With the first team off this weekend, Philadelphia Union fans will get a glimpse of the future as U17 teams from Atlanta United and five other MLS rivals come to Chester for the first round of regional qualifiers for the Generation adidas Cup.
The Union’s first game on Friday will make history as their opponent, Atlanta United, which has established its Academy ahead of the first team’s entry into Major League Soccer in 2017, will play its first-ever GA Cup match at 2 p.m.
The Union face New England Revolution at 4 p.m. on Saturday and New York City FC on Monday, October 10, at 4 p.m.
“You have an opportunity to see the best young talent in this part of the country playing in a meaningful competition,” U16 head coach Chris Brewer said. “You have a little bit of a window into the next wave of players in Philadelphia who are determined to be the next guy on the first team and become a mainstay in the club.”
It’s a competition, after all, that the Union’s most recent homegrown signing, Auston Trusty, played in just two years ago.
The Union’s team will mostly consist of players born in 2000, but there will be some born in 2001 mixed in as well, Brewer said.
The team is coming off a 5-3 win in U.S. Soccer Development Academy play over local rivals Continental FC Delco on the same training field - which is now officially part of the Power Training Complex outside Talen Energy Stadium - on Sunday.
The Union have a history of success in the competition, winning it all in 2012 back before international teams were part of it and advancing to the Championship Division - reserved for the top two teams in each region - two years ago. Argentine club River Plate has won the Championship Division the last two years and Stoke City won it the first time international teams were invited.
As with all youth competitions, however, results are not always the key factor. The U16 demonstrated that in a tournament in Mexico City back in August when they played against four top clubs from Mexico and three other MLS Academy teams. They struggled out of the gate, but improved as the competition wore on.
“You can see the learning happen in real time,” Brewer said of the tournament in Mexico. “You get to see in a positive way how they respond to pressure.”
Brewer sees this weekend as a similar opportunity for his players, who will be playing in front of a home crowd in close proximity to the pitch they aspire to play on in the future.
“They see the stadium as they kick off,” Brewer said. “They feel apart of the club in a real way and they want to represent the club in a positive way.”
Qualifying will continue with a game against New York Red Bulls to be announced later this fall and a second round of qualifying in Florida in February, where the Union will play two games. The finals will be held in March.