A rainy and windy day in Chester was anything but ideal for the final game of the first leg of Generation adidas Cup qualifying for the Philadelphia Union U17s but the team still escaped with two points on Monday after blowing a two-goal lead.
The 2-2 draw and penalty shootout win - the Union were four-for-four on their kicks and benefited from two misses by Orlando - was a bit of a letdown after two straight shutout wins on Friday and Saturday over Atlanta United and New England Revolution, but eight points from three games is still good enough to top the east region ahead of the second leg of qualifiers at Atlanta United in February.
“The results were good,” Union U17 head coach Gary Lewis said. “To get eight points out of nine was pleasing but it was more about the individual performances.”
Standout performances from the group included forward Axel Picazo, who scored arguably the best goal of the tournament on Friday with a one-time volley, midfielder Julian Anderson, who set up Picazo’s goal and converted from the penalty spot on Saturday, and the back five led by goalkeeper Kristopher Shakes.
Shakes had a slick ball and a strong wind coming off the river to contend with on Monday, conceding his first goal of the weekend off a rebound he deflected to a wide open Orlando City attacker. His performance against Atlanta United was one of the overall highlights of the weekend for any of the seven teams and prevented what could have been an early hole for the Union with a series of highlight-reel saves.
The back line anchored by JD Wagner and Ian Graham with Donovan Wu at right back and A.J. Cousins on the left side was key to the team’s success. Cousins had to leave in the 65th minute with a knock on Saturday in the second half but beyond that the group played every minute.
“They were resilient, defended well and worked well as a unit,” Lewis said.
Picazo did plenty of work keeping the ball moving with speed and taking players on that didn’t show up in the scoresheet. Tony Antek Sienkiel and Jason Aoyama put the Union up 2-0 on Monday after an early penalty kick miss that ultimately cost the team a point when Orlando City staged a late rally with goals from Mason Lamb and Julian Kennedy.
Seven different players ended up scoring for the Union with Aoyama the lone player to score twice.
“The team performance was great,” Picazo said. “We never gave up and fought until the final whistle was blown. I believe we went into the three games wanting to win more than the other teams and that’s what got us eight points out of nine this weekend.”
The U17s won’t have to wait long to play another MLS academy team. They play D.C. United away on Saturday and will face another tough test against a team that played better than its 1-2-0 record over the weekend might suggest.
Lineup: Kris Shakes, A.J. Cousins, Ian Graham, JD Wagner, Donovan Wu, Marco Bla (Obafemi Awodesu 58’), Julian Anderson (Aboubacar Camara 58’), Adam Lenges (Tony Antike Sienkiel 40’), Nick Blacklock (Jason Aoyama 40’), Matt Myers (Michael McKeown 46’), Axel Picazo
GA Cup U17 East Qualifying Standings
|New York Red Bulls||2||0||0||0||6||8||2||6|
|New York City FC||1||1||0||0||3||5||3||2|
|Orlando City SC||0||2||1||1||0||3||8||-5|
|New England Revolution||0||2||0||0||0||0||7||-7|