Cristiano Francois, a forward seen here in action with the Philadelphia Union Reserve Team in its 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, will be relied upon for goals by the Players Development Academy U18s, who are the seeded team in their group. (Photo by Earl Gardner III)
Tomorrow morning, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs will begin and the Philadelphia Union academy system is well-represented. The Union's three USSDA affiliate clubs, PA Classics, FC Delco, and Players Development Academy, have all qualified teams for the playoffs at least one of the U18 and U16 age groups, and there will be four Union-affiliated teams taking the field this weekend at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
PA Classics have qualified both their U16 and U18 teams to this year's playoffs. FC Delco, meanwhile, have qualified for the U16 division while Players Development Academy have made it into the U18 playoffs. The teams that Delco and PDA did not qualify to the playoffs will still participate in "Showcase" friendly games at Pizza Hut Park this weekend.
In each of the age divisions, 32 teams will compete in eight four-team groups. Each group winner will advance to the eight-team "Finals Week." That eight team event will be held from July 9-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
After the break, find the groups that the Union's affiliates will be involved in and read about some of the impact players to watch for each team this weekend.
First, we'll start with the U18 division. PA Classics and Players Development Academy are the two Union affiliates that have qualified, and by a stroke of poor luck for Union fans, they have been drawn into the same group. While this raises the chance that there will be a Union representative at Finals Week, it removes the chance for more than one team to get there.
Classics and PDA will come face to face right away, as they are scheduled to play at 5 PM local time. Also in their group are the Chicago Fire U18s and California Development Academy's U18 squad. Classics will look to forward Kelton Cheney, who is a member of the Union U18s, to lead the line and score the goals.
Players Development Academy, who are the seeded team in this group after winning their division in the regular season, have some Union standouts of their own. Christian Hernandez scored 14 goals during the regular season and participated with the Union Reserves in their first game this year against the New York Red Bulls. Cristiano Francois also took part in that Reserve game and should start for PDA here as well. They will be relied upon for scoring.
Now let us take a look at the U16s. PA Classics have qualified for this division's playoffs as well, and will be joined by the FC Delco U16s, who got in as a wild card. PDA did not qualify for the U16 playoffs. Unlike in the U18 division, the two teams have been drawn into separate groups. Classics will take on the Chicago Fire in this age group as well, along with Seacoast United and North Meck, who are the seeded team. They will look to the duo of Jonathan Wenger and Christian Kaschak, who have been with the Union Academy since last year's SUM Cup, to lead the team. Kaschak captains the side.
FC Delco, meanwhile, will participate in a group that also includes Solar Chelsea SC, Real So Cal, and De Anza Force. They will be led by striker Brett Campbell, who scored an astounding 20 goals in the regular season, leading the Mid-Atlantic Division. Nick Hutchinson and Colin O'Neill are members of the Union Academy set-up and will likely start for Delco. Zack Steffen, who sometimes plays for the Delco U18s despite being only 16, will probably drop down to play with the U16s since the U18s didn't qualify for the playoffs. Steffen has been the backup goalkeeper in all of the Union's official Reserve League games this year.
Also this weekend, the teams that did not qualify for the playoffs will participate in friendly matches. The FC Delco U18s will take on Texas Rush AJ Auxerre at 11:30 AM local time on Friday, while the Players Development Academy U16s will play against the Clearwater Chargers at 11 AM on Saturday.