-burner. A 5-4 win over Tampa Bay United completed the clean sweep of group play and showcased an ability to score in bunches. Vice President of Youth Development Amos Magee was happy with the entire academy, crediting all three teams for their performances.

“Led by the U19s, we played outstanding soccer, scoring goals of real quality and beating some excellent teams along the way,” Magee said. “Both the U15s and U17s beat teams that they had lost to in the fall, showing a collective growth that we’ve seen internally and was nice to see externally. I was very pleased with the mature and dominant performances of the U19s. They won their group comfortably, displaying grit and creativity in equal parts. We’re looking forward to seeing them compete for an MLS NEXT Cup championship in June.”

The regular season is winding down, but there’s still plenty of soccer left. Following their successful weekend of play, the academy will return to action this Saturday, when all three teams take on the Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium.


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