Sporting Director Claudio Reyna reflected on an “exciting and proud day” for New York City FC as the Club won its first piece of silverware.
NYCFC U16s lifted the Generation adidas Cup Premier Division trophy in Frisco, Texas on Saturday evening, defeating Tigres 1-0 in the final.
For Reyna, it’s an achievement which speaks volumes for the work that’s been undertaken at Academy level in just under two years.
He told NYCFC.com: “It was a really special day - besides winning, just as rewarding is to hear compliments from the footballing community on how we played, the composure we showed on the field during all the games and the observations that we play with a similar style to our first-team.
“It’s something that the whole club can be proud of and everyone has played their part, from Patrick and his coaching staff all the way down to the academy staff.”
Led by U16s Head Coach Matt Pilkington, NYCFC qualified for the knockout rounds by finishing top of their group, overcoming Seattle Sounders, Deportivo Saprissa and Pumas.
Despite being the youngest team at the competition, the boys in blue went on to defeat San Jose Earthquakes in the semifinals before the extratime victory over Tigres.
In the final, Pilkington fielded three 14-year old players against a Mexican side with an average age that was more than year senior to NYCFC’s.
Claudio believes that providing this cerebral challenge to younger players to face off against older, more physically-imposing opponents is crucial in developing talent.
“We could have gone the easy route and put in more physical players but we knew they would be challenged and that was the plan from the beginning of the season, to play our young players which we felt could cope in the U16s,” he explained.
“It’s been a process as there were games where they had to learn what it takes to play against bigger, faster, stronger opponents but the most important part of their development was their brains.
“They had to think and figure out ways to outsmart their opponents and not just rely on physical attributes. Unfortunately, in the US, it’s far too often the case where we focus on the physical side of a players’ development.
“We never saw our approach as a gamble or a risk but rather something that would require patience, knowing that the younger players would eventually figure it out.
“It’s a decision we took knowing that they would lose games through the year, and they did, but it was in those games where they learned and developed to cope with the situation.”
There were endless positives for Reyna and staff to bring back with them from Texas but it wasn’t even the fact that the U16s were the youngest side at the tournament and conceded no goals over the course of the ten days that pleased him most.
NYCFC U12s also took part in a 7 v 7 Generation adidas Cup in Frisco which ran in parallel to the U16s competition, providing the Club’s youngest talents with their first tournament experience.
Fans watching the U16s final on the live stream will have heard the U12s’ chants in support of their senior counterparts – a clear sign of the bonds that had been forged between the two age-groups over the last ten days.
“In all honesty, watching the U12s run onto the field at the final whistle of the U16s’ final was my favorite moment of the whole trip,” Reyna smiled.
“Our U16s were at the U12 games cheering them on and vice versa. They all stayed in the same hotel, they played FIFA together, they ate together. They got to know each other and the U16s were really fantastic with them and became mentors to the younger boys.
“Again, the compliments and feedback our U12s coaching staff received from everyone who was down watching them was great to see – the way they conducted themselves on and off the field was first-class.
“I think it’s important for the parents of the players to see that we’re creating a familial environment where players are being looked after and being developed.
“It was a great moment for the club and it was great to see the U12s and U16s come together the way they did. It’s not just about the winning, it’s the spending time together day-in, day-out – those are the memories that will stick with them forever.”