TAMPA, Fla. – The 2021 USL Academy Playoffs begin on Thursday morning at the Waters Sportsplex in Tampa with eight teams vying to advance to Sunday’s final at Al Lang Stadium, home of the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies.
After competing in their regional divisions throughout the season, seven representatives from the league’s divisions and one wild card have earned a chance to claim the title. Here’s a look at the four teams that make up Group A.
New Mexico United established its High Performance Program in its inaugural season in 2019 and has built quickly in the youth ranks, resulting in this year’s inaugural USL Academy roster. Funded by the Somos Unidos Foundation – ensuring no cost to participating players and families – United has provided a platform for top young players from across the state to compete for the club.
This season in addition to its USL Academy League campaign, a handful of players were signed to the club’s USL Championship roster via USL Academy contracts, and midway through the year the club announced attacking midfielder Cristian Nava as the first player to sign a professional contract with the club from its Academy program. Nava and fellow USL Academy signings like defender Taylor Rogers and midfielders Dane Gallegos and Andres Robles will be among the players looking to find success this week as he and his teammates arrive in Florida.
With teams in the USL W League (2022) and USL Championship (2023) on the way, Queensboro FC has built its club from the ground up having established its USL Academy program in 2020 offering an opportunity for young player both from the New York area and overseas to become part of the club’s foundation. The side claimed the best record in the Northeast Division at 11-1-2 and boasts some notable names including midfielder Nestor Cabrera, who recently earned the opportunity to train with Guatemala’s U-20 Men’s National Team.
QBFC’s only loss came in its second game of the regular season, and the side has been defensively solid throughout most of its undefeated run to close the campaign with Spanish goalkeeper Pol Rodriguez – who is part of the club’s residency program – leading the way. The potential future of the club’s first USL Championship squad in 18 months will be hoping for success to round out an impressive first competitive year.
Based in Marietta, Georgia, Southern Soccer Academy joined USL League Two in 2019 to add another level to its already-built academy structure that includes more than 8,000 players across 16 locations in the state. The side earned first place in the Southeast Division as it lost only once in 10 contests to sit seven points ahead of its nearest challenger.
Featuring a broad collection of talent from the club’s programs, SSA will be led by captain and midfielder Camillo Montero, who offers a balance of technical and ball-winning ability in the center of the park. As the club continues to grow, this weekend will offer a big opportunity for the talented in-state products – and out-of-state players including defender Trent Kazlauskas from California – a chance to continue their progression against high-level competition.
One of the historic youth programs in Florida, Weston FC has been part of USL League Two since 2017 as it continues to develop top-level talent – including current Philadelphia Union midfielder and former United States Men’s National Team player Ale Bedoya – that has gone on to compete at the highest level since its formation as a youth development club in 1998.
Weston finished on top of the Florida Division as Elan Romo recorded seven goals and four assists, while Diego Pierantozzi notched six goals, and the opportunity and competition the players earned over the course of the year has the club looking forward the chance to end its year on a high note.