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USL Academy Standouts Grab Spotlight in Open Cup Debuts

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/16/19, 1:54PM EDT


Schulte’s shootout heroics for Saint Louis led impressive displays from top prospects

18-year-old USL Academy signing Patrick Schulte shone on his professional debut on Wednesday night, leading Saint Louis FC into the Third Round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after three saves in a penalty shootout. | Photo courtesy Matt Bird / St.

DES MOINES, Iowa – It was one thing for Saint Louis FC Head Coach Anthony Pulis to hand USL Academy signing Patrick Schulte his professional debut in the club’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup clash on Wednesday night against USL League Two power the Des Moines Menace.

It was quite another for the game to effectively rest on the 18-year-old’s shoulders as a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes of regulation and extra time saw the game head to a penalty shootout.

But Schulte paid off the faith Pulis showed in him.

The standout academy shot-stopper saved three of the four penalty kicks he faces from Menace shooters as STLFC booked its place in the Third Round of the tournament with a 3-1 win from the spot.

Schulte’s performance provided the exclamation point on two nights of action that saw four USL Championship clubs hand first team debuts to players coming through their academy programs. In addition to Schulte’s heroics, STLFC also saw Nichi Vlastos make his debut for the side as he started and went the full 120 minutes in midfield. Like Schulte, Vlastos more than made his mark, completing 28 of 33 passes in a composed display.

The spotlight also shone on San Antonio FC’s which used all three of its substitutions to introduce players who’ve starred for the SAFC Pro Academy into its 2-0 victory against Laredo Heat SC on Tuesday night at Toyota Field. Academy signing Jose Gallegos and Carson Price both came on before the hour-mark in front of their home fans, but the biggest reception might have been reserved for United States U-15 international Leo Torres’ debut 14 minutes from full time. Having become the youngest signing in Championship history this past February, Torres produced a head-turning moment in his cameo appearance.

“You always look to give guys opportunities when it’s appropriate because they need to get a taste of it to move forward,” said SAFC Head Coach Darren Powell on handing the trio debuts. “Tonight was a wonderful opportunity to do so.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Rowdies handed debuts to two of their young standouts as Robbie Soronellas came on at the start of the second half and Jack Casey midway through the second stanza of a 4-1 win against League Two’s The Villages SC. Casey in particular had a bright debut, completing all 12 of his passes, while Soronellas recorded four tackles and two interceptions as he operated down the left flank.

“I said when I got this job that we had to get the professional pathway in place as best we possibly could,” said Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins. “Those two lads have stuck out to us in terms of their ability and their attitude and they’ve earned that opportunity. In any European country, that would have been through the academy at the club. Here it’s a little different, but they got it just the same and we’re looking forward to them training with us this summer and getting more opportunities.”

Louisville City FC also saw its first USL Academy signing in club history take his first bow for the side as 16-year-old Elijah Wynder came on as a substitute for the final few minutes of the club’s 3-0 win against League Two’s Reading United AC

“It’s incredibly exciting to see our clubs really buy into the philosophy & processes behind developing USL Academies, and even more rewarding to see young American players get opportunities at the professional level at such young ages,” said USL Sr. Director of Youth Development, Liam O’Connell. “We commend these forward-thinking clubs & their technical staff for helping the players get to this point & for putting that trust in them when the opportunities are presented.”

With the first edition of the USL Academy Cup set to launch later this year, the past two nights of action gave fans a taste of the talent that can be currently found in the development programs within USL Championship clubs, as well as a sign of things to come from future USL Academy products.

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