For a lot of teams, losing their top two leading goal scorers, a playmaking captain and a standout center back would result in a noticeable drop-off in form.
But the opposite has been true for the Philadelphia Union U19s, which finished the second half of their season earlier this month with a 2-0 shutout win over Montreal Impact (a team that finished with the fourth best record in the league).
The win at the Power Training Complex on June 2 was the fourth straight shutout for a team that routinely loses some of its best players to Bethlehem Steel FC (lately that’s been center back Ben Ofeimu and the attacking duo of Jeremy Rafanello and Tonny Temple that combined for 41 goals).
“It just shows the mindset of the club and the process that’s in place that we’ve played as well as we have missing key guys who have contributed all year,” said head coach Kevin Coleman.
Coleman took over the team midway through the season in early March after Jeff Cook left to take the head coaching job at Penn State. Since then, the team has gone 11-0-0 (Their first game of the spring was a 2-2 draw at Continental FC before Coleman had officially been named to the post).
“It’s just been business as usual with this group no matter who they play,” Coleman said. “Nothing really changes regardless of who they play and who we have available to play.”
After losing twice in a two-week period to the New York Red Bulls and Bethesda SC in the fall, the team has strung together 16 wins and only dropped points twice (2-2 draws to Continental FC and Sporing Kansas City). Incredibly, the U19s still finished three points behind the New York Red Bulls for the Atlantic Division title despite finishing with the third best record (21-2-3) in the league.
“The job that we’ve done so far, we want to carry that into the playoffs and hopefully bring home a chip,” said defender Nyk Sessock, one of 13 players on the team who graduated from YSC Academy last week. “I would like to spend more time with these guys.”
Defense has been a key ingredient in the success the team has had. Since that 2-2 draw to Continental FC in early March, they’ve only conceded three times.
Versatile defender Olu Ogunwale has been a key piece on the back line, playing both as a center back and outside back.
“I’m excited to get to San Diego and start competing,” the Michigan State-bound defender said. “We have been playing very well as a unit and our results have shown that. The whole team is in good spirits and ready to show what we are made of.”
On the attacking side, Coleman has called on players from the U17 pool to fill in the gaps and has seen strong returns from Shaynder Borgelin and Nick Blacklock, who will both be part of the U19 team in California. Left back A.J. Cousins and holding midfielder Cole Turner have also been earning regular minutes with the older age group.
Attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson, who broke his collar bone in a Steel FC match back in April, is being kept out as a precautionary measure despite being able to return to training. He and Issa Rayyan will both be out for the group stage and quarterfinals but could rejoin the team if they make it through to the semifinal, which will be played at Swope Park Village in Kansas, on July 8.