When Yosef Samuel signed his first professional contract with Bethlehem Steel FC last September, he had only a 29-minute cameo in the last game of the season to introduce himself to the league.
Five months later, the 19-year-old is back with the club in preseason preparing for his first full year in Bethlehem.
“For me it’s different this year, because in the past I’ve been playing with players the same age or younger than me,” Samuel said after the first day of practice last week. “I’m trying to soak it in.”
Samuel spent two seasons with the Union U18 team after joining the Philadelphia Union Academy residency program in 2014 from Atlanta, where he was a standout with the Gwinnett Soccer Association. Over that span of two seasons in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, he scored 10 goals in 37 appearances, playing as a left winger and central attacker.
His game progressed significantly from his first season to his next and after a preseason stint with the first team, Samuel became a noticeable leader on the field for the U18 team last season. His signing with Bethlehem Steel FC - unlike some of his teammates he didn’t make his debut as an amateur - was a surprise only in its timing so late in the season.
“My goal is to be as consistent as possible, every practice, every game has to be 100 percent,” Samuel said.
While several of his former teammates in the academy are away at college, the 2016 YSC Academy graduate said one of the biggest adjustments for him has been the added free time of no longer being in school.
“It used to be really tough going to class, then training, then class, then training again,” Samuel said. “Now after training it’s up to me whatever I want to do.”
He’s planning on using some of that free time to enroll in college classes and learn even more about the coaching side of the game. It also helps that he’s built strong ties to the area through his friendships in the academy and at school.
“There’s so many people I know around here,” he said. “I can’t even say Atlanta is my home anymore.”
Still, the introduction of Atlanta United as an expansion team into Major League Soccer this year adds another dimension to his goal of using his opportunity in USL to earn a first-team contract.
“I want to play with my friends and against my friends,” Samuel said.