U-16/17 GIRLS' ACADEMY PLAYOFFS: WHAT TO WATCH FOR


Just outside San Diego, the finale of the Girls' Development Academy's inaugural season kicks off this weekend at the U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs. Thirty-two of the nation's top teams have qualified for the first-ever Girls' postseason. The SoCal Sports Complex will host the group stage and quarterfinals of the tournament, ultimately sending four teams to the Academy Championships in Kansas City.

Here's what to watch for this week as the top 32 squads from the nation's highest level of youth soccer duke it out in Oceanside.

CONCACAF CHAMPS RETURN

Fresh off of clinching a World Cup spot and claiming the confederation crown at the Concacaf Women's U-17 Championships, several members of the Under-17 Women's National Team will be present at the Academy Playoffs. Earlier this month, the U-17s defeated Haiti, 3-2, in the tournament semifinals and came back to take down Mexico 3-2 to win the tournament. Now, some of the U-17s have returned to lead their Academy clubs through the postseason.

While several U-17s play up at the U-18/19 level, a number will make an impact in the U-16/17 Playoffs. Midfielder Sophia Jones was one of the 17s' minutes leaders through qualifying, and she arrives in San Diego with the No. 5 seed San Jose Earthquakes. The MLS affiliate brings one of the Academy's highest-flying offenses to the Playoffs, its 112 goals are good for second in the country. In Group A, defender Talia DellaPeruta has scored in every game she's played this season for No. 7 NTH Tophat.

Group C and Group F will feature U-17 WNT showdowns on the final matchday. Julia Dohle has started nearly every game in goal for New York City FC this season. In Group C, she'll face off against U.S. teammate Smith Hunter and the Seattle Reign. Group E features two U-17 goalscorers going head-to-head. Forward Diana Ordonez comes in to the Playoffs as one of the Academy's top scorers, with 26 regular season goals in just 14 games. She'll lead No. 3 seed FC Dallas against U-17 midfielder Astrid Wheeler and No. 14 Concorde Fire. Both players netted in the USA's 10-1 victory over Bermuda in the Concacaf group stage.

TOP SEEDS COME IN HOT

The top four in the U-16/17 Playoffs have separated themselves with sterling records. All division champions, each of the table's four highest-ranked teams haven't lost more than three games all season.

The No. 1 LAFC Slammers led the way with a 29-2-4 record. Crossfire Premier rode the stingiest defense in the Academy to the No. 2 overall seed at the SoCal Sports Complex. The Washington-based side has allowed just 22 goals in 27 games this season on its way to a 22-3-2 record and it hasn't dropped a game since February.

FC Dallas dominated the Frontier Division this season with a 23-2-5 record and its margin at the top-of-the-table, over 0.4 points-per-game better than second-place Real Colorado, stood as second-best in the Academy. Ordonez led the league in scoring per game, averaging 1.85 goals in 14 appearances. Also out of the Central Conference, Nationals comes into the Playoffs with a 22-3-5 record on the back of the Mid-America Division's best defense and second-best offense. Meike Ingles and Allison Leonard have jointly headlined the attack, with 20 goals apiece.

GROUP STAGE BATTLES AWAIT

By average seed, Group F looks to be the most competitive of the Playoffs. No. 2 Crossfire and its lockdown defense lead the group, with Legends FC, out of talent-rich Southern California, close behind at No. 9. The club from Chino sports one of the West Conference's leading goalscorers in Lilli Rask, who enters the Playoffs with 21 goals to her name. The group's other two teams, No. 21 Solar Soccer Club from Dallas, and No. 26 FC United from just outside Chicago also bring top regional goalscorers. Erika McIntyre and Bridget Mitchell both netted 18 times for Solar and FC United, respectively, this season.

Group H also looks to bring tough competition. Headlined by the red-hot LAFC Slammers, the group also includes No. 15 Midwest United (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and No. 17 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). IMG brings two of the Academy's most electric regular season scorers to Oceanside. Riley Thompson leads the league in scoring this season with 29 goals and teammate Enzi Broussard is close behind. Her 27 goals are good for third on the Academy leaderboard. No. 27 La Roca Futbol Club rounds out the group out of Kaysville, Utah.

CHARLOTTE SNEAKS IN

The race for the last wild card spot in the Girls' Academy came down to the wire as four teams finished within .05 points per game of each other near the playoff cutoff. Academy standings are based on points-per-game, as teams play a different number of games per season due to different climates and regional differences.

Eleven teams from the wild card pool qualify for the Academy Playoffs, and spots 10 to 13 were separated by a razor thin margin. Charlotte Soccer Academy rode a late season hot streak to claim the 11th, and final, wild card slot. The North Carolina club has dropped just one game since April's Spring Showcase, and it needed every point it could muster. In the final regular season standings, Charlotte edged Michigan Hawks by 0.015 points-per-game to claim the final spot in the first-ever Girls' Academy Playoffs.

FEATURE GAME SCHEDULE

The U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs will take center stage on June 28 and June 30, as two feature games on each day will be live streamed on ussoccerda.com, the Academy's Facebook page and U.S. Soccer's YouTube channel. June 28 will feature two group stage games, likely with do-or-die knockout round qualification implications. Two quarterfinal games will be streamed on June 30, and the winners will advance to the final four at the Academy Championships in Kansas City from July 8-11.

Tentative Feature Game Schedule

Date

Time (PT)

Competition

Match-Up

June 28

1:30 p.m.

U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs - Group Stage

TBD

June 28

4:00 p.m.

U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs - Group Stage

TBD

June 30

1:00 p.m.

U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs - Quarterfinal

TBD

June 30

3:30 p.m.

U-16/17 Girls' Playoffs - Quarterfinal

TBD