Group features U.S., El Salvador, D.C. United, Charlotte FC youth standouts; have played a combined 100 seasons across NCFC Youth, Academy | Image Credit: North Carolina FC
CARY, N.C. – North Carolina FC has signed twelve players from the NCFC Academy to USL Academy contracts, the club announced today. Raul Avalos Jr., Keanan Bader, Andrew Fox, Tyden Frame, Lazaro Gonzalez Jr., Lucas Kelly, Brendan Lambe, Christian Lee, John McDowell, Cristian Milazzo, Jack Rodelli and Danny Valle are eligible to play in first-team matches in USL League One while maintaining their college eligibility.
"I’m so proud of these individuals for earning this opportunity with North Carolina FC and our first team," said North Carolina Head Coach John Bradford. "Many of these players have been in the NCFC Youth and NCFC Academy system for many years and their continued development on and off the field has been a joy to see. This has become a great celebration for our club every year to recognize a significant milestone in each of these players' young careers. I appreciate the support of our club’s leadership, in both the professional, academy and youth environments, to continue to uphold our youth-to-pro mission for top player development."
Raul Avalos Jr. joins North Carolina FC from the D.C. United Youth Academy and has represented El Salvador at the youth international level. The cousin of NCFC defender Nelson Flores Blanco, Avalos has spent time training with the first team since joining the Academy three months ago.
“I felt I have improved a lot in the three months of training with the first team since I joined NCFC,” Avalos said. “All the guys are great players and great people, and they help guide me and give their feedback on what I can improve. Coaches Bradford and McGinty have been a big help in my development with the first team.”
Keanan Bader has been a part of the NCFC Academy for five seasons, notably scoring three goals and picking up two assists in U-16 ECNL Nationals Group Play. Bader is committed to play college soccer at UNC Greensboro after graduating.
“Being in the professional environment has helped my development in a number of ways,” Bader said. “Technically, the game is played at a higher pace, which can be hard to adapt to. Tactically, there are more complex movements and things you must think about while you play that aren’t always apparent at the youth level.”
Andrew Fox is in his third season as a part of the NCFC Academy and was named to the NCFC Leadership Team in both 2021 and 2022. The defender is committed to play college soccer at North Carolina State University, joining many fellow NCFC Academy alumni.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to play with the North Carolina FC first team,” Fox said. “I am looking forward to challenging myself and learning from the players on the team. The talent of the first team players, the speed and precision of play and quick decisions have helped me grow as a player and have helped me prepare for college.”
Tyden Frame is one of the longest-tenured NCFC Academy and Youth members, having been with the Youth for 13 years and the Academy for seven. The younger brother of first-team member Cole Frame, Tyden plays further back in the midfield.
“Training and playing in the professional environment has helped my speed of play greatly,” Frame said. “The difference in time between the U-19 level and the pro level on the ball is significant. The opportunity to train with our pro team has helped me learn to think faster and anticipate the game more, which has helped me perform even better for our U19 Academy team.”
Lazaro Gonzalez Jr. is in his sixth season with the NCFC Academy and is also committed to play college soccer at NC State. Gonzalez has received USMNT youth call-ups, training with the youth system at multiple camps.
North Carolina FC's 2023 Academy Signing Day | Image Credit: North Carolina FC
“It’s truly a blessing to have signed with the North Carolina FC first team,” Gonzalez said. “Having played for this club for many years and getting this opportunity is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Lucas Kelly was the captain of the Charlotte FC U-17 team but made the decision to move to the NCFC Youth and Academy systems. Now committed to play soccer at Liberty University, Kelly has made the Generation Adidas Cup and MLS NEXT Cup Tournament quarterfinals in his career.
“It is an amazing opportunity and blessing to sign an academy contract with NCFC and have the chance to train and be surrounded by high-level players and coaches,” Kelly said.
Brendan Lambe is in his seventh season with NCFC Youth and fourth with the Academy. The midfielder is also committed to play college soccer in the ACC but is headed out of state to the University of Virginia.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to sign with the NCFC first team and to train and play at a level that will help me be successful in the future,” Lambe said.”
Christian Lee has been in the NCFC Youth system for 12 years and the Academy for seven. Lee has captained the U-15 and U-16 Academy teams and was named ECNL Mid-Atlantic First Team All-Conference for U-16 and U-17. The midfielder is committed to play at UNC Charlotte.
“I’m very grateful and blessed to be granted with this opportunity,” Lee said. “This opportunity provides a platform for me to train in the best environment in the area, and further my development as a player and person.”
John McDowell is in his seventh season with the NCFC Academy and spent much of the preseason training with the NCFC first team. McDowell is the NCFC Academy captain, has been named the recipient of the Hamilton Sportsmanship Award twice, and has been named to the ECNL National Camp Best XI. The midfielder is committed to play college soccer at North Carolina.
“Training in the professional environment every day has helped me develop my game mentally and physically,” McDowell said. “With the faster speed of play, I am forced to think and move faster on and off the ball. I'm able to see the actions of my pro teammates, asking questions and learning from them. I strive to be a full-time pro someday, so adapting to the environment and then making an impact at that level is important.
"As I've grown closer to the players, I have been able to have detailed conversations about specific things I can improve on. Being a midfielder, I like to hang around the other midfielders during small group work to train various cuts, turns, and other actions that these players have had success with at a high level. Being in this environment and playing with this group continues to provide ongoing opportunities for improvement and development.”
Cristian Milazzo has been with the NCFC Youth system for 16 years and the Academy for seven. He has been a five-time recipient of the Hamilton Sportsmanship Award/Shield Award, was a 2022 Mid-Atlantic Cup Champion at U19 level and has made seven appearances in USL League Two with the U-23s.
“Having the opportunity to sign an Academy Contract with the first team at North Carolina FC means the world to me,” Milazzo said. “I have been a part of this club for as long as I can remember and this has always been one of my biggest goals growing up in the Academy. When I was little, I was a Carolina Railhawks season ticket holder and have been a big supporter of this club all throughout my life, so having this opportunity now is such a massive honor and privilege that I do not take lightly. I hope to help the team succeed in every way I can so that the fans have a lot to cheer about this year.”
Jack Rodelli has been with the NCFC Academy for six seasons. The midfielder is committed to play college soccer at Wofford.
“To sign an academy contract with the club I’ve grown up with is an incredible feeling and an opportunity that I am grateful for,” Rodelli said.
At just 15 years old, Danny Valle is the youngest of the 2023 Academy signings. Valle has been with NCFC Youth for five seasons and the Academy for four. In the 2023 preseason, Valle scored in a first-team match against NYCFC II.
“I am extremely happy to get this opportunity to sign with the first team,” Valle said. “My journey begins here.”