Another college soccer season is upon us, and while the Philadelphia Union playoff push is front and center of importance for the fan base, there’s no shortage of college games to take in between now and the College Cup in December.
If you’re looking for a team to follow this season, there are plenty with ties to the Union - either through the coaching staff, current players, or former members of the Union Academy.
Geography and a recent national championship in basketball (you might already own a Villanova shirt) aren’t the only things going for the local Big East program.
Union head coach Jim Curtin played for the Wildcats from 1997-2000, becoming the first Villanova player to be drafted into Major League Soccer.
Assistant coach B.J. Callaghan spent six years on the coaching staff at Villanova before joining the Union, rising to the level of associate head coach. Union technical coordinator Kyle McCarthy is a former Villanova assistant.
While he’s a UVa guy himself, assistant technical director Chris Albright’s uncle, Larry Sullivan, coached the Wildcats for 17 seasons, from 1991-2007.
There are three players on the current ‘Nova roster with ties to the Union Academy - sophomore midfielder Zach Zandi and freshmen defenders Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley.
North Carolina has more current players with ties to the Philadelphia Union Academy than any other college team.
Senior defender/midfielder Colton Storm, redshirt freshman defender Will Campbell, sophomore midfielder Sean Wilson and freshman midfielder Jack Skahan all spent time playing in a Union jersey before going to college.
Recent homegrown signing Auston Trusty was part of their 2016 recruiting class but opted to sign a first-team contract instead.
The Tar Heels are ranked No. 8 in the preseason coaches poll.
Assistant technical director Chris Albright starred for the Hoos for two seasons in 1997 and 1998 before entering the draft as a Generation adidas (called Project-40 then) signing in 1999.
Three incoming freshman on this year’s team have ties to the Union Academy. Forwards Raheem Taylor-Parkes and Jerren Nixon Jr. were teammates on the U18 team last season and forward Leon Maric spent time with the Union Academy before joining Continental FC Delco for the past two seasons.
Darius Madison, one of the early prospects to come out of the Union youth system, played for three seasons in Charlottesville, winning a national championship in 2014.
If rooting for a local team isn’t enough of a reason to get you excited about the Explorers, current Union goalkeeper John McCarthy and Bethlehem Steel FC captain Ryan Richter are two reasons to care about them.
Both used their time at La Salle as a springboard to the pros.
Current teammates and twin brothers Cameron Keys and Garrett Keys are both 2015 Union Academy graduates. Cameron is a goalkeeper and Garrett is a defender.
Their new head coach, Rob Irvine, coached 2015 Union Academy grad Chidi Iloki at Kean University last season and coached some of the Union’s early youth prospects like Zack Steffen as the U16 head coach at Continental FC Delco.
While only one current first-teamer remains who played for the Terps - Maurice Edu - Maryland still holds the record for most former players to wear a Union jersey.
Bethlehem Steel FC broadcaster Matt Kassel is one of those still involved in the organization. But Zac MacMath, Ethan White, Chris Seitz and Danny Califf have also worn both Union and Terrapin jerseys.
Sophomore forward Sebastian Elney has also worn both jerseys, and could one day be suiting up again for the blue and gold in the first team. The Florida native spent one season with the Union Academy before heading to College Park last fall.
Ageless wonder Brian Carroll was a Demon Deacon way back in the early aughts. A finalist for the Hermann Trophy as a junior, Carroll was drafted as a member of the Generation adidas class (Project-40 then) by D.C. United in 2003.
Current Union Academy U18 head coach and U18 men’s national team assistant Chris Brewer played at Wake from 1988-1992.
His former player with the U18 team, Joseph DeZart, is a freshman this year in Winston-Salem.
Until recently, the Union’s ties to Boston College were limited to Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke, who played for the Eagles from 2001-2005, but that all changed with the acquisition of Alejandro Bedoya and Charlie Davies.
Bedoya and Davies just missed getting to play together at Boston College - Davies left after his junior year right before Bedoya transferred from Fairleigh Dickinson.
Besides being an exciting team to watch both on and off the field - their viral video of a locker room trick recently landed them on Good Morning American - the Orange have several ties to the Union organization.
Current Steel FC defender Nick Bibbs played for the Orange and current players Morgan Hackworth, Chris Gomez and Kenny Lassiter all spent time representing the Union in their youth soccer days.
The Hoyas have been especially kind to the Union of late, having produced two top three draft picks for the Union in defenders Keegan Rosenberry and Joshua Yaro.
Senior forward Brett Campbell is a former Union Academy and Haverford School player who was twice named high school player of the year for Pennsylvania and midfielder Jon Azzinarri spent some time in the Union youth system (the Red Bulls as well).
State College is kind of a haul for a soccer game if you live in the Philadelphia area but given their popularity in that other ball sport, it might make sense to pay attention to their soccer team too and even plan a trip to Jeffrey Field (one of the most electric atmospheres in the college game right now).
The Nittany Lions had a down year last year, but former Union Academy forward Connor Maloney was still a lot of fun to watch and is poised to have a big senior year trying to convince scouts of his potential for the next level in a bounce-back season for the traditional Big 10 contenders.
Ken Tribbett is a proud alum and while the Dragons aren’t expected to make much noise in the conference this year, their derby matches with local teams are always a treat (last year’s game against Villanova is an all-time highlight for me).
Junior midfielder Connor Ryan spent some time in the Union youth system prior to college.
The Owls have a new stadium on Broad and Master streets in the city not far from campus and while their early seasons games will be at daylight hours when the lights are up and ready to go later this fall it will be a fantastic place to watch a soccer game.
Their ties to the Union aren’t as strong as some of the other local teams, but junior college transfer Wilson Gonzalez and sophomore midfielder Belal Mohamed did spend some time in the Union youth system.
Jorge Gomez Sanchez is also one of the better goal scorers the Owls have ever had.
Of all the teams in the region, the Blue Hens have been perhaps the most consistent over the past few seasons thanks to star forward Guillermo Delgado and a strong core of international players.
Union Academy grad John Schroeder is a sophomore defender.