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After two lost seasons, Sean Wilson thrilled to be back on the field for Xavier

Former U.S. youth international and Philadelphia Union Academy grad returns to the area to face Villanova on Saturday

Doug Cochran / Xavier University Athletics

Two years ago, Sean Wilson came close to signing a professional contract with the Philadelphia Union but weeks before his graduation from YSC Academy decided he’d head to the University of North Carolina instead.

The Bethlehem native’s time in Chapel Hill went anything but according to plan. He made just two appearances his first season and missed all of 2016 with an injury.

“I think it was a great choice on my part since I’ve been out two years,” Wilson said of his decision to go to college.

The former United States youth international finally made his first start in college last weekend, but instead of lining up in the midfield for the Tar Heels he was in a Big East match for Xavier.

That’s because the 20-year-old transferred to the Cincinnati school over the summer. Wilson had to recover from an ankle sprain before he could make his debut. But his long awaited return to the pitch came in an appearance off the bench against Georgetown in a 1-0 overtime win on September 16.

“It had been two years since I played my last official game,” Wilson said after starting and playing 64 minutes in a 3-1 win over Detroit Mercy on Tuesday. “I’m still not 100 percent. I’m rusty, but I’m getting used to things and getting better as I go on.”

Wilson’s blend of soccer IQ, vision and athleticism has been talked about in youth soccer circles for years, dating back to his time with the Players Development Academy in New Jersey. Injury woes that date back to a hip surgery that kept him out for half of his junior year in high school, however, have slowed his efforts to fulfill that promise.

But that hasn’t changed his ambition to one day play for the Philadelphia Union.

“That’s still in play now that I’m healthy,” Wilson said.

Doug Cochran / Xavier University Athletics

It hasn’t taken his new coach, Andy Fleming, long to see the pro potential.

“It’s pretty impressive to see him play,” Fleming said. “In college you have two types of players, ones who rely on hard work and grit and pro style guys who play at a high level and lead the game with their angles and positioning. Sean is definitely the latter.”

Fleming credited the coaches Wilson has had along the way - from John Hackworth at the international level to Jeff Cook and Chris Brewer at the Union - with developing those skills.

“Sean is real well-coached and cerebral and that definitely goes back to the Union,” Fleming said.

While Xavier doesn’t carry the weight in soccer circles that UNC does, the Big East program’s consistency over the years is certainly laudable. Lancaster native Todd Pratzner, who played for PA Classics and spent time with the Union’s youth setup in its early days, signed a professional deal with Rochester Rhinos after last season, where he plays with former Xavier teammate Jalen Brown, a second round draft pick by New York City FC.

“We’ve quietly been one of the more steady teams in the Big East,” Fleming said.

Xavier will look to continue their promising start to this season (7-2-2 overall, 2-1-0 in Big East play) on Saturday against a Villanova team in need of a conference victory after two straight defeats on the road at Creighton and DePaul and a non-conference loss to Princeton on Wednesday. The game kicks off at 4 p.m. at Higgins Soccer Complex and will be broadcast via the Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go.

For Wilson, the road trip will be an opportunity to play in front of friends and family for the first time since high school.

“They’re going to be able to watch me play finally,” Wilson said. “It’s a good homecoming and I can’t wait.”