Confidence is high for the Philadelphia Union U17 team as they head into their final official game of the calendar year tonight at Cabrini University.
The U17s are coming off a seven-point performance in their three games in Florida for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase.
“Coming off a seven point weekend in Florida against three top teams, our intensity is through the roof,” defender JD Wagner said. “We know that we can compete and beat any team in the country.”
The team started off their time in Florida with a scoreless draw and found themselves in an early hole in the second game when their usually stingy defense conceded two goals in the first 15 minutes to the Seattle Sounders.
Aboubacar Camara and Nick Blacklock started the comeback with goals eight minutes apart and Camara then completed a hat trick in the second half to give the Union a 4-2 win. They followed that up with another four-goal performance in a 4-1 win over Sporting Kansas City with goals from Shanyder Borgelin, Matt Myers, Michael McKeown and Axel Picazo.
“To be two-zero down and not panic I thought was really commendable,” head coach Gary Lewis said about the Seattle game, which was one of the featured games of the day and streamed live by U.S. Soccer.
While the games in Florida counted toward the team’s standings in the Atlantic Division of the Development Academy (they finished the first half of the season 8-2-5 and in third place), tonight’s match counts toward a different aim: qualifying for the Premier Division at the Generation adidas Cup finals.
The Union are currently on top of the East regional standings after collecting eight points in three games played at Power Training Complex in October. New York Red Bulls are in a two-way tie for second with six points after winning both games they played.
“The boys are all hitting a good patch at a good time,” Lewis said. “We’re in good form and the atmosphere has been fantastic since we came back from Florida. There’s a real good buzz about the place. I just felt like they grew up and showed a real maturity in Florida.”
The Red Bulls won the last meeting between the two teams in league play in late October on a deflected goal by Scott Taylor in the 86th minute. Taylor had four goals in the first two GA Cup qualifiers and has 18 in 14 league matches. Another standout on the Red Bulls roster is midfielder Peter Stroud, who played with the U.S. U17 team in the Nike International Friendlies in Florida.
“We know Red Bulls are a top team, but so are we,” said Wagner, who has anchored the defense for the Union in all 18 of their games in all competitions. “Our playing style is not going to change in this game. One of the keys is going to be breaking the Red Bulls’ high press and switching the ball through our midfield. This challenge against Red Bulls gives us another opportunity to face a top team, and we know it's going to be a hard fought battle.”
After missing the GA Cup matches in October with an illness, standout midfielder Cole Turner will be back in the Union lineup as will Michael Pellegrino and Kristopher Shakes from the U19 team. Shakes’ play in October, particularly in their win over Atlanta United, was key to their success in the first three qualifiers.
As a team, the Union have conceded 18 goals in 18 games counting their first three GA Cup qualifiers but face a high-powered Red Bulls attack that is 14-1-0 in league play while outscoring opponents 43-15. This after going against a Sounders team that leads the nation in goals with 52.
“We looked at Florida and the game against the Red Bulls as four games,” Lewis said. “What an experience for the boys just to see where we are in terms of the top teams in the country.”
Tonight’s game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. on the turf soccer field at Cabrini University in Radnor.
UPDATE: Game has been cancelled