Needing a draw to guarantee a spot in the knockout round of the U.S. Development Academy playoffs, the Philadelphia Union Academy U18 team had to pull off a miraculous recovery to advance by the thinnest of margins on Sunday night.
After two straight 2-0 wins, the Miami-based Kendall SC gave the Union all they could handle, barraging them with three first half goals to put themselves in position to advance out of the group on goal differential.
Jonathan Bolanos opened the scoring in the eighth minute and Wilterlynd Inalien made it 2-0 in the 17th minute before Miguel Perez converted a penalty just before halftime.
Second half sub Emmanuel Perez started the comeback with a goal in the 62nd minute off a pinpoint cross from Yosef Samuel and struck again in the 78th minute to put the Union in position to regain the advantage on goal differential.
His 90th minute strike to complete the hat trick nearly threw goal differential out the window - a tie would have put the Union through with seven points - but Kendall wasn’t done and ended up winning the game 4-3 on a stoppage time goal from Travis Brumfield.
The Union, Kendall and Chicago Fire (2-1 winners against Beachside SC) all ended up with six points in the group standings.
As the third highest seed remaining in the tournament, the eighth-seeded Union will get to host the quarterfinal match on July 7 with a spot in the semifinals in Carson, California on the line. Their opponent has not yet been announced. No. 2 seed FC Dallas and seventh-seed Vancouver Whitecaps were the only other top 10 seeds to advance out of the group stages.
The U16 team had the opposite experience earlier Sunday, winning their final game against third overall seed Vancouver Whitecaps but missing out on the knockout round on goal differential.
The Union fell behind early when Alan Camacho Soto scored in the 11th minute for the Whitecaps, but an immediate response from Chad Letts brought things level again and Iverson Brisma’s 54th minute goal held up as the winner.
Real Salt Lake, which the Union drew 1-1 in their first Group A match, earned the knockout round berth with a 4-0 win over Kendall SC and finish with a plus six goal differential. The Union’s goal differential was just plus two.
Finishing with seven points in what was arguably the DA playoffs group of death is nothing to be ashamed of for this team, which capped off another solid season with a gutsy performance against one of the top teams in the Development Academy.