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Rapids U17 and U23 winding down successful summer season

Colorado’s best college and high-school-aged soccer players have spent the summer honing their skills on the pitch.

Rapids U23 defenders Haris Stamboulidis (#24) and Graham Smith (#23) attacking a corner at a June match against FC Boulder.
John Babiak, @Photog_JohnB

While the senior team has a mid-season break during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Rapids Academy U17 and the Rapids USL PDL U23 team were on the pitch Saturday and Sunday at the tail end of successful 2017 campaigns.

The Rapids U23 team is in its first year competing in the USL PDL, the fourth tier of the US soccer pyramid. The Rapids had constituted U23 teams in the past, including 2016, but those teams played a fairly limited exhibition schedule. This season’s U23 team was part of a five-team conference that included Albuquerque Sol, FC Tucson, FC Boulder U23, and BYU Cougars. The Rapids team was a mix of recent college graduates, college-aged players from the local area getting tuned up for the fall NCAA season, and high schoolers from within the Rapids academy at the U18 level and younger.

Saturday, in their final home match of the season, the Rapids U23s blew out the visiting Albuquerque Sol, 5-1, at DSGP Field 20. Goals came from Isaac Martinez, Jaret Townsend, Griffin Dorsey, and Nathan Braaten, who had two.

Many of the U23s impressed me on the afternoon. At midfield, Miguel Jaime, a Senior at Florida Gulf Coast University and a Colorado Rush product, showed excellent technical ability and close control in getting the ball through a packed defense. Real Colorado product Graham Smith played smart defense and provided physicality as a defensive midfielder. Braaten, a Rapids Development Academy player, played at striker in the match but is listed as a defender on the Oregon State roster. He scored both his goals on moves in which he cleverly got separation from his defender. And substitute left back Aaron (AJ) Hurtado was tremendously fast and skilled.

The two biggest standouts on the field were Griffin Dorsey and Jaret Townsend. Both showed pace, acceleration, dribbling skill and finishing that at times made the yellow-jerseyed Sol players look like traffic cones. Dorsey was fresh off a stint with the USMNT U18 team at a tournament in Portugal, where they faced Japan, Norway, and the host nation. Dorsey will suit up for the University of Indiana in the fall, and played his club career with Colorado Rush. Townsend plays for the University of Washington and was with Real Colorado during his U18. Neither are Rapids Academy products, but both are worth keeping an eye on in the next few MLS Superdrafts.

The U23 team concludes their regular season next week at FC Tucson.

Meanwhile, the Rapids U17 qualified for the US Soccer Development Academy Semi-Finals next week in Los Angeles with a thrilling 2-1 win over the Orlando City Academy team. The match was played in Orlando.

The Rapids finished the 2016-17 season with a 12-7-7 record, good enough for a wildcard berth in the USSDA U17/18 Academy Tournament. Colorado will face Texans FC Houston this Friday, July 14. The winners will go on to play for the USSDA Championship against either the LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders youth squads. That Rapids team includes twin brothers Aaron and Moses Martinez, goalkeeper Kai Likewise, and two players that played significant minutes with the U23 squad, Rhys Desoto and Liam Johnson. The Rapids youth team is coached by Chris Martinez and assisted by Marcelo Balboa and Brian Crookham, amongst others. The semi-finals and finals will be streamed live on the USSDA’s webpage.