Academy teams thriving ahead of Finals

Sydney FC U20’s will face Mt Druitt Rangers U20’s this Sunday in the first round of the NPL NSW Men’s Championship Series.

The Preliminary semi-final – set to be played at Cromer Park in the Northern Beaches – is the first of four championship rounds.

The Sky Blues U20’s have enjoyed a successful regular season campaign – finishing second on the table and scoring a staggering 64 goals in only 22 games – the most prolific in the league.

Sydney FC Senior Academy Manager and NPL Head Coach, Jim van Weeren, says that playing an offensive brand of football is one of the main aims at youth academy level.

“The 20s and the U18’s score a lot of goals each week and we pride ourselves on playing attacking football,” he said.

Not only do the Sky Blues U20’s pose a great attacking threat, they also boast the second-best defensive record in their competition – only conceding 23 goals and keeping the joint-most most clean sheets (nine) in the division.

The stellar form of the Academy players has not gone unnoticed, with first team head coach Steve Corica using five youth team stars in last Sunday’s Australia Cup penalty shootout win over the Central Coast Mariners, as well as former Academy star Patrick Yazbek.

Jim van Weeren says he is pleased with how the youngsters performed in the match.

“Patrick Yazbek was with the academy the season prior for a number of years. He looks really comfortable now playing in midfield,” he added.

“And then it was really exciting to see Adrian Segecic make his starting debut, obviously with two assists and some really nice moments that lead to goal scoring opportunities.

“And then similarly Jaiden Kucharski, when he came on looked like a real goal scoring threat.”

Luka Smyth, Jake Girdwood-Reich and Oscar Priestman also make their senior bows as subs in the cup game.

Twenty-year-old Kucharski netted 18 times for Sydney FC’s NPL Men’s First Grade side and forward Smyth, 18, has scored 13 goals for the U20’s during the 2022 regular season.

Across the club, the Sky Blues are in strong positions to finish in the top four and reach the finals in their respective NPL youth divisions – with the U18’s in third place, the U16’s in second and the U15’s in fifth as the regular season with a only a few more rounds to go.

“The players are extremely motivated,” said van Weeren. “Training every day is competitive, training every day is hard.”

“The kind of environment that’s set from the staff and the players really allows the players to train at their maximum potential every day, so it makes it really rewarding for us, as staff, to be able to sit back and watch the development.”

With an abundance of talented young players at the club, van Weeren believes that Academy players have the potential to play more regularly in the Sydney FC first team.

“It’s not about shaping players to be carbon copies of existing first teams players, but putting them in situations and positions where it allows their strengths to really come out and be on show.”

“They’ve all got the potential to be there. What we’re hoping is that every day they’re able to convince Steve, and the guys in the first team staff, that they’re good enough to continue to be involved in the matchday squads moving forward.”

The semi-final clash between Sydney FC U20’s and Mt Druitt Rangers U20’s kicks off at 5:30pm on Sunday 7 August at Cromer Park. Adult tickets are $15, concession $10 and children under 16 go free. The match is also available to watch on NPL.TV.

Story by Jeremy Walker