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The Road to USL Academy Finals: Charlotte Independence, Central Valley Fuego, Tampa Bay United, and Orange County SC

By Staff, 11/03/23, 10:59AM EDT


The USL Academy Finals are nearly here!

As clubs qualify for the ultimate Academy competition in the United States, a snapshot of every participating team will be posted to each week.

Up first, it's time to get familiar with Tampa Bay United, Orange County SC, Charlotte Independence and Central Valley Fuego!

Club: Tampa Bay United

Location: Tampa, FL

Head Coach: Brian Johnson

Academy Director: Blake Wagner

Overall Record: 10-1-0

Goals Scored/Conceded: 40/6


Season Snapshot

This has been a succesfull Academy season so far based on Tampa Bay United's overall record, quality of player pool and the consistent contributions from younger players. The coaching staff and players understand the importance of this league, the quality of opposition and the much needed matches for many of the players throughout the year. The club mostly constructed their roster for matchdays with 16-18 year old players, but also used a few USL League Two players during the summer months.

Key Moment of Season

June 24th - Tampa Bay United were home to Miami FC and went 2-0 down in the first half. After making some adjustments, the club finished with three second half goals to secure a much needed 3-2 win. 

Key Player

Nick Skubis

Secret Weapon

Endri Mustali

Club: Orange County Soccer Club

Location: Irvine, CA

Head Coach: Didier Crettenand

Academy Director: Paul Hardyman

Overall Record: 8-4-0

Goals Scored/Conceded: 45/20


Season Snapshot

The club had a slow start in June and July with some poor performances and results to match. After productive training sessions and lineup changes in the second half of the season, Orange County went on a tear. The defense became top class as the club kept four clean sheets in their final five matches - all wins.

Key Moment of Season

After the 5-1 loss against Arizona Arsenal, the club turned its results around.

Key Players

Nico Ruiz

Jonny Gomez

Ashton Miles

Secret Weapon 

Ben Barjolo

Club: Central Valley Fuego

Location: Fresno CA

Head Coach: Adam Smith

Academy Director: Adam Smith

Overall Record: League -  10-2-0

Goals Scored/Conceded: - 32/8


Season Snapshot:

Being a first year Academy and a hybrid model consisting of 13 plus different clubs throughout the Valley, Fuego performed incredibly well. The season began with a successful USL Academy Cup in Florida, taking 3rd spot in their assigned bracket. This positive start enabled the staff, players and the Valley community to continue the positive energy and build on the success gained in Tampa.

Key Moment of Season:

The successful start at USL Academy Cup. 

Key Player:

Osvaldo Cisneros (GK). Being a young player in the group (2008) and not playing at this level previously, he showed remarkable bravery, maturity and professionalism. He was the club's Mr. Reliable - always available to play and always playing to his maximum level of potential.

Secret Weapon:

Maximus Ekk. Excellent talent both physically and technically, that moved up to the club's first team in USL League One. A great success story for a Valley player. 

Club: Charlotte Independence Soccer Club

Location: Charlotte, NC

Head Coach: Jeff Bilyk

Academy Director: Jeff Bilyk

Overall Record: 7-1-3

Goals Scored/Conceded: 46/6


Season Snapshot

The season started off on a tear for the Independence, winning their first three matches by a combined scoreline of 19-1. Draws in June and a loss to in-state rival North Carolina FC saw them battling for the top spot in the division, but resounding victories late in the season saw them secure their place in the Academy Finals.

 Key Moment of Season

Right at the start - when Independence decided to utilize an even younger player pool, to try and compete at a high level while also preparing players for their senior team in USL League One. Now, the senior team is in the League One Final, and the Academy side is headed to the Academy League Finals.

Key Player

Isaac Scheer

Secret Weapon

Ryan Behrmann

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