After making it out of their group on goal differential after defeating the Colorado Rapids 3-1 on Friday night, the Philadelphia Union U19s face arguably their toughest test yet in a quarterfinal match against the LA Galaxy tonight in Oceanside, California.
LA Galaxy will be playing not only much closer to home than the Union, they’ll have some reinforcements from their USL and first team for the Union to contend with, beginning with homegrown midfielder and Mexico youth international Efrain Alvarez.
Alvarez has six goals in six appearances in USL this season. He came off the bench in their 4-0 win over Houston Dynamo on Friday. Ulysses Llanes and Alex Mendes, who have both played minutes with LA Galaxy 2, also featured in the group stage.
“We’re going up against their best so it will be great to see,” Union U19 head coach Kevin Coleman said. “You want to play against the best, that’s why this league exists.”
The Union will have their own cast of players with USL experience in Ben Ofeimu, Jeremy Rafanello and Tonny Temple, who have all featured for Bethlehem Steel this season. Brenden Aaronson and Issa Rayyan, who also have Steel FC experience, are both out injured.
Midfielder Seth Kuhn helped carry the team with a pair of goals in the final group match against Colorado and a set piece goal in a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers. Though typically more of a deeper lying playmaker — he and Rafanello switched roles in the Colorado game with Rafanello setting up both goals — the Duke University-bound Kuhn has benefited from getting more freedom to go forward with Michael Pellegrino and Cole Turner pairing in the midfield behind him.
The three additional games in the group stage ran the team’s unbeaten streak to 21 games dating back to their last lost to Bethesda SC in November. They’ve done this with a lot of changes to the lineup from injuries and players getting a chance to make the 18 with the Steel.
Turner, AJ Cousins, Shaynder Borgelin and Nick Blacklock have all played up with the U19s from the U17 team, which ended their season with three straight losses in group play, to fill out a roster that has plenty of players playing their last season of academy ball.
“For a lot of these guys, this could be their last game together,” said Coleman, who took over as head coach in March when Jeff Cook was named the head coach at Penn State.”
The DA semifinals and finals will be played in Kansas City, Missouri on July 8 and 10. Tonight’s game will be streamed live on ussoccerda.com.