CHARLESTON, S.C. (Dec. 1, 2014) – It’s not just a name. The NPL’s Texas Pre-Academy League is preparing top players from clubs in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for successful careers in the U.S. Development Academy and beyond.
The Texas Pre-Academy League includes all nine U.S. Soccer Development Academy member clubs in Texas, and is the top level of competition for these players at U-13 and U-15 before they enter the Development Academy and then as they move between Development Academy age groups.
Executive Director of Coaching Victor Pace at Lonestar SC (Austin) has seen firsthand the club and player development the NPL offers. “The Texas Pre-Academy League is one of the strongest leagues, not only in the region, but in the country. The league provides us great competition each weekend to test and develop our players, so that they may continue on the path to the Development Academy,” Pace said. “The league schedule mirrors the DA schedules, which gives our staff the ability to watch and coach games consistently.”
Lonestar strongly believes in the league’s developmental focus, and the entire club embraces the long-term athletic development model viewpoint. “’Winning through development’ is printed on every training shirt throughout our entire club,” Pace added. “Our philosophy is to teach the technical, tactical, physical and physiological parts of the game, while instilling a winning mentality. Our goal every year is to develop top players with our core values that may go on and be successful at whatever they choose to do.”
A couple hours east of Lonestar is Texas Rush SC (Houston), another club that has been a part of the Texas Pre-Academy League from its inception. A similar commitment to player development is firmly established within the Rush ranks. “As a whole, we expect to be more consistent on our philosophy to play good football across all ages,” said Alex Cardenas, Director of Coaching for Texas Rush SC’s TEPAL teams.
The Texas Pre-Academy League hosts an annual Player Development Program (PDP) event for the best players in Texas at these age groups. Last month, the Texas Pre-Academy League hosted a PDP in Austin, with nearly 30 players in the one-day event targeting boys born in 2001. Based on their performances, a select few were then invited to the upcoming id² Training Camp in Casa Grande, Ariz., Dec. 11-14.
Cardenas noticed that the PDP had an impact on the two Texas Rush SC players who participated in the event. “They talked with their teammates about the experience, and this creates a positive atmosphere all around,” he said. “The willingness to get better grows.”
Pace also witnessed improved mentalities from eight Lonestar players who competed at the PDP, saying they came back to their club “with a great desire to continue to succeed.”
“It is always good for high-level players to be exposed to other players of similar ability,” Pace said. “It gives us as coaches a measuring stick as to what we are doing on and off the field to prepare these young players to compete.”
While player development is rightfully heralded, the Texas Pre-Academy League teams are consistently among the best in the NPL competitively. Last season, FC Dallas’ U-15 team was edged in its pursuit of a national championship in the semifinals of the NPL Finals, another strong showing from the club. FC Dallas has a rich history of NPL Finals success. In 2013, its U-13 and U-14 teams advanced to their respective national title games. And at the inaugural 2012 event, FC Dallas claimed the U-14 age group in an overtime thriller. Dallas Texans, meanwhile has a national championship trophy of its own, having earned it in 2012 in a U-13 bracket-clinching penalty kick shootout.
Regular season results determine the teams that will represent the Texas Pre-Academy League in the NPL Finals. In 2015, the NPL Finals will be held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“Our focus with the U-15 group is to continue to push these players and get them ready for a jump into the DA program,” Pace said. “Hopefully with that focus and desire, they will also have a good chance to earn a spot to the NPL Finals.”
“It is huge for us here,” Cardenas said of the incentive of winning a national championship. “We know that the road is difficult, but we’re always striving to get there. We always talk between the staff and with our players about our goals. Playing in the NPL Finals is always one to accomplish.”
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