The 2012 Copa Independencia begins this weeks with ten teams battling for the u-17 title. There are five game days and each team plays four of them. The group stage matches run from Monday August 13 through Friday August 17. Saturday August 18 are the two semifinal matches (first place from Group A against second place from Group B and vice versa). The final will be held on Sunday August 19.
The teams in Group A are: Club América (MEX), Chivas de Guadalajara (MEX), Monarcas Morelia (MEX), FC Barcelona (SPA), Boca Juniors (ARG). Group B has the following teams: Cruz Azul (MEX), Pumas UNAM (MEX), Pachuca (MEX), Fiorentina (ITA), SC Internacional (BRA).
I briefly wrote about last year’s edition of the Copa Independencia, which you can read here. 2011’s tournament featured Club América, Cruz Azul, Pumas, Pachuca, Monterrey, Chivas de Guadalajara, Sao Paulo, Santos, Boca Juniors, and CSKA Moscow. That makes 6 Mexican teams, 2 Brazilian teams and 1 from each of Argentina and Russia. The tournament’s first running in 2010 only featured 8 teams vying for the cup. Those teams were América, Penarol, Boca Juniors, Pumas, Chivas, Cruz Azul, Sao Paulo, River Plate.
The Copa Independencia is among the most prestigious international youth soccer tournaments in the world. Along with the Gauteng Tournament, Dallas Cup, Gothia Cup, the Real Sociedad Invitational, and Milk Cup, the Copa Independencia provides a tremendous platform for the world’s most promising players to develop and make a name for themselves.
While it is disappointing that no American teams are participating in the Copa Independencia again this year, their exclusion is understandable. The scheduling of the Generation adidas u-17 Cup, a tournament for the academy sides of MLS clubs, prevents teams from playing in both competitions. In 2012, the tournament featured 14 teams in the u17 division and 12 teams in the u15 division.
The u-17 field contained the following teams: Group A: San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo; Group B: Toronto FC, LA Galaxy, FC Dallas, D.C. United; Group C: Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake; Group D: Columbus, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids.
The u-15 teams competing were: Group A: Toronto FC, San Jose, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders I; Group B: LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Philadelphia Union; Group C: Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders II.
The tournament ran from Friday August 3 through to the Championship matches on Thursday August 9. Chivas USA won the u15 title while Philadelphia Union downed Toronto FC to claim the u17 trophy. The Generation adidas Cup ends on August 9 and the Copa Independencia begins on August 13, making it logistically impossible for MLS sides to participate in both competitions.
In 2011 the Generation adidas Cup was a 16-team tournament held the last week of July from the 25 to the 31. Group A was D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes, Columbus Crew. Group B was FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders. Group C was Chivas USA, Toronto FC, Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution. Group D was LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake.
Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps did not participate since they were new expansion clubs and hadn’t yet established youth team systems. LA Galaxy defeated FC Dallas in the final to lift the 2011 trophy.
While I rate the Copa Independencia very highly, I understand that the Generation adidas Cup is more important for MLS clubs. There are other youth international club competitions that take place at other points in the calendar-year in which MLS teams do participate, such as the Future Champions Gauteng Tournament held in both South Africa and Brazil annually (Jan 25-29 2010, Dec 13-19 2010, Dec 12-17 2011, Mar 28-Apr1 2011, Mar 26-30 2012).
I think it’s important for American soccer clubs to send youth teams to participate in major international competitions. Perhaps that may be putting the cart before the horse, since one could easily argue that MLS youth teams aren’t strong enough. But I think that exposing America’s elite young players to different styles of play, by pitting them against teams from around the world, will only improve the quality of development for American soccer.