Minnesota United’s academy is growing, and players to watch are coming to forefront
MNUFC2’s season-opening win included nine players who have been in the academy
Minnesota United has had one player from its youth academy contribute for the Loons in MLS. Across six-plus seasons, that’s it.
The Loons are trying to change that.
The club has committed more resources to the academy, and CEO Shari Ballard has put a bigger emphasis on building a youth development pathway to feed the first team. Amos Magee, who has been with the club since 2016, moved into a new leadership role of youth development last fall. And MNUFC2, the minor-league bridge between the academy and MLS, is off the ground in its second season.
“We believe that in the future, as the club continues to evolve, (the academy is) going to be a really important pillar to what we do,” Magee told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
While the Loons (2-0-2) face St. Louis City (5-0-0) in MLS play on Saturday night, two MNUFC academy teams, Under-15 and U17, will have litmus tests of their own in the Generation adidas (GA) Cup in Bradenton, Florida. Every MLS club will be represented, as well as top academies from around the world.
“It is the marquee event, certainly for those age groups,” Magee said.
The Loons’ Under-15 team will play Danish side FC Nordsjaelland on Saturday, Houston Dynamo on Sunday and Orlando City on Monday.
Minnesota’s U17 team was set to face Boca Juniors on Friday, but the Buenos Aires side had to pull out of the tournament. MNUFC will instead play fill-in IMG Academy on Saturday, Philadelphia Union on Sunday and Houston Dynamo on Monday.
MNUFC will gauge success at GA Cup in continued skill development for individual players and in teams advancing out of their groups, Magee said.
“One of the ways we measure development is how the players perform in pressure, anxiety-filled encounters,” Magee said. “… That’s part of developing into professional athletes.”
Loons fans want to know the names of up-and-coming prospects, and Magee understands that. But he also wants to guard against too much attention heaped on a promising youngsters too soon.
Names are coming to the forefront, and Magee shared a few.
Three U15 players — Tim Dennis, Prince Forfor and Yahir Resendiz-Gonzalez — attended a U.S. youth national team minicamp in early March. USYNT call-ups have been a rarity for MNUFC.
“It says to the whole group that we’re on the right path,” Magee said. “As we said to the rest of the 15 group, these three players getting identified is a reflection of all the work that they’re putting in, because generally you don’t pick players from teams that are getting the crap kicked out of them.
“We’re pleased with where we are, with the understanding that making U14 national team is no future indicator of success,” he added. “In fact, it’s often more of a harbinger of caution. We’ve got to really make sure that we keep these guys level-headed and continuing doing what they’ve done to get to this point.”
U17 player Justin Arias has been training two rungs up the ladder with MNUFC2. The U.S. kid of El Salvadoran ancestry was called into the Central American country’s U17 team for the CONCACAF Championships in Guatemala in February but couldn’t get his passport in time to join them.
MNUFC2’s season-opening 3-0 win at Real Monarchs last Friday included nine players who have been in the academy, including Fred Emmings, Leo Conneh, Geremy Rodas, Carlos Leatherman, Loic Mesanvi, Kage Romanshyn, Tamer Ibsais, Tommy Kniser and Cooper Lijewski.
Part of that abundance was due to MNUFC missing seven MLS players for national-team duties, while an eighth, MNUFC2 midfielder Molik Jesse Khan, was away with the Trinidad and Tobago national team. A handful of MNUFC2 players were, in term, up with the Loons’ first team for the 1-1 draw with Vancouver in MLS last Saturday. Two academy prospects were on the bench at Allianz Field: Devin Padelford (20) and Patrick Weah (19).
“As we start to move, develop our players, integrate them into the second team, I think we’re seeing some real positive steps forward,” Magee said.
United’s decision to shutter its youth academy amid the pandemic in summer 2020 led to a handful of promising players exit for other academies. To date, only forward Weah has climbed from the Loons’ academy to play for MNUFC in MLS. He played 22 minutes in 2021.
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