LAFC U-13 ACADEMY WINS CONCACAF U-13 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

By Marc Serber

While LAFC's senior side is rocking the U.S. landscape with an impressive first season in MLS, its U-13 Academy team is making noise across the entirety of Concacaf.

In just its second year in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, LAFC became the first-ever American side to win the Concacaf U-13 Champions League, defeating Mexican side Junior Tampicos 2-0 on August 22nd to give LAFC its first international trophy, across all levels.

Academy Director Todd Saldana felt that much of the success could be attributed to the team's inaugural season (2017-2018) in the Development Academy. "Having the option to play U-13 (2005 birth year) players up with our U-14 (2004 birth year) allowed us to accelerate the development process and prepare them to successfully face international competition," Saldana told U.S. Soccer.

LAFC Director of Coaching and head coach of the U-13 Academy team, Enrique Duran, also agreed that the previous season in the Development Academy served as an important stepping stone. "The 2017-2018 season was helping us to prepare the boys for different challenges that they are going to be facing this season," Duran said. "Especially, to teach them how they should be competing when they are representing LAFC Academy. For us, it is very important that they will learn to compete in different environments and against different kinds of teams."

With lessons learned from the previous season in the Development Academy, the U-13's defended the LAFC colors with grace and tenacity.

Diego Ceja was awarded the Golden Ball while LAFC also took home the Fair Play Award for receiving the fewest cards throughout the tournament.

Dylan Presto was the hero of the final with both goals in the 2-0 win over Junior Tampicos. The winger opened the scoring 11 minutes in with a near post header from a Ceja corner kick. Presto delivered the knockout blow 15 minutes later with a stunning finish following an Erik Duenas cross.

For Saldana, the variety of the competition that the Academy provides, and the 2017 West Conference regional showcase in particular, serves as the perfect stepping stone to international club competition. "The showcase takes our players and staff out of their normal comfort zones and typical daily environment. The experience the travel provides and facing players from different environments helped our players read new situations and improved their ability to adapt under game pressure."

LAFC certainly didn't seem out of its element as it opened the group stage of the Concacaf U-13 Championship in style with a commanding 4-1 victory over Jamaica's Mount Pleasant. The Black and Gold then defeated Mexican side Cantera Yucatán by the same score-line on match-day two, ensuring its progress to the knockout round. Despite a 4-1 defeat to Panama's Plaza Amador in the final group stage game, LAFC marched into the quarterfinals as second place finishers in Group C.

It was in the Quarters that LAFC would face its first of two Canadian and fellow MLS foes in Toronto FC. The match ended 0-0, but the Californians held their nerve from the spot to win 4-3 on penalties.

The semifinal against the Montreal Impact wasn't quite as nervy. LAFC scored in the 8th minute and never looked back in route to a 3-0 victory, setting up the grand showdown with Junior Tampicos.

"The Concacaf U-13 Champions League allowed us focused time immersed in an intense soccer environment with a natural filter of international competition to reflect on our coaching methods and our players progress," Saldana concluded. "The little nuances of the foreign players and the complete commitment of their approach to every game was eye opening for our players and staff."

It seems that LAFC opened a few eyes as well.