This is the same core group of players that won the U-16 academy championship in 2013, and it's no coincidence that they're back here again. This is one of the best groups of young players in American soccer history, and I don't think that's any exaggeration.
Who: Real Salt Lake U-18s vs. Chicago Fire
When: 8:30 p.m. MDT (7:30 p.m. Arizona), 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Where: StubHub Center; Carson, California (Los Angeles)
Stream: YouTube, embedded below
Want to watch? The match should be broadcast on YouTube, and while
Look for the U-18s to take their distinctive game to the opponent without much regard for the opposition's decisions. Part of that's because the academy really is that much better than basically every other side they face, but also because they tend to be a step ahead of everyone. Playing in a reactive style works for some, but not for these kids, who didn't earn 100 points over 39 games and score 161 goals for nothing, after all.
In their shape, expect either a 4-3-3 or a pushed-high 4-4-2 — whatever gets the best players on the field, really, is what we'll see.
Players to watch
Danilo Acosta: Having already made a handful of appearances for Real Monarchs, Acosta looks a cut above his defensive peers with his very good reading of the game combined with his ability to win the ball back in difficult positions without conceding a foul. If this team wants to succeed with their all-out attack style, Acosta — capable at full back or at center back — will be key. Look for him to step wide with Erik Holt staying central when left back Diego Silva bursts into the attack.
Aaron Herrera: The right back who scored the game-winning goal in the semifinal, Herrera gets forward at good times and doesn't leave the team overly exposed. He won't get as far forward as the full back on the opposite side, but his timing and intelligence make him dangerous in a different way.
Fito Ovalle: That's right — Ovalle, who is a full professional playing for Real Monarchs (on loan from the big team), will probably be involved, and while he's not the outright most impressive in footwork, skill, or shot-taking, it's his ball-winning and aptitude for reading the game that makes him a valuable asset, both for the Monarchs and for the U-18s.