Edison Azcona and Felipe Valencia Celebration 2020

Academy Players Shine for Fort Lauderdale CF in Year One

Fort Lauderdale CF, like Inter Miami CF, completed an inaugural season full of milestone moments in 2020. The Club’s USL League One side, established to create a bridge between the youth and First Team levels, did just that in its first season. 

The Fort Lauderdale roster featured 28 players with at least one appearance. Of those 28, 14 were players who came through the Inter Miami CF Academy.

Two Academy standouts – Ian Fray and Francisco Raggio – signed professional contracts for Fort Lauderdale prior to the start of the season.

Fray, 18, went on to appear in nine matches for the team, including eight starts, and register one assist and a total of 702 minutes played. The young center back made his mark in that time, earning USL League One All-League Second Team honors for his performances. 

Raggio, 18, made 10 appearances for Fort Lauderdale, including three starts. In 362 minutes played, the creative midfielder registered five key passes, tied for the most by any player on the team with less than 500 minutes played. Raggio also contributed defensively, winning 75% of his tackles.

The graduates weren’t the only Academy players to make an impact either, as the others still registered from the youth ranks were crucial to the team’s success. A pair of young wingers – Edison Azcona and Felipe Valencia – for example, were standouts in League One. 

Azcona, 17, played the second-most minutes of any player on the team with 1,284; he started in each of the team’s 16 games, the only player to do so. The young winger shined in that time, earning USL League One All-League Second Team honors and being nominated for the USL League One Young Player of the Year award. Azcona also registered three goals and three assists, putting him in the top two in both categories for Fort Lauderdale, and won a team-high 22 tackles. 

Valencia, 15, made history with Fort Lauderdale. The winger, who made 12 appearances and nine starts, was the youngest player on the team and became the youngest player to score a goal at any USL level at just 15 years, five months and 18 days. His goal broke the record set by current FC Bayern Munich star and former Vancouver Whitecaps academy product Alphonso Davies. Valencia finished with three goals, tied for second on the team.

A slew of other Academy registered players featured across a number of different positions for the team in 2020. Among them was 17-year-old center back Ethan Hardin, who played the second-most minutes of any Academy product with 1,052, making 13 appearances and 11 starts. Hardin surprised coaches with his rapid development, as he quickly grew to become a solid defensive presence; he registered 25 interceptions on the season, the second-most on the team, and tied for a team-high 17 aerial duels won. 

Nine more Academy players registered time on the field for Fort Lauderdale to varying degrees, including multi-game starters Andre Zuluaga, Joshua Saavedra, Andres Cardenas and Noah Allen.

Zuluaga, 17, started four matches at goalkeeper for the team, earning League One Week 9 Team of the Week honors for his performance against Orlando City B in which he recorded four saves in a shutout victory. Saavedra, 17, totaled 315 minutes played across eight appearances and four starts in the team’s midfield. Cardenas, 17, was a regular starter for the team over a run of games prior to suffering a season-ending injury. He made six appearances, including four starts, and impressed with his work rate as a winger. Allen, 16, joined the team midway through the season, eventually making two appearances, both starts, at left back for the team. 

Two Academy players also featured predominantly as substitutes for Fort Lauderdale in 2020. Perhaps most notably, versatile young wide player Jason Bucknor, 18, who could be described as a super-sub, making 11 appearances for the team, 10 of those off the bench, and totaling 290 minutes played. He featured both as a fullback and wing player, going on to tie Raggio’s record of five key passes. Dairon Reyes, meanwhile, made five appearances, four off the bench, and registered 141 minutes played. The 17-year-old forward also scored one goal in that time.

Lastly, a trio of Academy players made cameos for Fort Lauderdale in 2020. Allan Cuartas, 18, made one nine-minute appearance as a substitute, Cesar Cuellar, 18, made two substitute appearances for a total of 32 minutes played, and Dylan Talero, 16, made one three-minute appearance as a substitute. 

Through the accomplishments of all these players, Fort Lauderdale CF lived up to its stated goals in its inaugural season. The team established a bridge between the Inter Miami CF Academy and First Team, offering professional playing experience to its most talented young players.

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