REPLAY: U-16s face Atlanta United FC in academy semifinals

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Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Sacramento Republic FC, Crossfire Premier, Juventus Sport Club, Santa Cruz Breakers, and De Anza Force.

All beaten out for the Northwest Division title.

Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, and LA Galaxy.

Vanquished at the Academy Playoffs.

Sounders FC again, defeated in the quarterfinals.

73 teams started out the Development Academy season, and now only four remain as Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency head to the StubHub Center soccer complex in Carson, California for the academy semifinals on Friday.

The ‘Caps will face yet another MLS academy in Atlanta United FC.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. PT, with the stream available at whitecapsfc.com.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE ‘CAPS

Head coach Adam Day brings a talented team to the semifinals. It’s a group that could, in fact, have had Alphonso Davies playing had he not progressed already to the professional ranks.

"We’re here and we deserve to be here," head coach Adam Day told whitecapsfc.com. "I keep telling the boys that there’s only four teams left that can win it, and we’re one of them, so we’ve got every chance to do so."

In attack, the Blue and White have been lethal with 96 goals scored in 35 matches, including the four playoff games. Jose Hernandez (23 goals), Jefferson Alade (11 goals), and Alessandro Hojabrpour (12 goals) have led the attack, but keep an eye out for Gurman Sangha (11 goals) and Keisean Brooks (6 goals) as well.

The ‘Caps have also been stout on the back end of late. Goalkeeper Evan Ince put in a heroic performance in the quarterfinals, coming up with several big saves, including a penalty kick stop. On the backline, fullbacks Gabriel EscobarJake Ruby, and Tboy Fayia have all performed well, as have Nikolas WhiteAli Zohar, and Keenan Foley at centre back.

In midfield, Michael Baldisimo (on a pro contract with WFC2) and Anthony Caceres have controlled the tempo alongside Hojabrpour.

THE OPPONENTS

Atlanta will be a very difficult opponent on Friday. The Five Stripes, as the club has been nicknamed, have lost only four of their 30 matches this season, with a +48 goal differential, winning the Southeast Division.

“I got to see them at the Winter Showcase," tells Day. "They're very organized, and they’ll be well drilled defensively. Physical. I expect them to be a threat from set pieces. It will be a tight game. I don’t think that it will be an open, end-to-end game. We’ll certainly try to implement our style, but I think that it will be a tight game. This will probably be our hardest game of the season." 

The player to watch on their team is no doubt Andrew Carleton, a talented midfielder already on an MLS contract, and one of the stars of the United States U-17 men’s national team that’s expected to make some noise at October’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. It was Carleton who scored for the U.S. in the May final of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship.

Interestingly, Carleton faced the ‘Caps at the U-16 level in the 2015 academy quarterfinals with Georgia United (what became the Atlanta United FC Academy) and had a breakout performance, scoring two goals and the winning penalty kick.

Carleton didn’t play any matches with Atlanta’s U-16s during the regular season, but did register three goals in four appearances with the U-18s. He then joined up with the U-16s for their quarterfinal, and promptly scored the first goal of the match.

The 17-year-old has already made his MLS debut, coming in as a later substitute in a 4-1 win over Houston Dynamo on May 20.

Among the other players to watch on Atlanta are striker James Brighton who has scored an impressive 21 goals in 30 appearances, as well as forward Zyen Jones who has five goals in only six appearances.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

A spot in Sunday’s championship final against either Real Salt Lake, or long-time academy nemesis FC Dallas. Kickoff for that match will be 3:30 p.m. PT.

But first, a date with Atlanta, and perhaps a date with destiny.

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