Academy Players Shine in NCAAs

CHICAGO – Last year, midfielder Matt Kassel was playing matches with the New York Red Bulls U-17/18 team in U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy. Last Sunday, Kassel added a piece of hardware to his collection, after winning the 2008 College Cup with the Maryland Terrapins at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

Kassel, along with Zac MacMath (Clearwater Chargers) and Matthew Oduaran (D.C. United), are Maryland’s trio of Development Academy alumni, although not the only Development Academy players on the field during the Terrapins’ 1-0 win against North Carolina to clinch the NCAA Championship.

Maryland’s trio of Academy alumni were not the only former Academy players to participate in last weekend’s Final Four. UNC’s roster included four former Academy players and Wake Forest and St. John’s featured another nine Academy alumni. In total, 16 underclassmen played a role in the four college programs participating in last weekend’s College Cup weekend. Opportunities presented by the Development Academy program and its participating clubs have helped to develop over 700 former Academy players for their college teams last fall.

“The Academy does a great job of getting good teams into the Academy program,” said Kassel. “With playing, the biggest thing is playing with good players around you. That’s the only thing that’s going to make you better, the environment that you’re in. The Academy does a great job of that.”

“When we travel to all the different Showcases and the league games, day in and day out, one a week or twice a week you get those games, that’s only going to prepare you for the next level and it definitely did for me.”

North Carolina midfielder Kirk Urso was also a part of College Cup weekend as part of a Tar Heel team also featuring Jarrett Davis (CASL), Billy Schuler (Matchfit and US Under-17 National Team) and Sheanon Williams (FC Greater Boston Bolts and US Under-17 National Team) that beat an undefeated Wake Forest squad in the semifinals. Urso grew up as part of Sockers FC, a Chicagoland club with a long tradition and a member of the inaugural year of the Development Academy program.

“Within our club, the Sockers, they offered a lot of opportunities,” said Urso. “The club aided in my development and helped me gain experience through training. They always offered training. I would go as many times a week as I could with my own team or with one of the teams, and playing in games, whether it was in tournaments, just playing was a huge thing.”

Urso eventually joined U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program. A path similar to 19 other players from Academy clubs who currently make up the 40 player Residency roster.

“In Residency, just being in an environment where you know that you’re playing at a good level every day and have the opportunity to play with other people, touching the ball, in a real soccer environment, it just helps so much,” Urso said. “When I went to college, it was more of a physical adjustment than a mental adjustment. I knew I could play with them, it was just a matter of growing and maturing and just getting ready physically to compete.

“The different things offered in Residency helped with the long season and helped to be ready until the end and stay focused on what it was that we needed to do throughout the season. I think that helped a lot leading toward the last run in the NCAA tournament.”

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