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Philadelphia Union Academy rewind: 2016 highlights

A look back at an exciting calendar year for the Philadelphia Union Academy

Photo Gallery: GA Cup East Regionals

While the end of the calendar year is in the middle of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy season, it’s still a good time to look back on the highlights from the past 12 months in the Union’s youth system.

Bethlehem Steel FC Established
The establishment of a USL team was arguably the most important youth development move the Philadelphia Union made in 2016. While Academy players were eligible to compete as amateurs before with affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union never took advantage.

With Steel FC in place, the Union not only provided an opportunity for Academy players to get minutes but also regularly train with the USL squad. Game minutes were not plentiful overall, but Auston Trusty cracked the starting lineup and ended up earning a first team contract while Anthony Fontana and Justin McMaster established themselves as regulars and Yosef Samuel was a late-season signing.

Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty Sign Homegrown Deals
Derrick Jones (or Derrick Amaniampong as he was known in his early Academy days) became the first player signed to Bethlehem Steel FC in December and by July ended the Union’s four-year homegrown player dry spell when he became the club’s fourth homegrown signing.

Auston Trusty followed with a homegrown signing in August after opting out of his commitment to the University of North Carolina. Both players became the first to come through the full-time Academy set-up, play for Bethlehem Steel and sign first-team contracts.

Keegan Rosenberry’s Sensational Rookie Season
The Union were denied their homegrown claim on Rosenberry, who was part of the Union Academy system in its early days as an all-star team of local club affiliates, but still were able to make some deals to snag him third overall in the January SuperDraft. The Lancaster County native went on to play every single minute of his rookie season and if not for Jordan Morris would have been named the league’s Rookie of the Year.

C.J. dos Santos Signs with Benfica
Though not necessarily a highlight for the organization, U16 goalkeeper C.J. dos Santos’ signing with Benfica in Portugal over the summer was still a great story for the local soccer community. It also doesn’t hurt the image of the Academy when one of its young prospects, who was able to sign at age 16 because of his dual citizenship, gets the attention of such a big club.

International Call-Ups
A total of 20 Academy players received international call-ups in 2016, from the regular call-ups to U.S. youth teams for Rayshaun McGann and Matthew Real to El Salvador youth team call-ups for Tomas Romero and camp invites to Jamaican youth teams for Joey DeZart, Jahmali Waite and Chad Letts.

U18s Make Quarterfinals
The Philadelphia Union got a chance to host a USSDA quarterfinal in Chester for the second straight year, this time for the U18 team which made it through the group stage of the playoffs but were unable to stop Players Development Academy in a 3-1 loss.

Power Training Complex Hosts Generation adidas Cup Qualifiers
The newly christened Power Training Complex in Chester played host to the first leg of qualification for the Generation adidas Cup in October. The first match of the weekend was the first ever GA Cup match for Atlanta United’s U16 team, which scored four unanswered goals to beat the hosts 4-1 and finished the weekend with eight out of nine possible points (shootout winners are awarded an additional point). The final game for the Union U16s against NYCFC also brought together two former USMNT teammates on sidelines in Earnie Stewart and Claudio Reyna, whose son Geo played in the game.

Emmanuel Perez’s Playoff Hat Trick
Perez came on as a second half sub with the Union U18s in need of goals in their last group match of the playoffs and delivered a critical hat trick that despite a late goal that gave Kendall SC the eventual win gave the Union the goals they needed to advance to the knockout round.

Anthony Fontana Late-Winner in GA Cup Finals
The U16 midfielder scored a dramatic game-winning golazo in the GA Cup Finals in Frisco, Texas in March to beat FC Tokyo in their final group match. It wasn’t enough to advance out of the group, but it was a goal that should be celebrated nonetheless.

USSDA Adds U13 and U12 Divisions
The addition of U13 and U12 divisions in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy has given additional opportunities for the Union to develop players at an even younger and more impressionable age. While results aren’t a focus, the results so far out of the U12 team have been mind boggling. In 28 matches, they’ve only lost once and have five players on the team already in double figures in goals. Nelson Pierre leads the squad with 21 goals, followed by Timothy Madden with 19, Marcello Mazzola with 16, Anthony Derk with 11 and Ian Abbey with 10.

Andrew Verdi’s PK Save Against D.C. United
Andrew Verdi didn’t get near the credit he deserved during his final season with the U18 team and didn’t get to see the field in his freshman season at Michigan, but it’s hard not to forget the penalty kick save he made against D.C. United in June that preserved a draw. Sadly, I don’t have video of the save to share.

U16s Compete Against Top MLS and Liga MX Clubs in Mexico City
The U16s had an excellent opportunity to play against top competition in a tournament featuring youth teams from MLS and Liga MX clubs in Mexico in August. Though they finished with a 1-5-1 record in tournament play - a 1-1 draw with Pachuca was the highlight - there were still plenty of positives to take away. Club Tijuana beat LA Galaxy to win the hardware. Other teams included Santos Laguna, Pumas, FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes.

He Scores When He Wants Tiger Graham
Tiger Graham was initially heading to Dartmouth this fall after graduating from YSC Academy but he returned for a graduate year and went on an absolute tear in October and November. He leads the team and the USSDA with 13 goals, twice putting up four goals in a game.

U14s Impress In Live-Streamed Showcase Match
The U14 team had an impressive outing against Chicago Fire in a live streamed showcase match in Frisco, Texas back in June. Jack de Vries’ third goal of the match is the flashiest of the bunch but all three goals are worth checking out.

Southampton FC Friendly
The Union U14 team hosted the youth team from English club Southampton for a preseason friendly back in August. I wasn’t there so I can’t tell you much about it but the Union did produce a video about the match.