The U.S. Soccer Development Academy season begins on Saturday with a new man at the helm for the Clearwater Chargers under-18 and under-16 squads.
Trinidad-native Garth Pollonais has joined the club, and along with Peter Mannino he is eager for both squads to build on the under-18’s second-place finish in the Southeast division a year ago.
“I think our expectations are high,” Pollonais said. “Our U-17/18 is an experienced team, they have been together a while, and out U-15/16 team is a younger team, a talented team, but younger. We know the competition level is very high, and for us to compete, we will have to play consistently all season.”
U.S. under-18 pool players Wes Sever (Tampa Prep) and Kory Veeder (Dixie Hollins) return to the Chargers under-18 squad, along with other local standouts T.J. Roehn (Berkeley Prep), Anthony Baumann (Tampa Prep) and Shane Wixted (Seminole). The Chargers have also added new players, including Wes Charpie (Tarpon Springs) and Bruno Da Silva (Auburndale), to the roster.
With the talent at his disposal, Pollonais said he isn’t looking to one or two players to step up into key roles, rather believing whoever needs to step up at a key moment will do so.
“We have a lot of talented players,” Pollonais said. “From a coaching perspective, I just look at it as we have a talented group of players. I know that players are going to step up as time goes by. I think we have a spirited, strong, talented group.”
The Chargers open with five consecutive games on the road, beginning against Birmingham United in Alabama on Saturday before facing the Atlanta Fire in Duluth, Ga. on Sunday. Pollonais said that while the travel can be tough, with the weekend tournaments top-level youth players play in on a regular basis, the preparation for league play doesn’t change the focus of what the team tries to accomplish in practice.
“We practice three or four times a week, we play a lot of scrimmages away from home so the players can acclimatize to playing away from home,” Pollonais said. “The difference (from tournaments) is that you have to play one game in one city, and then you have to head to another city. But the preparation, getting us ready to perform is the same. We go through our preparation during the week, we make sure we’re fundamentally ready, know what we need to do in order to get the result.”