When we last left our young starlets of the Philadelphia Union Academy, the U18s and U16s both failed to make it out of the group stage in the DA playoffs. On the plus side, the U14s won 11 of their last 12 matches, and the Union Academy were named the best overall club by the US Soccer Academy. With a year of the YSC Academy in the books and new stars poised to make their mark, the Union Academy are looking to make a bigger impression on the USSDA landscape. Here's your beginner's guide to the Union's Academy season.
The Union added a lot of talent to their senior academy squad this summer, but let's first mention who the team lost. Star defender Chris Gomez returned to Players Developmental Academy after one year with the Union. The left back decided to return to the current defending U18 champions after a season where he committed to Syracuse in his junior season. Joining Gomez at PDA is former Union striker Isaiah Young, who lead the Union Under 16s with 13 goals last season.
Now on to the good news: the Union were very aggressive in recruiting talent to the Academy. On top of the list of new additions is Sebastien Elney, one of the best young strikers in the country and a regular feature on the Under 18 US Men's National Team. Just like Raheem Taylor-Parkes who was recruited in January, Elney used to play his club soccer in Florida before Union scouts lured him to Wayne. New additions who should also feature regularly include Tennesseean striker Michael Swift and former Match Fit Academy defender Zach Perez. And of course, stars from last season's Under-16 squad like Cameron Keys, Morgan Hackworth (yes he's still here despite, um, the extenuating circumstances of his father's employment situation), and former U17 USYNT Residency participant Sean Wilson graduated full-time to the junior-senior squad. Wilson played with Elney last month as members of the U18 USMNT team that won an international tournament in the Czech Republic last month. This is a much upgraded unit that will get the opportunity to battle with more MLS teams like Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, and the New York Red Bulls.
I often commented last season how last season's Under 16 squad was the one Union academy squad with the most potential. Well thanks to many offseason acquisitions and members of last year's immensely talented Under 14 team migrating to the next level, that statement will remain true. Striker Raheem Taylor-Parkes, who signed with the Union in January but stayed in Florida to join the US Soccer Residency program in Bradenton, FL, will finally start playing with his fellow Doopers. The Union were hard at work recruiting talented players from smaller clubs in the area. They snared one of PDA's best defensive products in Evan Godfrey, Jack Skahan from Sunrise Elite (the same club as Michael Swift), and attacking midfielder Alex Soto from NJCSA '04. To top it off much of last season's uber-talented Under 14s are now plying their trade for the U15/16s. That includes Juan Infante, who scored more goals (20) than anybody else in the Union Academy setup.
Thanks to the mass exodus of stars to the next Academy level the littlest Doopers won't likely enjoy the same amount of enormous success they enjoyed in the last 2-3 months of last season. Striker Tonny Temple scored 10 goals in just 8 matches, but it's tough to say that he will maintain that pace of goal-scoring. One big addition, however, was defender Rayshaun McGann from Boca United FC, the same club Sebastien Elney came from. McGann is one of the best players of his age group and he'll likely be invited to more than a couple youth national tournaments in the future.
What the Academy means to the Union
The Union didn't win best overall (academy) club just because they built a high school. They have some of the best facilities and coaching of any club in the United States, and most importantly, they aren't waiting for players to show up to YSC Academy when the call for tryouts appear. They are actively going out and bringing more elite talent into the ranks. If the Union are lucky Sebastien Elney will become a Union Homegrown Player in the next 3 years, even though he would've only played a year. The Union brass have recognized the fact that the key to sustained success is a healthy youth system. So far, they backed their big words on the junior level but not the senior level. None of the Union's three current Homegrown players have seen much, if any, playing time with the senior Union squad. Cristian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughlin have spent the entire season in Harrisburg with the City Islanders, and Zach Pfeffer has split time between the U20 national team and Union reserves. Wouldn't it be fun to see the Union produce their own Gyasi Zardes, Harrison Shipp, or even DeAndre Yedlin? Here's hoping that more success at the youth level forces the Union to give the young talent on the roster more opportunities in the near future.