New Mexico United's Alex Waggoner celebrates after one of his two goals in the side's victory against AC Connecticut on Thursday morning. | Photo courtesy David Young / New Mexico United
The 2022 USL Academy Finals kicked off on Thursday morning at the SportsPlex of Tampa Bay with eight teams vying for the Playoff Division title to conclude the season.
After the opening four games of the group stage, here are three things we took away from the action.
New Mexico United entered this year’s Playoff Division aiming to go at least one better than last year’s third-place finish, and thanks to Alex Waggoner and a stout defensive effort they got off on the right foot. Waggoner’s two goals paved the way to a 2-0 victory against AC Connecticut in Group A, and with Indy Eleven and Tampa Bay United playing to a scoreless draw in the group’s other game it gave United an early edge in the standings.
Waggoner was viewed as one of the players to watch this tournament after earning New Mexico’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year award earlier this year, and he lived up to the billing alongside his current teammates.
“This has been the goal all year long,” said Waggoner. “It feels really good to have this execution in a real, meaningful game. It feels great to finally be here… We know when we wear that badge, we represent New Mexico. We’re really proud of that, and this is a great opportunity for all of us.”
San Antonio FC's Henrik Sakshaug scored a late equalizer to earn his side a point against Chattanooga Red Wolves SC to open Group B play.
There’s a coaches rule for short-format tournaments like the USL Academy Finals – whatever you do, don’t lose your first game. San Antonio FC was on the verge of having just that occur as it trailed Chattanooga Red Wolves SC in its opening game in Group B, but Henrik Sakshaug’s stoppage-time goal pulled a point out of the fire for SAFC in a 1-1 draw.
An original member of SAFC’s Academy when it began six years ago, Sakshaug grabbed headlines earlier this year when he bagged a two-goal game in the Second Round of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. While he believes his year overall has had ups and downs, his timely finish gave the team a big lift.
“Our main goal is to win it,” said Sakshaug. “We had been fighting the whole game. We deserved to win, in my opinion, but we didn’t play our best. It just felt great to get a point out of it, at least.”
Queensboro FC's Nicholas Wilson celebrates his first-half goal in his side's 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC on Thursday at the USL Academy Finals.
2021 Academy Final runner-up Queensboro FC made a winning start as it took a 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC, and it did so with center back Nicholas Wilson leading the way. Wilson scored the opening goal in the first half and delivered a stellar defensive display before Gabriel Enriquez scored the winner after a good move by Idoh Zeltzer-Zubida to set up the chance.
Wilson’s flicked finish off a near-post corner kick was among the bright moments for Queensboro, which has been among USL Academy’s more successful programs since its establishment. This is Wilson’s second Academy Finals with the team after having also been part of its squad at the USL Academy Cup in the spring, and he’s looking to make another strong impression for the scouts watching on the sidelines.
“It’s of huge importance because it’s the best teams in the country, in the league,” said Wilson. “You come out here to test your own skills. Obviously, the team has been working hard all year to get here, so now you can really test and see how you’ve been doing and your progress. That’s really important.”