MIC Cup Semi-final
L’estartit – Another prime time showdown against one of the top youth academies in world football.
The Netherlands have produced countless world class players with Ajax being the conveyer belt. Johan Cruyff, Edwin van der Sar, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Marco Van Basten, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, and Nigel de Jong to name a few.
In 1995, when Ajax last won the Champions League, the team was almost entirely of players that came through their youth ranks – much like the current Barcelona. Edwin van der Sar in goal; Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer (current head coach), and Danny Blind in defense; Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, and Clarence Seedorf in the midfield; with Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars in attack.
History lesson aside, it was an honor to test ourselves in competitive matches against possibly the top 2 youth academies in the world.
Ajax in MIC
Ajax had come through their group stage and round of 16 games with 39 goals scored, and 1 against in four matches. Their #9, the man child of the tournament, had bagged 20 of those goals. When I say man child, I mean physical specimen that looks like a man amongst boys. However, this player was much different to the big, fast, strong donkeys we encounter state-side on occasion. He has class!!! Technique to die for, and to top it off is left footed. Tall task for our back line to say the least.
We had done a great job of scouting them; and felt prepared to counter their strengths, and expose their weaknesses.
Their strength lies in their individual player technique and attacking prowess. They play a 3-4-3, but mostly emphasize the attacking portion of it. Meaning, they aggressively push numbers forward, putting 7 players on your half the field.
That being said, for the first time ever we would have to alter our playing style to get a positive result. Playing out of the back in our own half would be suicide against this machine.
Their weakness was their faulty defending on set pieces, as well as pushing numbers forward and leaving only two to three defenders in the back.
In a 3-4-3, if your wing backs aren’t covering the entirety of the field and transitioning back to cover the width, it spells big trouble. This is where we exposed Ajax last year in our friendly, and would do so again.
The game started with the high intensity expected from both sides. Very choppy back and forth game with possession soccer at a minimum due to the high press from both teams.
The first clear opportunity came 10 minutes in, when Xuxu (John Hilton) combined well with Owen and Romario on the right, stormed down the sideline and served a delicious cross which Uly lunged at with a diving header that went inches wide. The entire standing-room-only crowd released the typical EEEEEWWWWWWW, expecting to see the net shake with the games first goal.
It wouldn’t take long for the first explosion of the night to come.
Again, Hilton on the right creating havoc, serving it to Romario and Owen who could not finish the play. The ball was poked out to the edge of the 18 by the Ajax GK right to Lebron who calmly had a clean first touch to his lethal left foot and floated the ball far post with a delicate chip. The ball bounced off the inside of the post, off the defender on the goal line and in for the 1-0 lead. The stadium roared in approval as it was a anti-Ajax crowd.
Controversy struck again minutes later as the Ajax #9 blatantly ran over our 2 centerbacks at midfield, and play was waved on by the referee.
NO FOUL??? Seconds later, ball was crossed into our box and a driven shot taken from 8 yards out was blocked by our left back, Togo Nakamura. Ref blew his whistle and pointed to the spot!!! PENAL! WTF!?!?!
You can only imagine, for the second time against an elite power, the ref was making a crucial game-changing decision against us. Ajax’s other man child, their center back, stepped up and calmly equalized the game from the spot. 1-1.
The second half saw Ajax control the game for the first 15 minutes without creating any serious goal-scoring opportunities. The last 10 minutes of the game belonged to us as we poured forward looking for a game-winner to avoid pks.
Neymar had two clear cut chances off good combination play that he rocketed right at the keeper.
Owen Zaldivar hit a bomb from 25 yards out that the keeper put his fingertips to and deflected off the intersecting point of the post & cross bar.
John Hilton went on a late patented 70 yard mesmerizing run in the last gasps of the game and got held up just as he was ready to finish the play. A clear PENAL ignored by the center referee.
Final whistle blew and it was time for the dreaded lottery of PK’s.
First, let me note that at least half of the capacity crowd estimated at 500 rushed behind the goal where the pks would be taken.
I asked the ref if they were going to move them and he said no – as long as they were behind the rail (one foot behind the goal) there was nothing he could do. So the pk’s would go down in a hostile environment with the crowd being a huge participant – much like a professional game. BEAUTIFUL!
The first two pk’s from Ajax were complete class and left the coaching staff worried – scratching our heads with how composed their players were under this type of pressure.
Charly and Efra stepped up for us with quality finishes to tie it up at 2-2.
Their 3rd player looked nervous as he took the endless journey up to the spot from half field. Jesus read him like a book and dove to his left to make the crucial save.
John Hilton buried his to make it 3-2.
The pressure was on their #7. He stepped up and awed the crowd with a brilliant strike into the top right corner.
Leo Sepulveda, a new player in our line-up, stepped up like a veteran and slotted his pk to the left corner for a 4-3 lead.
The pressure was now on Ajax #17 who stepped up and rocketed a shot off the crossbar that bounced down, hit the goal line and bounced out!!! Referee blew the whistle signaling game was over.
That was it, we had defeated Ajax and knocked them out of MIC Cup. A historic event that not only had the players and staff in jubilation, but the local crowd that rushed the field to embrace the players. Tears of joy ran down the player’s faces. Another epic performance by this group of boys to prove their worth to the world.
Next up? Who else … the 800 pound gorilla would be waiting in the semis tomorrow morning.
Nice work! Congratulations to you and the boys. Ajax is considering Top 5 in Europe in most
categories under 18.
i love the picture of the lineups! it looks like they are taller by a head on average.
To say you “toppled” them is a FoxNews-like misleading don’tcha think? An even game, which ended 1-1. Then you won the shootout. Shootouts determine who progresses, but otherwise the match was a draw.
Devil’s advocate being done – sounds like you were robbed! Then again, every coach thinks their defender is fouled when they fall over so…….
Rob A says
what a debbie downer
I’m not a spokesperson for 3Four3, and not going to argue “toppled”. “Beat” or “won” would mean same to me because in the end, they went through. Happy to glad?
Anyway, I think the better takeaway is here is a USA team going toe to toe with many of the worlds finest acadamies in a prestiguous tournament. It will open doors in Europe to hopefully more USA teams and opportunities for players and open minds of US youth coaches to think differently, question long held beliefs in player selection and style of play.
“It will open doors in Europe to hopefully more USA teams and opportunities for players and open minds of US youth coaches to think differently, question long held beliefs in player selection and style of play.”
To me, the above statement is the best prize of all.
Arsenal Fan says
Brian, I’m a fan of your team and your club. You give the USA a glimmer of hope of what we could become with passionate and dedicated people like you guys involved in this beautiful game.
Gary Kleiban says
We have so much more to learn and to give.
And it’s support like yours that gives us a glimmer of hope.
Loving the commentary. Very glad to hear your team is playing so well. Liked the graphic showing both teams and player names/positions from earlier posts. Along with the video, makes me feel like I’m right there.
pg 19 says
Love hearing about your scouting and your willingness to modify slightly your system of play to limit your team’s potential weaknesses and exposing the opponents. From what I’m reading the Spanish clubs and Ajax are rigid in their systems. Primarily their intent is to develop their Senior team, so it makes sense. At the Senior level the players may then be exposed to slight modifications based on opponent competition but they may also progress into being so consistent in their system of play it is unnecessary.
My opinion, I think the Kleibans bring an “American” flavor to this. Using the best model available for player development, tactical training, and improving upon it. For their players to have the exposure of those slight nuisances of change, their players have been exposed and forced to think differently within the context of the game and I believe as a result will be more adaptive using that system than their European counterparts. It may even evolve into something that has yet to be seen, into something that creates the next big “thing” in world soccer. I don’t believe this is about being as good as the best anymore. I am amazed.
pg 19 says
It’s about being better than the best.
Very well written guys… it was a joy to read. Thank you for sharing your journey and congratulations on your hard work, attention to detail and focus giving you a nice ROI.
People act like Ajax kids should win each and every game. These were only the U13’s, many of those players probably won’t make it to the “crown jewels” as they say the A1/U19 squad.
Barca lost all their games at the recent AEGON U17 Future Cup, should Barca be worried? Ofcourse not, because the goal is to have 1 or 2 from each generation to make it to the 1st team so results shouldn’t matter.
Ajax U13 scored 39 goals in 4 games? That’s incredible and should be applauded.
Ajax in that age group is not really a top team -at least when they play in Spain.
Here are the results of the MIC Finals where RCD Espanyol, Aspire Football Dreams, and FC Barcelona had a very successful campaigns- Everything else is just a cute anecdote
CATEGORIA JUVENIL- ESPANYOL 2 – 0 VILLAREAL
CATEGORIA CADET- ESPANYOL1 – 2 ASPIRE FOOTBALL DREAMS
CATEGORIA ALEVÍ – F7- ESPANYOL 6- 1 LIVERPOOL FC
The rest of the categories-
CATEGORIA INFANTIL- BARÇA 0- 1ASPIRE FOOTBALL DREAMS
CATEGORIA ALEVÍ – F11– VOIRE SP 0 – 2 BARÇA
Edfoot, Ajax has one of the top youth academies in the world and it is silly to argue otherwise. By the way, according to Mic Cup’s website, aside from the team that lost on PKs to the Total Football Academy team, Ajax did not send any teams to this years MIC Cup. And that team had 39-1 goal difference prior to its PK shootout loss. Overall, what a great performance by TFA, especially against the powerhouses, such as Barca and Ajax!
Maybe Espanyol plays better as a team but Ajax and Barcelona are producing players that are significantly much better than Espanyol. Hence winning is not the only objective!
It’s funny how when Barça wins winning is important but when someonelse winning is not the only objective …amazing 🙂
I’m not saying Espanyol is bad, in fact they have a great academy. All I was trying to do was point out that although Barcelona and Ajax may not be winning consistently at the youth level, they do produce world class talent which is what really matters in the end. I’m sure that Gary’s goal at the MIC was not only to win but to show the world that they have developed world class talent that could play for the best teams in the world.
Congrats..any team that plays Ajax and tries to play futbol ( Ajax always will) should be commended. Then to get the results that you did..wonderful.
Was this the U-13 team. Last year I read Dennis Bergkamp was their coach/trainer? Was he on the sidelines?
It doesn’t suprise me that they were vulnerable defensively and in set plays. They place little emphasis on this area in the younger age groups.
Cruyff is again putting his fingerprints back on the youth level similarily to what he once did at Barca. The emphasis on results is not significant rather there are developmental “tasks” or points of interest that each player is asked to work on in league play . ( Its not to say that in MIC cup they weren’t playing to win becuase they likely were) But Ajax now spends more time in middle time of the table of the Dutch youth leagues with the goal of placing elite players on the national team, 1st team or selling.
“Johan Cruyff, where you at”..I know a bit in jest because any Barca fan knows the history.
Graham Hunter said it this way:
“If the 175,000 FC Barcelona members, or socios, queued up in an orderly line, night after night, to massage his tired feet, cook his dinner and tuck him into bed; if they carried his golf clubs round Montanya’s hilly 18 holes; if they devoted 50 per cent of their annual salary to him … it still wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to repay the debt that those who love this club owe Johan Cruyff”
Many, many, many academies in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain have produced and continue to produce pro players; Barcelona is not the only one.
Not everyone that plays in Barça and supposedly “came from la Masia” actually developed there. Many of them were developed elsewhere and ended it up in La Masia for a few years thanks to agreements Barça has with smaller budget teams; or because they were snatched from other top academies by the Barça scouts. I have nothing against that…it just bothers me that people romanticize Barça so much
Soccer observer says
Shame on you. Your “company” and your “services” are a fraud. I have watched your video and I can see that this is a BIG SCAM.
B e aware of that by checking his video:
I’m not arguing that Ajax has a great Academy or that the American kids did a good job. I’m not sure where in my comments I reflected that.
I think it’s great that the Anerican teams are going there with the intention of winning it all instead of just participating.
The only comment I had made was that Ajax in that age group is not a top team in Europe. But that’s just the nature of the sport; you can’t go through life celebrating your past or history I the sport because you are always back to 0 when a new year/season starts. That’s all. That doesn’t take anything away from the high level the Ajax players have or the accomplishments the American kids had.
The fact remaines that Barça, Espanyol, and Aspire had very successful campaigns. That’s all I said.
Sorry it was MG not GM
Edfoot, I may have attributed too much to your statement that “Ajax in that age group is not really a top team,” perhaps because it was immediately followed by the list of winners/runner ups from other age groups at Mic Cup. I believe Ajax was one of the top teams at that age group and a legitimate contender to win the Cup. No argument from me with the fact that Barca, Espanyol and Aspire all had very nice performances at the tournament. What separates Ajax and Barcelona from many other youth academies is a proven track record of producing world class talent. While they win plenty of games and tournaments, this is not the end goal. These clubs measure the success of their youth academies by the number and quality of young players that were developed to compete for and win the roster spots on their first team.
MG, exactly correct on Barca and Ajax..Cruyff despite a huge amount of controversy with board/legal issues etc in the last 18 month has tried to bring back to Ajax some of his principals that were vital to La Masia success. Developing individual players at d for the de toekomst for teh first team and less emphasis on winning is one of these
Guys everyone goes there to win, silly to say otherwise. TFC is doing a great in developing these kids, and that development shows in their results and form of play. If they ever brought that type of club to the central valley in california my son would be the first one to sign up. This team is top level anywhere in the world, period.
Any story on the last semi-final match against FC Barcelona or did I miss that? I see the scoreline was again close and imagine it made for a good story as well even if the result was 3-2 for FC Barcelona. Congrats! World class job by all involved. World Class!
I see USA Soccer Stars also did very well making it to the quarter-final round only to lose to Manchester United 1-0. I recall that team from some earlier posts, but I cannot recall who they are. What’s their story?
Brian Kleiban says
Been a hectic couple of weeks Raiders….am working on finishing up that article soon.
USA Soccer Stars is an all star team put together by a local coach. Their level is average with a completely different objective then our trip ($$$$$).
Any video of your games?
Do you guys have videos of any of your games? I would love to see one against the prestigous FC Barcelona from Spain. Congrats on the big win in penalties. It’s always 50/50, glad luck was on your side. Glad that you guys had players from your team were scouted by top european clubs.
Great work out there guys. Big fan f what you guys are doing for soccer in the USA. When is the final and is there going to be any videos of you guys in action at this tournament.
Also I see the academy is hosting a tournament in northern California on the 27th can teams expect to see either yourself or you brother at this tournament?
Brian Kleiban says
Thanks for the props. I am still waiting on the video to be sent from Spain….company I hired to film it is lagging it. Hopefully I’ll have it soon to post some video.
I am no longer with Barca USA/TFA so I won’t be in NorCal for that tournament.
Brian, whatever you are going to do for your next job. I hope you are still coaching the youth teams. You inspired all of us. Thanks.
Are you going to be affiliated with another program in socal? I am moving my two boys to LA from the east coast this summer and would love to know.
All the best.
Sounds good I’m sure the boys did great.
That’s sad to hear. We were looking to sign up our U14 boys for the tournament. In the hopes to possibly network with yourself and your coaching staff.
So, what is the plan for yourself and your boys. Are you moving up in your coaching career, giving coaching courses, or just taking time off?
Thanks for the report and big congrats Brian
If you achieve this playing the “right way” like I’m sure you did, then Johan was there big time…and in both sides of the field 🙂
Looking forward to the videos
What is the status of 3four3? I see that this last post was April 5th and then on April 15th Brian posted that he is no longer with BarcaUSA/TFA. Just curious on where things stand for one of the voices for those of us trying to truly develop the beautiful game in the U.S. Thanks guys!
Bill M says
As a silent observer and avid follower over the past year, I wanted to say thanks for all the work you’ve put in to help disrupt the status quo here stateside.
As somebody planning to embark on my own journey to teach our youth, your videos and articles have really challenged what I thought was possible and changed my perception of the American soccer ecosystem around me. It has also challenged me to think about how I can best build a community of “switched on” parents, coaches and supporters in this environment.
I know this website, facebook and twitter are all additional time sinks for what must be a very busy schedule for you, so I felt like I owed it to you and the community involved with 3four3 to let you know you made a big impact on me.
Best of luck to you and yours at Chivas, I have the feeling that this is still just the beginning.
-Bill M up in Silicon Valley