Since last week's National Signing Day for high school seniors, young soccer players all across the nation have been committing themselves to play for some of the nation's top programs. As the youth development systems of MLS franchises continue to grow, more and more of these top players are coming from MLS academy teams that compete in U.S. Soccer's Development Academy.
These players are eligible to eventually sign with their parent club as a homegrown player, even after graduating college.
We saw the first such case this offseason, as Josue Soto of SMU became the first to sign as a homegrown player even after playing four years of college soccer when he joined the Houston Dynamo. In the coming years, this type of signing will become more and more common, and debates will rage on as to what effect this will have on the SuperDraft.
The Union has some of these such players themselves, and this fall the first batch of Union Academy graduates will head off to Division I schools with an eye to possibly joining the Philadelphia first team at some point in the future. After the jump, we'll take a look at who the Union has coming through the pipeline.
In November, the Union announced a unique academy system unlike any other in all of MLS. Referred to as "the Path to PPL Park," the innovative set-up allows top youth players all around the region to remain with the clubs that they have been with, in some cases, for years.
Unlike most teams in MLS, the Union does not have U16 or U18 teams that compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Instead, the Union has forged a special relationship with area clubs that they refer to as a "Youth Development Affiliation."
Some of these clubs come from the Development Academy, like FC Delco, PA Classics, and PDA. Others aren't in the USSDA but compete in other leagues, including Penn Fusion, Lehigh Valley United, and YMS. This agreement allows the Union to "call up" players from these clubs for special training sessions or, in some cases, competitive tournaments.
The first and apparently only such tournament thus far that the Union has taken part in was the 2010 SUM Cup in Houston. Therefore, the group of players that were called up to that tournament now have a special relationship with the Union, and form what is known as the team's "Homegrown Player List."
Some teams, not including the Union, are highly transparent with regards to their academy teams. DC United, for example, has full profiles for most of the members of their U16 and U18 teams. And the Houston Dynamo has a list of all the players that have head off to college or been called into the U17 national team that are graduates of their academy.
This allows fans to keep track of the kids that could eventually join as homegrown players as they head into college. The Union, for reasons that would require an article much longer than this one, are much more secretive; they could be the least transparent team in the entire league. As a result, it can be a little difficult to find info on the players that were produced by the Union's academy.
In any case, here is a list of the players that participated in the SUM Cup and are high school seniors; these players will head off this fall to some of the top programs in the nation. (Pictured left to right in the photo above, courtesy of FC Delco website.)
Jimmy McLaughlin attended Great Valley High School (as did I) and played with FC Delco in the Development Academy. He captained the Union at the SUM Cup. He is a talented winger and will bring his abilities to Colgate University.
Mike Gonzalez is an exciting attacking midfielder who, along with McLaughlin, provides much of the offense for the FC Delco U18 team and was a spark for the Union this past summer. He went to Conestoga High School and will move to Lehigh University this fall.
Jonathan Kumher played with PA Classics in the USSDA during his high school career. He is a physical defender who will move to Bowling Green for the fall 2011 semester. (Not included in photo above.)
Chris Somerville is a well-rounded forward who was leaned on to provide the goal-scoring for FC Delco throughout his career. This fall, he will attend the University of Virginia, a perennial national title contender. He is probably the favorite at this point to secure a homegrown contract at some point, based on the program he is moving to.
(EDIT: Somerville was called in today to a training camp with the U-18 national team along with top youth players including Luis Gil of RSL. However, he has apparently just left FC Delco as he is now listed as being a member of the Baltimore Bays Chelsea U18 team. This is a recent development and I am looking further into how it may affect his status as a potential Union homegrown player; stay tuned to the Brotherly Game for updates on this key Union youth prospect.)
(EDIT #2: I contacted the player in question, and he told me that despite his move to Baltimore he still gets called into practices with the Union Academy team. This likely confirms that Somerville is still part of the Union's Homegrown Player List.)
Finally, Ryan Dodds is yet another member of the loaded FC Delco midfield who went to Bayard Rustin High School in West Chester. He is a 6 foot tall, hard-working player who will go to Lafayette University to play college soccer.
The most interesting part of it all? The three FC Delco midfielders mentioned here were joined by another player, who was the youngest member of Delco's U18 team and completed an extremely talented four-man midfield. This player is Zach Pfeffer and he became the Union's first homegrown player earlier this offseason. Clearly FC Delco knows what they are doing, and they will be counted on to continue developing quality prospects for the Union.
If you are interested in high school and college level soccer, TopDrawer is an excellent database of information and player rankings. For an idea of where these players stand, McLaughlin and Somerville are both ranked in the top 5 in all of Pennsylvania; in fact, Somerville is the #20 rated prospect in the entire nation and McLaughlin is #89. Gonzalez, Kumher, and Dodds also make up part of the top 20 players in Pennsylvania.
And don't forget, these are only the players that were part of the Union team at the SUM Cup that come from the 2011 graduating class. Another group that will graduate in 2012 waits in the wings, and is probably more talented than the 2011's. Melvin Snoh, Darius Madison, Zach Shiposh, and Christian Kaschak are all rated in TopDrawer's Top 5 in Pennsylvania for 2012.
For a list of all college commitments for 2011 from ESPN RISE, click here. Be sure to follow these players as they continue on the next step of their careers, and the next step of the Path to PPL Park!