FIVE THINGS TO KNOW: 2017 DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY CHAMPIONSHIPS

On Friday, July 14, the four best clubs in the nation at the U-15/16 and U-17/18 levels will converge at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California to compete in the semifinals and finals of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Championship. In what will surely make for a highly competitive atmosphere, the event will provide an unmatched player development experience the elite youth soccer players.

Here are five things to know about the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's most exciting player development initiative of the year.

THE HARDWARE SEEKERS

Of the 73 clubs and 1,984 players from the entire U-15/16 age group, the last four teams to make it to Carson are Real Salt Lake AZ, Atlanta United FC, FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps. At the conclusion of the season, each of the four teams ranked in the top ten, based on points-per-game-played-average, finishing with rankings of nine, three, one and eight, respectively.

At the U-17/18 age group, Friday's semifinals matchups feature Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy and Texans SC Houston vs. Colorado Rapids. In contrast to the dominance of the U-15/16 top finishers based on regular season seed, Seattle Sounders FC ended their 2016-2017 regular season campaign with a number 18 overall seed, while Texans SC Houston, Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy carved out 20, 30 and 32 seeds, respectively, heading into the 2017 Summer Showcase and Playoffs.

JULY 14 SEMIFINAL GAMES:

Time, Age, Matchup

1:00 p.m. PT, U-15/16, (1) FC Dallas vs. (9) Real Salt Lake AZ
3:00 p.m. PT, U-15/16, (3) Atlanta United FC vs. (8) Vancouver Whitecaps
5:30 p.m. PT, U-17/18, (20) Texans SC Houston vs. (30) Colorado Rapids
8:00 p.m. PT, U-17/18, (18) Seattle Sounders FC vs. (32) LA Galaxy

CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

Concluding it's 10th competitive season of the program, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has seen 7 clubs lift the championship trophy at the U-15/16 level and 8 at U-17/18. Only 5 clubs have managed to hoist the hardware at both age groups. FC Dallas is the only Academy program to have won the championship in back to back years, at either age level, and is looking to add to their legacy by adding a three-peat to the history books in 2016-2017.

U-15/16 Development Academy Champions:

2007-08: Carmel United (now Indiana Fire)
2008-09: Derby County Wolves (now Crew Soccer Academy Wolves)
2009-10: Chicago Fire
2010-11: LA Galaxy
2011-12: New York Red Bulls
2012-13: Real Salt Lake AZ
2013-14: LA Galaxy
2014-15: FC Dallas
2015-16: FC Dallas

U-17/18 Development Academy Champions:

2007-08: Baltimore Bays
2008-09: Carmel United (now Indiana Fire)
2009-10: Vardar
2010-11: Pateadores
2011-12: FC Dallas
2012-13: New York Red Bulls
2013-14: Players Development Academy
2014-15: Chicago Fire Academy
2015-16: FC Dallas

Click here to learn more about the Development Academy Championship history.

WHERE, WHEN AND HOW TO WATCH

For its 10th consecutive year, the Academy Championships will take place at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson California, also home site of LA Galaxy's Academy club.

Following Thursday's semifinal matchups, all teams will have one rest day, Saturday, before lacing up their boots on Sunday. Sunday's slate will feature both championship matchups as well as a third-place game for both age groups.

Fans can tune into games live on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Facebook page, and follow along via the Development Academy Twitter and Instagram accounts (@ussoccer_acad).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Although all 144 players from the eight 18-man rosters will represent an incredibly elite group of youth athletes on display starting Thursday, there are certainly a few to keep an eye on.

Having already made their first team debuts, Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas) has made a powerful influence on his younger comrades, while Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC) has been a vibrant spark for the first year Academy program looking to win it all.

Along with attempting to conquer the United States' elite landscape at the Academy Championships, three players from the United States' CONCACAF U-17 World Cup Qualifying roster will be looking to prove themselves and earn a World Cup roster spot, come this October. After recently finding out that John Hackworth's team will open against host India, followed by Ghana and Columbia, the following players will use their trip to Carson, the highest club level domestic experience, to get them prepared to conquer the rest of the World:

Carleton, Atlanta United FC U-15/16
Zyen Jones, Atlanta United FC U-15/16
Bryan Reynolds, FC Dallas U-15/16

U.S. MNT PROUD ALUMNI

As the list of Development Academy products to be capped with the U.S. Men's National Team continues to grow, six MNT players will be rooting for their former clubs to bring home the championship:

Kellyn Acosta, FC Dallas
Luis Gil, Real Salt Lake AZ
Emerson Hyndman, FC Dallas
Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders FC
DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle Sounders FC
Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy