Prospect Watch: Quakes Academy Class of 2016

With an exemption from the salary cap and exclusive signing rights, it’s little wonder that the sharpest MLS teams are focusing more and more intently on homegrown signings. To catch up with FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, longtime leaders in this area, the San Jose Earthquakes have been putting heavy investment into their own academy over the last few years by offering full scholarships, bringing in experienced coaches, and of course, laying the groundwork for a $35 million academy complex to open in a few years time.

As such, Quakes fans want to know who the next future home-grown signing could be after Tommy Thompson broke the ice in 2014. The most likely names remain the three college players that I’ve covered extensively here and on my podcast: Josh Morton, J.T. Marcinkowski, and Amir Bashti. Next up, however, are the class of players who just graduated high school and left the Academy itself.

Here are two names from that class of 2016 to keep an eye on:

John Austin Ricks – CDM

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John Austin Ricks closes down Chris Wondolowski in the Quakes v. U18s game in the 2016 preseason

Ricks is a rangy, versatile midfielder who Academy coach Paul Holocher calls “technically superb.” He’s got the athleticism to cover sideline-to-sideline, and Holocher also went out of his way to praise his mentality for the game.

While Ricks has developed into a true #6, he’s played as a fullback and center-back as well. In fact, he first caught my eye in the 2015 playoffs when, playing above his age group, he bombed down the right flank like a winger. That versatility speaks both to his technique but also to his soccer IQ and his positional sense. It also may be the reason he ultimately sticks in the middle of the park, since coaches like having a #6 with an advanced reading of the game.

This fall he’ll be turning out for Syracuse, an emerging college power that reached the NCAA semi-finals last year. He hasn’t yet caught much attention from the rankings services or been called up to the U.S. Youth National Teams, but those close to the program are confident he is amongst the very best prospects in an academy stuffed full with USYNT players, and that his call may be coming soon.

Drake Callender – GK

Cupertino, CA -- San Jose Earthquakes Academy U18 beat De Anza Force U18 3-1.

Callender missed quite a lot of the Academy season through injury, but insiders say he’s a worthy successor to the line of fabulous goalkeepers produced by the Academy in recent years such as Marcinkowski and Kendall McIntosh, who’s currently playing pro soccer for Portland’s T2.

It’s easy to get excited about his strong traits: he’s a huge physical specimen with explosive athletic ability to match, making him an elite shot-stopper. I’d even go so far as to say that he may, in time, prove to be Marcinkowski’s superior in that regard. The other aspects of his game are still developing, but Holocher praised his distribution in particular as something that he had improved over the previous year.

Like most keepers, he could use refinement with the technique and mental side of the position. He’ll get that over the next few years at Cal, where he’ll continue to work under the same goalkeeping coach he had in the Academy, and fight for a spot with current Cal number one Jonathan Klinsmann. The good news is that the Quakes are so incredibly stacked at the position that he won’t be rushed and will likely be given the full four years to mature his game.

Other Names To Remember

Since these academy graduates are still just teenagers, the 3-4 years between today and the age they’re likely to sign their first pro contract are more than enough for a prospect to take a leap in development. With a stronger USL partnership (and ultimately a full second team), later-developing players will be given more opportunities than in the past. All those are reasons to pay attention to some of the deeper parts of the talent pool.

For example, the Academy is sending five more players to play Division 1 soccer:

NAME  POS   COLLEGE
 Rory Birse  DEF-MID  Holy Cross
 Theo Huxham  MID  Washington
 Rei Dowart  MID  Cal State Fullerton
 Diego Alonso-Rodriguez  MID  Cal Poly (SLO)
 Armon Ojuola  MID  UC Irvine

 

Beyond that, the Quakes boast three players who are rated as “Four Stars” by TopDrawerSoccer.com (roughly corresponding to the top 100 players in their class in the country) who are likely going to turn out for Junior Colleges in the next step of their development: David Chavez (Fullback), Brian Zelaya (Midfielder), and Alejandro Lopez (Winger).

Check back in coming days for a similar prospect-watch focused on the U16 group.

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