The U15 squad led by Head Coach Simon Nee came into the MLS NEXT Cup tournament as one of the favorites, having been seeded in the top ten of a 64 team bracket. As they prepared to face the top competition in the entire nation, the boys were ready to accomplish a feat that they knew they were capable of.
To kick off the tournament, New York had to face a tough opponent in Saint Louis Scott Gallagher, who also topped their division in MLS NEXT regular season play. Looking to set the tone going forward, the 15s made a statement in the first match after cruising to a 2-0 victory. Julian Hall and Tanner Rosborough were the goal scorers as Aidan Stokes preserved the clean sheet in the opening round.
The boys had a quick turnaround for their next challenge against a Colorado Rapids Academy side that just came off a ten round penalty shootout victory. The battle between the two MLS affiliated academies was on in Frisco as the they fought for a spot in the quarter final.
To begin the match, both sides had chances but were unable to open the scoring. It was not until late in the first half that Julian Hall got on the scoresheet for the second straight game. From that point on, the group was in complete control. Hall was able to grab his second of the match and Aidan Stokes had an incredible performance yet again in net to secure the clean sheet. With back-to-back victories and clean sheets, the 15s were all set to advance and face Seattle Sounders Academy in the quarterfinals.
In the same round that this group was unable to get past in the GA cup, there was a clear sense of importance surrounding the match against Seattle. Similar to the two teams that New York faced preciously, the Sounders had an incredibly successful regular season in MLS NEXT and came into the match with just as much determination.
As was the theme in the last round against Colorado, scoring did not come until around halfway through the match. When the scoring did start, the floodgates opened.
In the 47th minute, a scramble around the net led to New York’s first goal of the match off the foot of Paul Sokoloff. All of a sudden, it was all New York in the attacking end. Just five minutes later Eric Palei doubled the lead on a half volley that left the keeper with no chance to make a save. The dominance continued in the 68th minute when Julian Hall flicked a ball over his head from a corner kick and played a perfect ball to Gil De Souza at the back post who headed the ball home for a 3-0 lead. In what was the exclamation point on a tremendous performance, Desmond Chemweno curled one past the keeper off a breakaway to seal the 4-0 victory.
All four goals aside, Aidan Stokes continued his memorable tournament with a huge penalty kick save to give Seattle no hope of a comeback in the second half. The defensive play, in addition to Stokes’ saves, secured the 15s third straight clean sheet victory.
Heading into the semifinal, the squad knew what was ahead of them with their next opponent in LAFC. The side from Los Angeles had the highest point total of any MLS NEXT club in the regular season, which made for a clash of the titans in the final four of the Cup Tournament.
New York continued what they had done all tournament long to start off the semifinal. The high press kept LAFC on their back foot as the boys were able to maintain continued opportunities in the opposing end. In an unfortunate counterattack, Los Angeles scored on their first shot of the match to take an early 1-0 lead.
New York did not let their first goal conceded of the tournament get to their heads, as they kept up the pressure to create more chances. Right before the halftime whistle was blown, Gil De Souza was able to draw a free kick right outside the eighteen-yard box. Jaylen Lester stepped up to take the kick and sent in a rocket of a shot that was too powerful for the LA keeper to level the match going into halftime.
In the second half, New York continued where they left off. Julian Hall scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 46th minute and Adri Mehmeti doubled the lead with an incredible half-volley to send the boys to the final match against the Cinderella story of the tournament, CF Montreal.
Just like that, the boys were headed to the final match to determine the top U15 side in the entire nation. On the other side of the pitch would be CF Montreal Academy, who were dubbed the Cinderella of the tournament after defeating some of the early favorites to win the entire thing. These two sides had faced each other previously, with New York coming out on top 7-1 in the GA Cup Group Stage this past April.
When the opening whistle sounded, the grudge match between the two squads was immediately underway in the search for MLS NEXT Cup glory. New York had the edge in possession early, with the high press keeping Montreal in their own end for most of the first 40 minutes. The chances were there in the final third, but neither team was able to break the ice and find the back of the net.
After the break, both sides had completely settled in and continued the hunt for the first goal and lead of the match. The two squads had kept up what they started in the first half, trading chances after attempting to build up play in the midfield, but all the action was saved until the final ten minutes of the match.
With five minutes left in regulation time, Montreal made their way into the final third with numbers on their attack. A couple of passes around the goal mouth led to the ball finding the feet of Zachy Lachab, who was able to find the back of the net for the potential match winner.
As hope looked like it was dwindling for those watching, the boys on the pitch did not let this late goal take away their determination to become champions. Right when play continued, New York’s attack went full force. Link up play from the forwards led to multiple chances to tie it up, and then eventually, they had their best opportunity of the match.
Three minutes after conceding, Julian Hall found a way past the back line of Montreal with a slick touch and made no mistake when slotting the ball into the back of the net to tie the match. With just two minutes in regulation and an eventual six minutes of stoppage time, Hall gave the team life when scoring the goal that also secured the golden boot of the entire tournament.
At this point in the match, rather than take the momentum into extra time, New York was clearly looking to win the entire thing in that exact moment. After the fourth official had indicated that there were six minutes of added time, the pressure increased.
Finally, in the 86th minute, New York had the moment that would make them champions. A throw in found Tanner Rosborough in the box, and after a few incredible touches to weave through defenders, the forward sent in a rocket of a shot that grazed the underside of the crossbar and sealed the MLS NEXT Cup victory for the 15s.