As April becomes May, MLS youth academies across the country have one goal in mind: a spot in the USSF Development Academy League playoffs, with the top eight teams then qualifying for Finals week to be held in July at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
The top 32 teams from 10 geographic divisions in each age group (U-15/U-16 and U-17/U-18) qualify for the playoffs. MLS academies at both age groups are in the middle of the final thrust to grab one of those spots.
Here’s how it breaks down by conference:
Inter division play has just started on the East Coast. New York Red Bulls, who are going up against Cosmos Academy East and Met Oval in the Liberty Division, currently sit at the bottom of the U-18 age group, and are right in the middle of the back of the U-16s. There’s plenty of time to go, but New York’s U-18s could be safe if they can’t grab a top-two divisional finish thanks to their point-per-game average.
For D.C. United, it’s been a mixed season for both teams, and like New York, United’s in-division schedule is young. However, both the U-16s and U-18s need to improve to grab a spot.
The New England Revolution have seven games to close the gap in the Northeast Division, with the U-18s getting off to slow start and the U-16s in third place. Neither team has a great points-per-game average outside of their division and must grab a top two spot.
Having already played most of their schedule, both Seattle Sounders teams have a good shot at the playoffs. The U-18s, led by the likes of DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli and Darwin Jones are in good shape to clinch a spot in the Northwest Division, and the same goes for the U-16s, who are also in first place.
In the same division are the San Jose Earthquakes, who are second from bottom (U-17/U-18) and bottom (U-15-U-16). They are in need of a quick turnaround or face missing out on the playoffs.
Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and LA Galaxy are all tussling for supremacy in the SoCal Division. All three are looking up at the frontrunners: Pateadores and Arsenal FC leading the U-18s; and Real So Cal and Pateadores on top of the U-16s. However, thanks to strong performances in non-divisional games, the U-18s of RSL, Chivas and the Galaxy all have a good shot at playoff spots.
The times are changing out in Kansas City, and Sporting Kansas City’s U-16s are currently on top of the Frontier Division, six points ahead of the Colorado Rapids, who have yet to lose a division game. The two sides have a much more difficult task to make up the ground in the U-18 age group, as Sporting KC sit in fourth place and the Rapids in seventh.
Leading the way in the Great Lake Division is the Crew Soccer Academy. While the Crew’s U-16s are on top, the Chicago Fire lag behind with an eight-point gap to try and make it. Neither side’s U-18s have much to boast about, sitting in sixth and eighth place respectively. Both have 10 games to go — plenty of time to make up the difference.
Buoyed by the ability to play a handful of full-time professionals, the FC Dallas U-18s are one of the top academy teams in the nation. Jonathan Top, Victor Ulloa and Bryan Leyva have all seen time in the Texas Division, as FCD currently trail Lonestar SC. Meanwhile, the Houston Dynamo U-18s sit second from bottom.
The two sides are reversed at the U-16 level, with Houston only a point back from a playoff spot, while FC Dallas two points behind the Dynamo in a race for playoff soccer.