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Quakes U18s Advance to Semifinals of US Development Academy Playoffs

Amir Bashti celebrates his goal with hiis U18 team mates - Lyndsay Radnedge | Center Line Soccer

The San Jose Earthquakes U18 side punched their ticket for the national semi-finals at their level with an emphatic 3-0 victory over title-holders Players Development Academy.

The visitors, based in New Jersey, could only manage brief moments of danger punctuated by meek possession. The hosts, by contrast, rode three well-won goals by Rory Birse, Amir Bashti, and Youssef Diyab to a convincing performance in the shadow of the Quakes former home, Spartan Stadium. Amongst the several hundred in attendance was San Jose General Manager John Doyle, taking in what is perhaps a future generation of first-team players, as well as a handful of eager Ultras looking to do the same.

Bashti, the Stanford commit considered to be the best outfield prospect in the academy, made his first start since sustaining an ankle injury in Bosnia while on US U18 National Team duty. Unsurprisingly, given his pedigree, he was the first to find an opportunity by pouncing on a loose ball in the box in the 19th minute, but he was closed down by PDA keeper Kevin Silva. The Quakes danger man was in action 10 minutes later, juggling around multiple defenders, only to be halted by an apparent hand-ball that was waved away by the referee. Immediately after, Bashti dipped into the well again, curling one barely over from the top of the 18 in the 32nd minute.

The breakthrough came when Bashti rushed toward the byline with the ball in the box, only to be unceremoniously hacked down for an obvious stonewall penalty. The attackers on the pitch deferred to defender Rory Birse for the spot kick, and he rewarded their faith with a composed, no-doubt finish drilled low to the keeper's right in the 37th minute.

Striker Zach Penner would go close as the half neared its end, being played through on goal and hammering a quality effort that only managed to clang off the far post.

Just before the halftime whistle, Quakes keeper J.T. Marcinkowski had to step off his line and cut out the first dangerous PDA chance of the half, getting a piece of the effort and watching it roll wide. U18s coach Marquis White emphasized his importance after the match, saying "[Marcinkowski] is a difference maker, he keeps us calm, he's our leader...he's like a coach on the field."

Central midfielder Jonathan Partida, influential throughout, took even greater control of the game as the second half got underway, providing stiff tackling and an eye for the pass. Afterwards, Academy Director Chris Leitch called him "a man amongst boys."

Winger John-Austin Ricks, playing above his age group, provided instant dynamism in attack, nearly turning home a cross in the 54th, and leaving his mark clean out of his shoes with a showy dribble ten minutes later.

It was Bashti, though, who provided the second moment of brilliance, in the 75th minute. He was fed facing goal at the top of the 18 with a defender closing in on him expecting a shot from his favored right. The Quakes #10 slid it neatly onto his left foot and curled a second past Silva to put the hosts in command of the match.

After generating little than speculative danger, PDA found itself with a real opportunity in the 80th minute with a set piece. The delivery was excellent, but Marcinkowski was equal to the challenge, pushing it wide.

From there, the Quakes seemed set on seeing out the whistle with some effective hold-up play, but in stoppage time a final breakaway provided one last chance. Penner pushed the ball down the left flank into acres of space and put in a low cross to substitute Youssef Diyab, who managed to direct it on goal despite a heavy challenge, putting the game thoroughly out of reach at 3-0.

After the game, Lietch reflected on the progress this team has already made: "It's the farthest we've advanced in our young program."

"I thought to a man our boys played extremely well and out-worked the opponent. They've been together for four years, most of them, and the culmination of their academy life is coming down to the top four teams in the country."

After the game, he also confirmed that Amir Bashti and J.T. Marcinkowski were called up to the U18 national team.

Assessing their chances going into the upcoming semi-final at the weekend, Coach White said "we can compete against anyone. Any given day, we can beat any team. If we play as a unit, we can beat anyone."

However, for White, the focus remained about individual development: "This year we had 16 of our seniors go to college. And from those 16, we're going to have a couple pros."

"I'm proud of these kids. It's an incredible feeling"

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Check out Center Line's photo gallery of the match on Flickr here.

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