For the players coming to compete at the 2023 USL Academy Cup, the event is one that could help build a pathway to the next level.
Whether that’s in the USL W League or USL League Two in the pre-professional ranks, or even the USL Championship and League One as USL Academy signings, impressive displays in the next week could see the next Kobi Henry or Joshua Wynder emerge from a club’s ranks.
For some, though, that pathway is already opening.
Here are seven players that bring impressive resumes with them to the Tampa Bay SportsPlex and could leave the week with their reputations more greatly enhanced.
Greenville Liberty's Autumn Cayelli saw her first action in the USL W League last summer, recording one assist in three appearances for the side. | Photo courtesy Greenville Liberty
Autumn Cayelli is currently one of the top youth players in South Carolina – last year she won the state’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year award. During the past summer she made her debut in the W League for the Liberty and notched one assist in three appearances during the regular season and playoffs. She has drawn praise from coaches for her ability to take on defenders one-on-one and the goalscoring mentality she brings. That should make life difficult for opponents this week as Greenville competes in the Girl U-19 Elite Division.
Indy Eleven has already established its pipeline from the Academy to the professional ranks, and Benji Chavarria is one of the latest to make the jump into the First Team for the Boys in Blue as a USL Academy signing. The 17-year-old scored a pair of goals last November at the USL Academy League Finals in the playoff division and the attacking midfielder will be aiming to continue his progression this week with an eye on earning a senior debut at some point this year.
16-year-old Brooke Dawahere got a taste of what the professional level looks like last summer while competing for Racing Louisville FC in the USL W League as she got to step into training with the club’s NWSL squad. The defender will bring those experiences with her to lead Lexington SC’s squad as it aims for a successful week. Dawahere’s ability to distribute from the back line and to break lines with the ball at her feet will be qualities to watch for.
Tampa Bay United's Nicholas Skubis led his side to victory in the 2022 USL Academy League Playoffs and individually earned the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament.
A central midfielder, Nicholas Skubis helped turn Tampa Bay United’s disappointment after falling to Indy Eleven in last year’s Academy Cup U-19s Final to fuel for the side’s run to victory in the USL Academy Cup Playoffs last November. Skubis earned individual honors as the MVP of the tournament as well as All-Tournament First Team honors, and he’ll be in the middle of the action again for the local contenders.
Part of what’s expected to be a solid AC Connecticut side at the event, center back Ruby Casey brings prior USL Academy Cup and USL W League experience and strong leadership qualities to the tournament. The 18-year-old captained ACC in the USL Academy League’s regular season last year and made four appearances in the W League during the summer, logging 165 minutes of action. She will now look to further her growth as a player in the coming week.
Dren Dobrunna is in his second year as a USL Academy signing for Hartford Athletic in the USL Championship and will look to use this week as a platform to continue his progression toward a potential First Team debut. The 17-year-old’s strengths with the ball at his feet and off-ball movement have earned him prior call-ups to Albania’s U-17 National Team and make him a key piece in the attacking half for Hartford.
Hannah Pachan has become one of the bright talents to emerge from Cleveland Force FC, combining high technical ability on the ball and finishing from her central midfield role with good ball-winning ability. Last year she made the trip to Spain to train with La Liga club C.D. Gefafe’s women’s program, expanding her on- and off-field horizons. With a goal of a place in the professional ranks one day, Pachan will aim to shine alongside her teammates in the Girls U-19 Elite Division.