March 5, 2012.
That's the last time the Philadelphia Union dipped into their youth system to sign a young player to a homegrown player contract. The player, Cristhian Hernandez, was the third homegrown player signed to the first team after Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin were signed in 2011. He was cut after last season having made only two appearances for the first team and 35 loan appearances with the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Since his signing, the Union now have a full-time Academy team preparing to start their third season in the U.S. Development Academy - Hernandez played with youth affiliate Players Development Academy and Pfeffer and McLaughlin both spent time with youth affiliate FC DELCO - but have yet to sign a player to a contract.
Below are some players, some whom are holdovers from the pre-full-time Academy days and others who are still with the Academy or recent graduates, who we could see signed as homegrown players to the first team (or to the Union's new USL team coming in 2016).
Darius Madison, Forward, Virginia
After a frustrating junior season that ended in glory with his team capturing the national title and Madison delivering the only goal they needed to win it all in their final two games, the Philadelphia native enters his final season in Charlottesville with a potential contract with his hometown club waiting at the end of the season. He has scored a dozen goals in his three seasons at Virginia and has shown well for Reading United when he's been available to play in the summer although he was limited to only one game this summer. More importantly, he's the type of player who seems to show up most in big games, as evidenced by his performance in the College Cup in 2013 and 2014. Like Pfeffer and McLaughlin, he also played with FC DELCO and the Union Academy before it was full-time.
Derrick Jones, Forward, Union Academy
Jones, aka Derrick Amaniampong, led the U-18 team in scoring with 8 goals this season and impressed during his time training with the first team so he very well could be the first from the full-time Academy to sign with the first team. A tall and skillful forward, Jones has all the tools to succeed at the next level.
Sean Wilson, Midfielder, North Carolina
Regarded as one of the top incoming freshman this season for North Carolina, Wilson spent two seasons with the Union Academy after playing with Players Development Academy and has been in the U.S. national team pool from the U-14 to U-18 level. He was a force for the Union Academy playing in a defensive midfield role and was a late signee to college so a successful year or two in college might be all he needs for seasoning before going to the next level.
Keegan Rosenberry, Defender, Georgetown
Like Madison, Rosenberry is entering his senior season and will be drafted by an MLS team if he doesn't sign with the Union. The right back from Ronks has been a consistent presence in one of the most dominating back lines in college soccer the last three seasons, starting all 69 games for the Big East power. A sharp defender, he's also more skilled in the offensive third than his 2 goals and 7 assists in three seasons might suggest. A regular with Reading United in the summers, he was on the PPL Park pitch last fall for the Big East championship and is scheduled to come to Chester with his team for a preseason exhibition with the Union on Tuesday morning.
Sebastian Elney, Forward, Maryland
Elney was second on the U-18 team in scoring in his one season this past season with 7 goals and has been on the U.S. national team radar for a number of years. A strong forward with a knack for finding the back of the net, he's expected to provide a scoring punch (along with DC United products Jorge Calix and Eryk Williamson) the Terps were lacking last season. Given Maryland's track record with developing talent, Elney could be the next star to make a stop in College Park.
Raheem Taylor-Parkes, Forward, Union Academy
A fan favorite already at the U-16 level, Taylor-Parkes has blazing speed and a flair for the dramatic, scoring some of the biggest goals in the short history of the Union Academy this season. He's verbally committed to Virginia and has spent time with youth national teams in both the U.S. and Canada and thus was a big get for the Academy when he joined last season.
Auston Trusty, Defender, Union Academy
Trusty anchored a U-16 defense that was one of the best in the nation last season and has a chance to earn a spot in the U.S. roster for the U-17 World Cup this fall. His last name pretty much describes the type of player he is, a calming and reliable presence on the back line. He's verbally committed to North Carolina next season, one of five players with ties to the Academy either playing there now or verbally committed.
Justin McMaster, Forward, Union Academy
The U-16 team was deadly in the attack last season and Jamaican forward Justin McMaster was a big reason why. Smooth on the ball and deadly in the final third, McMaster was second on the U-16 team in scoring with 12 goals. He and teammates Mark McKenzie and Rayshaun McGann, both promising prospects in their own right, were recently part of an East team that went 3-0 in the Generation Adidas ESP event in Carson.
Shane Campbell, Defender, Louisville
Campbell rejuvenated his college career after transferring to Louisville last season, where he was a regular at left back for the Cardinals. Since he plays a position the Union have found difficult to fill he could be a target. A regular at Reading United in the summers, the versatile player (he's also played midfield) has had training stints with a number of clubs and was listed as one of the top prospects in the PDL this summer so he should be getting paid to play somewhere come spring.
Connor Maloney, Forward, Penn State
A junior at Penn State, Maloney was on the Union team that won the Generation Adidas Cup in 2012. After a solid freshman year, Maloney was a breakout star last season leading the Big 10 in scoring and taking the league's outstanding offensive player award. Though small in stature, his goal scoring record is impressive playing in a tough league.
Rayshaun McGann, Defender, Union Academy
The rising star played for the U-14 and U-16 teams this past season when he wasn't traveling around the world with U.S. youth teams. A member of the U-15 boys team that captured a trophy in Europe in May, McGann has been a regular call-up for the national team and one of the best young stars in the Union system right now.