The classic game of East vs. West was re-envisioned Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Thirty rising seniors from various programs were handpicked to play in an East vs. West format All-Star game, the New York Red Bulls High School Cup. The game featured the top USSF Development Academy Players from across the country.
While many of these players may have played against each other throughout the years, they were now playing as teammates. With an all-expenses paid trip and a chance to play in the best arena in the MLS, this game provides these high school players a glimpse of what it would be like to play professionally. Of these thirty students, perhaps a handful will make it to Red Bull Arena again in full uniform as a professional.
But for the time being, these young players have focused solely on competing in the East vs. West game. Having only one practice together, many would think that it would be hard to play with new teammates and perform cohesively. ”I think hanging out at the hotel, getting to know each other a bit helped. And this year, we tried to play the conferences a bit since they have played against each other. We tried to match them up a little bit but it was really all them. They just really enjoyed it and had fun out there,” said West head coach P.J. Brown, who coaches Arsenal FC Academy Club in Temecula, CA. P.J.’s plan worked and his team was victorious winning the Cup, 1-0.
For the past three years, the New York Red Bulls have hosted the New York Red Bulls High School Cup. Each event has featured an all-star format. Since its inception in 2007, the event has grown to encompass a larger geographic region. The inaugural match was comprised of players from New Jersey in a North vs. South format. In 2008, the event was expanded as players from New York competed against players from New Jersey. In 2009, the High School Cup grew to incorporate players from New York and Connecticut competing against players from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This year it has gone national, involving players from New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, New York, Illinois, California, Texas, and Colorado.
Playing in the High School Cup is a perfect way for many of these rising seniors to demonstrate their skills for college coaches. With coaches like Seton Hall University, Long Island University and Georgetown University in attendance, the tournament has become an early recruiting event. Some of these players have already committed to a school, like the “Man of the Match” Seth Caciple, a California Development Academy player, from the West team, as he has already committed to University of California at Berkley.
Seth scored the match’s lone goal, finding the back of the net in the 40th minute. “I am pretty pumped up about the goal. I kind of just put the ball in the goal, and that’s it,” said Seth after the game with a huge smile across his face. In a physical yet skillful match, the East held the majority of possession, but the West’s defense stood firm.
The New York Red Bulls High School Cup also treats these gifted athletes as if they were members of a MLS team. The players spent all weekend in the New York area and had some time to meet some of the New York Red Bulls, like Conor Chinn, Luke Sassano, Danleigh Borman, and Andrew Boyens. During these encounters, the Red Bulls players took a moment to pass on some words of wisdom to these young stars. The High School Cup players watched the Barclays New York Challenge that was also being held in Red Bull Arena, featuring the Red Bulls, English Premier League sides Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as eventual Challenge champion Sporting Clube de Portugal. The high school players took the field right after the Challenge concluded, following some of the best soccer players in the world. “It felt pretty amazing. Being in their shoes, and on this field, now I know how they live their life every day. Coming out here training and playing on this facility is just amazing,” said West goalkeeper Devin Cook, who plays on the Lonestar Aztex Academy Team in Texas.
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While many have heard of the New York Red Bulls, there are a few kids who are a bit more familiar with the team than others. With three players from the New York Red Bulls Academy playing in the match, it really gave them a sense of what it would be like to be a First Team player. “I would love to make first team one day,” said Brandon Adler, a member of the Red Bulls Academy U18 side. “I’ve just got to keep working hard. I want to be a pro like these guys someday.”
While some players valued certain experiences over others, in the end these athletes and coaches walked off the field with an experience of a lifetime making everyone eager to see what next year will be like at Red Bull Arena.
Sarah Wasser is a contributor for NewYorkRedBulls.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.