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Philadelphia Union officials discuss role of YSC Academy in player development

The school opened its doors to the public for a USMNT watch party on Tuesday night

Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart talks during a panel discussion at YSC Academy on November 15, 2016
Matt Ralph

Mindset, culture, passion, belief and community were just a few of the words that came up repeatedly in a panel discussion involving Philadelphia Union and YSC Academy officials at the school near King of Prussia on Tuesday night.

The panel was held prior to a public watch party for the USMNT World Cup qualifier match and was hosted by ESPN FC writer and Sirius XM FC radio host Jason Davis. About 100 people turned out for the event.

“What makes this place special I think is an emphasis on developing a mindset,” said Richie Graham, a Union investor who founded the school four years ago. “We all know that if you work on the soccer field you can train your feet but what really makes a difference between good players and great players is mindset and mentality.”

While a majority of the student body - 75 students in grades 8 through 12 - plays for the Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, 21 players from nearby USSDA club Continental FC Delco also attend the school that facilitates the unique scheduling, training and nutritional needs of elite youth soccer players.

To date, two first-team players have come through the school - defender Auston Trusty and midfielder Derrick Jones. Dozens more have gone on to elite colleges as YSC Academy Head of School Nooha Ahmed-Lee pointed out on Tuesday.

“These are students who really love playing at a high level,” she said. “But holding them accountable to high academics and responsibility at the same time is a wonderful thing.”

Graham noted that while every student has the dream of being a professional soccer player, the reality is that most of them will not fulfill that dream.

“It’s actually irrelevant how far they go in the game,” Graham said. “It’s about who they become in the process of becoming the best they can be.”

Resembling an office more than a school with desks, bells going off between classes - there are lockers, however - the accredited boys-only school is specifically designed to push students.

Philadelphia Union Academy Director Tommy Wilson talked about the individual training players get when they arrive at the school - some from local communities, some from three residential houses in the area and others via transport from New Jersey - and how this instructional time is designed to improve tactical abilities.

“It’s a way to develop players away from the pressure of the team environment,” Wilson said.

This all adds to the 10,000 hours young players need to master the sport, according to Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, who has seen the impact the school has had on his own son since he enrolled in the school at the beginning of the school year.

“When I see how he has grown three or four months ago to now, it makes me proud,” Stewart said.

While the school as Graham sees it will ultimately play a role in improving the national team - fitting given the 4-0 loss the USMNT suffered to Costa Rica Tuesday - head coach Jim Curtin sees a future first-team roster filled with players who have come through the school, players they know and trust.

When and how these players will come through the pathway, which includes USL club Bethlethem Steel FC, will be different for each player, he said.

“There will be a 16-year-old or 15-year-old kid who comes through and is ready to play for the first team,” Curtin said. “There will be kids that will go to university and will then maybe turn pro. But all of them will have the same thing in mind, they’ll know that they started at YSC Academy and pushed and clawed their way through.”

For more information on YSC Academy, visit

Matt Ralph
Union investor, YSC Academy founder Richie Graham
Union head coach Jim Curtin
Union Academy director Tommy Wilson