The curtain has now officially closed on the Philadelphia Union Academy’s third season in the U.S. Development Academy so it’s time to gather all the information I've collected watching countless games at YSC Sports and the training fields in Chester and hand out some year-end awards.
This is a best XI of players from the three U.S. Development Academy teams from the past season. It wasn’t easy to pick but I’ll do my best to explain the selections.
Andrew Verdi, Goalkeeper, U18s
Verdi was an absolute beast between the pipes for the U18s this season, registering 14 clean sheets in 25 starts and making highlight reel saves - his PK save against DC United was a personal favorite - on the regular. C.J. dos Santos is waiting in the wings after a fine season with the U16s and he’ll have a great example to follow with Verdi leaving for the University of Michigan.
Matthew Real, Defender, U18s/Bethlehem Steel FC
Real is a rare talent in a position, left back, that always seems to be in rare supply. Whether it’s sending dangerous crosses in the box, making explosive runs or fighting off attacks down the wing, Real is both skilled and fun to watch.
Rayshaun McGann, Defender, U18s
If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn McGann was an 18-year-old in his last year with the Academy with the kind of poise he showed at the back playing up from the U16 team for the better part of the season. One of the brightest talents in the Academy right now, McGann has also featured at left back for U.S. youth teams.
Mark McKenzie, Defender, U18s/Bethlehem Steel FC
Strong and athletic are the first two words that come to mind with McKenzie, who can bang with the forwards in central defense or go out wide and run for days.
Andrew Aprahamian, Defender, U16s
Aprahamian is a versatile defender who has played both in central defense and on the wing. Strong, intelligent and confident even when under duress, Aprahamian is going to make a great addition to Stanford’s team next fall.
Joseph DeZart II, Midfielder, U18s
Wake Forest is getting a gem in DeZart, who really excelled this season wearing the captain’s arm band and linking the defense to the midfield.
Michael Pellegrino, Midfielder, U14s/U16s
It’s a shame the season ended when it did because Pellegrino was on fire the last few weeks, chipping in a golazo for the U14s in a showcase match in Texas that was streamed live and scoring for the U16s in a playoff match a couple days later.
Josue Monge, Midfielder, U16s, U18s
Monge’s creativity and playmaking abilities were a joy to watch this season both at the U16 and U18 level.
Yosef Samuel, Forward, U18s
It’s not just his hair that was on point this season. Yosef was the engine that drove the U18 offense all season long. His seven goals were tied for the team lead but his aggressive runs and his polish on the ball were what stood out the most.
Jason Aoyama, Forward, U14s/U16s
The U14 team was an offensive juggernaut this season so it was hard to pick just one player but Aoyama stood out for me among a very talented front line that scored seemingly at will.
Justin McMaster, Forward, U16s/U18s
He led the U16s in goals with 13 and chipped in a pair of goals for the U18s this season giving him more goals than any other individual player in either U18 or U16 teams. McMaster’s goal-scoring ability is evident and his speed unmistakable but his aggressiveness and leadership on the field took a step forward this season.
Raheem Taylor-Parkes, Forward, U18s/Bethlehem Steel FC
RTP struggled to find the back of the net in the first part of the season but came alive in the second half of the year. His blazing speed, belief and electrifying skill make him the perfect spark plug to bring off the bench of any team.
Anthony Fontana, Midfielder, U16s/U18s/Bethlehem Steel FC
Fontana has made quite a splash at Bethlehem Steel FC, kicking off his USL career with three solid appearances so far all before his 17th birthday. Fontana has excelled at all levels in the Union Academy system so it’s unsurprising to see him continue to grow and excel.
Jack de Vries, Midfielder, U14s
De Vries had a strong first year in the Union system, leading the explosive U14 attack that scored goals in bunches.
U18 Player of the Year:
U16 Player of the Year:
U14 Player of the Year:
U18 Defensive Player of the Year:
U16 Defensive Player of the Year:
U14 Defensive Player of the Year:
U18 Offensive Player of the Year:
U16 Offensive Player of the Year:
U14 Offensive Player of the Year:
U18 Midfielder of the Year:
Joseph DeZart II
U16 Midfielder of the Year:
U14 Midfielder of the Year:
Here are some other players who made an impression on me this season.
C.J. dos Santos, Goalkeeper
C.J. is a promising young keeper who is skilled not just at blocking shots but organizing the players in front of him. I look forward to seeing his continued growth and development as he steps into the spot being vacated by Andrew Verdi.
Iverson Brisma, Forward
Iverson made the jump from the U15 pre-Academy team to the U16 team during the end of the season and provided a needed spark to the offense with Justin McMaster’s move to the U18 team.
Brendan Aaronson, Midfielder
Brendan is the type of player who often gets overlooked in American soccer because of his small stature, but his skill on the ball, intelligence and ability to see passing lanes makes you quickly see why he’s been on the U.S. youth national team radar.
Michael McKeown, Forward
Michael seemingly scored when he wanted this season - 7 goals in the first three games of the season! - playing the target forward position for the U14 team. As with any striker in this age group, there’s a lot still to learn but his ability to score goals in bunches is a promising sign.
Emmanuel "Manny" Perez, Midfielder
A new addition to the U18 team this season, Perez missed part of the season with an injury but still managed to tie for the team lead in goals with seven after his second half hat trick that rescued the team from elimination in their final group game of the U.S. Development Academy playoffs. He’s expected back for a post-grad year next season so it will be nice to see what he can do in a full season.
Issa Rayyan, Forward
Issa was a new addition this season from Michigan who finished second in goals for the U16 team with 11.
Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley, Defense/Midfield
It’s hard to tell these identical twins apart or talk about one without mentioning the other, but both once again brought poise and experience to the team in the second half of the season (they are the rare exception that played high school soccer for The Haverford School in the fall).