Three players who stayed close to home after graduating from the Philadelphia Union Academy have played key roles in Villanova reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
When healthy, second-year midfielder Zach Zandi has combined with junior midfielder Miguel Polley to create one of the most dynamic midfield duos in all of college soccer this season, while twin brothers Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley have played significant minutes as freshman.
Zandi has three goals and four assists in 18 appearances and 15 starts.
Shane Bradley has started all 20 games for the Wildcats, and like he did at The Haverford School and for the Union U18 team the past couple years, has anchored the back line with poise. He made both the All-Big East freshman and second team for his play and was on the all-tournament team for the Big East Championship, which Villanova lost in the semifinal to champion Butler.
Conor Bradley has seen his minutes increase and become a regular in the starting lineup in the midfield during Villanova’s postseason run. He has a goal and two assists on the year.
The trio’s play this season hasn’t gone unnoticed by Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin, a Villanova alumnus who coached all three when he was an Academy coach.
“They’re great young players with a really bright future and again I’d say three guys who have a possibility for playing for the Union as well,” Curtin said at an event at YSC Academy on Tuesday, noting the significance for the program and this group of players making the tournament. “It’s forever, you’re the first to do something and no one can take that away from you.”
Union Academy connections aren’t the only reason for the team’s success this year. Polley has been a set piece magician with most of his goals and assists - 6 goals and 8 assists - coming off of free kicks and junior forward Lucas Hodges has six goals and three assists. Senior Padraic McCullaugh, who has battled injuries throughout his career, has four goals and five assists while tag teaming the target forward spot with freshman Jacob Anderson, who has four goals and two assists.
Shane Bradley has anchored a back line that features classmates Nikkye DePoint and Sean Teixeira and senior leader Eric McKenna, whose first two career goals loomed large in late-season victories. Junior midfielder Andreas Bartosinski has been the unsung hero of the bunch connecting the defense to the midfield.
The Wildcats first-ever NCAA game will be played today at 5 p.m. in Akron against a program that won the 2010 national championship and has produced professionals at a level with which few other college programs can compete. Their latest future pro is senior midfielder Adam Najem and many of the pieces are still in place from a team that made it all the way to Kansas City for the College Cup last year.
But don’t count out this Wildcats team out. All seven of their losses this season have been by a single goal and three of those have come in overtime (two on headers by Butler forward David Goldsmith).
“Over the course of the season we faced a lot of diversity but the resilience they had and their belief has helped this team get to where they are today,” head coach Tom Carlin said in a news release. “For our team going to the NCAA Tournament is big time.”