COAST-TO-COAST COMPETITION: WINTER SHOWCASE PROVIDES MEANINGFUL MATCH-UPS

Southern California is a hotbed for soccer. That makes the Pateadores U-16/17 squad's start to the season even more impressive. This fall, the Costa Mesa-based club went undefeated against all of its SoCal competitors.

In Pateadores' first game at the 2017 Boys' Development Academy Winter Showcase, they fell 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls. Welcome to the Showcase, where every one of the 77 clubs that make up the nation's highest level of youth soccer have gathered for a week of top-tier match-ups. The Academy provides a platform for meaningful competition every weekend and at marquee showcase events. That core tenet is exemplified here, as the best from coast to coast square off.

The U.S. Soccer Scouting Network and Technical Staff evaluate games throughout the season, allowing the Academy to hand-pick matchups at Showcase events to provide the most-competitive games possible. These contests are an important part of player development and a valuable opportunity for Talent Identification to see players competing in a world-class environment.

"Meaningful competition is always the No. 1 priority," said Teddy Chronopoulos, Pateadores Academy Director. "The meaningful games count (in Academy standings), they mean even more to us because it measures us to the other side of the country. It presents a different challenge, a different quality and a type of player that we don't see on the West Coast."

In their three Showcase match-ups, Pateadores play three teams from Eastern seaboard states: the Red Bulls, Georgia's Concorde Fire and a feature game against Florida's Chargers SC.

"Meaningful games are what make the Academy what it is," said Roberto Lopez, Chargers SC Academy Director. "You have meaningful games every single weekend. You can take nothing for granted. You've got to produce quality on-field because you're challenged every single game."

This week's Showcase schedule is highlighted by cross-country match-ups. Playing teams from all over the map makes every game a unique test. With 77 clubs representing seven divisions, there's regional flare in spades at the Showcase.

"Every club, every part of the U.S. plays a different type of football," said Sey Rosenstraw, Academy Director for Irvine, Calif.'s Strikers FC. "Some are more physical, some are more technical, tactical. It's good to play people that we don't play in our market every week."

The stark contrast in styles made an immediate impact in Pateadores' first game. In California, teams will try play through the midfield, but the Red Bulls didn't waste any time in possession, launching balls over the top to bypass the typical SoCal build-up.

Chronopolous recognizes that his team has a weakness in the back-line and Pateadores' Showcase opponents have attempted to exploit that deficiency. The feature games have forced his team to face the challenge.

A similar style disparity was clear in the Philadelphia Union U-16/17's first game, a showdown against perennial Chicago power Sockers FC. From the opening whistle, the Sockers man-marked the Union all over the field, presenting Philly a challenge it hadn't faced all year.

"To have a team go eleven against eleven, one-v-one's all over the field is fantastic development-wise," said Gary Lewis, Union U-16/17 head coach. "Our boys are not really used to that pressure. It was perfect. They've got to deal with that. Who do you pass to if everyone's marked? That was fantastic for our development."

After seeing some of the Midwest's best on Friday, the Union took on one of the West Coast's top squads for a feature game against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. In one of the week's most-entertaining live-streamed games, the Union came back to top the Sounders 4-2. For Sounders U-16/17 head coach Chris Little, the Showcase not only provides a measuring stick for teams nationwide, but a chance to compare individual players' development.

"Importantly for us, we're looking at individual players," said Little. "How do our individual players stack up against some of the other best players in the country? Where is it we're doing well and where is it we can improve? It's very valuable for our players' development."

After a week of 189 diverse games, the final day of 39 match-ups is highlighted by an East vs. West feature showdown between Pateadores and Chargers (9:00 a.m. ET; Facebook, YouTube, ussoccerda.com). Both are first place in their respective regional divisions, but their final Showcase game gives one more opportunity to test themselves against the best from the other side of the country.

"The more you play teams from other regions, that's how you grow," Lopez said. "There's different styles, different ways of playing. It's an invaluable experience to play someone you don't know."