With a new academy season just around the corner, the U16 group is already preparing to face some of the top talent in the world at the 2023 Next Generation Trophy tournament in Salzburg, Austria.
The group departed this Monday for Austria and will participate in a friendly against Red Bull Bragantino before the tournament gets underway on Wednesday, August 16th. The club’s group to begin the tournament will include the Sporting CP and Independiente Del Valle Academies with the top two teams advancing.
In similar fashion to that group, the clubs that will be filling out the rest of the field in this tournament are some of the most highly regarded academies in the entire world. Jonathan Rhodes, who will be coaching the U16 group along with Simon Nee, explained how important it is for everyone involved to get that experience against top talent:
“The most important thing it does is give them confidence in their own abilities. I think a lot of players in the US previously have felt inferior to European competition. But when we go out there, it shows them how good they are, and the value that their hard work is given. The opportunity that they can see for them ahead here at Red Bull and they know they can compete with the rest of the world because we've had success."
As Coach Rhodes said, this tournament is an incredible experience for all players and staff to show exactly where Red Bulls Academy ranks among some of the best competition possible on the global level. Not only will it be beneficial in the long-term, but this event is going to serve as a crucial tune-up for the boys as they head into the MLS NEXT season shortly after.
Red Bulls Academy Director Sean McCafferty described that level of importance:
“I think in regard to preparation, it's second to none. The level of competition, obviously the experience there, it sets the group up for success. We were all very pleased with the success we had last year throughout the age groups, and we're looking to go even better this year.”
The group that is going over to Austria will feature many names that also appeared for the Red Bulls Academy U15 team that came out victorious in the 2023 MLS NEXT Cup. With this being some of their first competition since then, the confidence for a similar result at the Next Generation Tournament is most certainly there within the group.
Gil De Souza, who appeared on that U15 team, stated what it is like going into the tournament with that chip on their shoulder:
“It’s a big opportunity for us to show that we can do it on a bigger stage, and not just nationally.”
The general sense around the group is that the “bigger stage” that De Souza referenced is not something that anyone will shy away from. It will be viewed as an opportunity to show the world’s top academies exactly what this side is capable of. The goal is not only to compete, but to win.
McCafferty talked about that winning mentality and how important it is for a group to have that sense of confidence:
“For us, when we take our top teams anywhere, we're always trying to win. The U13s in Belgium, the U15s at MLS NEXT Cup. So, we're absolutely going there to try and win it. We know there's a lot of great competition from three or four different continents. It's a difficult ask, but we have a lot of confidence and self-belief in the group. Once the young players get the taste of winning, that's part of the winning mentality. They want more, and I think the staff feel the same way. So not just with a tournament, but certainly next season here, domestically and any events we're going into, we're always going in with the mentality we want to win.”
Maintaining that balance of appreciation and competition will be crucial for the Red Bulls side that looks to develop and learn as much as possible while also making a run to win the whole thing. Past experiences in this tournament from staff and players will make this trip an incredibly beneficial one in the long run for each person involved, and everyone back at home in the United States will be supporting the boys on their quest for European glory.
While the “Summer of Success” may be coming to an end for Red Bulls Academy, a whole new story is just about to get started, with the Next Gen Trophy in Austria kicking things off for the 2023/2024 season.