When Matthew Freese was announced as the latest homegrown signing for the Philadelphia Union last week, it marked a couple of firsts for the team’s homegrown player program.
In addition to being the first homegrown goalkeeper for the club, he’s the first of the current group to play four years of high school soccer, play more than a season of college soccer and not go to school at YSC Academy.
The 2017 Episcopal Academy graduate and now former Harvard student-athlete has forged a different path than his peers, but his history with the club is a familiar story that’s come up repeatedly during interviews with newly minted homegrowns for the team.
“Like Jim (Curtin) was saying yesterday, back at YSC when it was called Rocket Sports, I was involved in the first Union Juniors training session, literally when the Union were first created,” Freese said in a conference call with media on Friday. “Just the progression through that and the academy and with local clubs makes everything more meaningful and more special.”
Freese was also there, as an 11-year-old, at Lincoln Financial Field on April 10, 2010, when the Union played their first-ever home game.
From the first-ever Union game at the Linc ➡️Union Homegrown signing. To @Matty_Ice49, the club means everything. Welcome, Matt!#DOOP | #Philly pic.twitter.com/lL5sGpgkdl— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) December 21, 2018
The 20-year-old, who won five state titles with Penn Fusion Academy, didn’t join the Union’s academy full-time until the summer before his senior year of high school. He ended up splitting time training with the Union U19 team in the fall while still playing high school soccer at EA and then made his Development Academy that spring.
He also trained with the Bethlehem Steel and made the 18 three times before leaving to go to Harvard, following in the footsteps of his father, a local neurosurgeon, and two brothers at the Ivy League school.
“Obviously my dad and brothers being there was really special to me but at this point in my soccer career I knew I wanted to take a step to the professional environment so I could focus on soccer every day,” Freese said. “I think this is just kind of the right time to do so with the club.”
Though his college soccer career has ended after two seasons with the Crimson, the door hasn’t closed on him finishing his degree.
“I actually talked to (Ernst Tanner) and he’s really adamant on me making sure I finish my degree at some point, which I really appreciate,” he said. “It’s something I’ll chip away at over time and kind of figure out a plan for but for now I’m definitely focused on getting ready for preseason in a few weeks.”
Mark McKenzie is the only other current homegrown with college experience, having spent a season with Wake Forest before signing a first team deal. Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, Matt Real and Brenden Aaronson all committed to college soccer but ended up signing pro contracts before making it to campus. Some of the homegrown players have enrolled in online college classes through the league’s partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.
While Andre Blake is the clear starter at the position, the Union still have an opening at goalkeeper with John McCarthy and Jake McGuire both out of contract. Freese will most likely be a regular starter for the Steel in 2019.
“Obviously, Andre’s one of the best goalkeepers in the league so I’m just going to definitely be learning under him for a while, which I’m definitely appreciative of,” Freese said. “I’m not exactly sure where I’ll line up but I’m making sure my mind’s set on being ready for January.”