The Philadelphia Union Academy kicks off its sixth season in the U.S. Development Academy on Saturday. They’ll host New York City FC, riding the momentum of an eventful year in the life of the academy that has seen players like Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie go from prospects to regular starters on the back line of the Union defense. All this, while the team is closing in on securing a playoff spot.
Trusty and McKenzie aren’t the first players to sign as homegrowns, but their path to regular minutes shows that the youth system in place is starting to succeed at its main objective, which is to develop talented young players into first team professionals.
While predicting what players at the youth levels will have breakout careers in MLS and beyond can be a difficult task — there are a lot of 20-somethings out of professional soccer who were once can’t miss youth prospects — there are a number of players in the pipeline right now that give reasons to be optimistic for the future of the organization.
Here’s a look at some of those standouts.
Brenden Aaronson, MF, Medford, N.J.
When asking who the top prospect is in the academy right now, the answer is an easy one. Aaronson, a 17-year-old high school senior, has been performing well with Bethlehem Steel FC and would have a much bigger body of work if not for the collarbone injury that kept him out for a good chunk of the season and the DA playoffs in California. Aaronson is committed to Indiana so he’ll likely have a decision to make next summer between heading to Bloomington or entertaining an offer from the Philadelphia Union or elsewhere.
Ben Ofeimu, D, Michigan
This time last year, I had Ben tagged as the player I thought would have a chance to make big strides in his development. He was coming off an injury so there were question marks, but he’s answered all of them in both the DA and his stints with Bethlehem Steel. He’s committed to Penn State for 2019, but depending on what happens with the center back depth chart on the first team and how he does in his final season before graduating high school he may not be going anywhere.
Selmir Miscic, MF, Royersford, Pa. (via Vermont)
Miscic tore up the DA last year in the U15 age group — scoring seemingly at will — and performed equally well in the Generation adidas Cup. He and twin brother Arnel Miscic don’t turn 16 until January, but both play like they are a year or two older than they are. Selmir will have opportunities to show he can continue to be an offensive threat with the U19s and started training with Steel FC over the summer. This could be a big year for him — and Arnel, who provided a ton of leadership at the left back spot on the U15 team last year, as well.
Patrick Bohui, F, Harrisburg, Pa.
Bohui and Miscic provided a dynamic scoring duo for the U15 team last year, but it wasn’t just the goals that have the Union staff so excited about both. Bohui’s athleticism, technical skill and soccer IQ make him one of the most exciting young attacking prospects the academy has had in its now six years in the Development Academy.
Kris Shakes, GK, Florida
Shakes received a lot of attention for his performance in the DA playoffs and at the GA Cup last season, but anyone who has followed the Union at the youth levels the past couple years already knew the special talent that Shakes is. He’s committed to rejoin Jeff Cook at Penn State next fall and if he does he will be a strong candidate for an early departure to go pro.
Tonny Temple, F, Millville, Pa.
Temple returned to the Union after spending a couple years away in the now shuttered U.S. Residency in Florida and basically picked back up where he left off as a dangerous attacking threat with incredible athletic ability and strength. His senior season will provide a chance to prove to the Union and Steel FC staff that he can combine his athleticism with good decision-making in the final third.
Axel Picazo, F, Austin, Texas (via Mexico)
Axel was a big get for the Philadelphia Union when they recruited him to join the program from Texas. He hasn’t disappointed in his two seasons in the residency program and his recent call-up to the United States U18 team shows that he’s garnering attention for his attacking abilities beyond the club. He’s yet to really break into the U19 team or Bethlehem Steel and hasn’t committed to a college yet for 2019 so this will be a very important year for him.
Tomas Romero, GK, Cherry Hill, N.J.
Romero and Shakes give the Union incredible riches in their youth goalkeeping core and have only pushed each other to get better as both have made the case for inclusion in Steel FC game day rosters. Romero is committed to join Georgetown next fall where like Shakes he’ll have a chance to prove himself among college soccer’s best. In the mean time, Romero will continue to get opportunities not only in games with the U19s but also training with Steel and the first team.
Michael Pellegrino, MF, Wenonah, N.J.
After ending the 2017 season with some positive performances for Steel, Pellegrino ran into some bad luck this season with various injuries that have limited his opportunities. The crowded midfield on both the first team and at Steel is also in play too, but Pellegrino’s ability to play on the back line makes him an intriguing option for the future. He’ll be one of the leaders of the U19 team and is committed to a top college program in Notre Dame for 2019.
Cole Turner, MF, Maryland
Turner is one of those players who you immediately notice on the field. In part, because of his size and presence on the ball playing a position — a deep lying midfielder — where he gets plenty of opportunities to possess the ball and make defense splitting passes. Like Seth Kuhn before him, Turner’s play will be key to the Union U19 teams success this year but he’ll have to fight for any opportunities he gets beyond that because of how crowded the midfield is in the Union organization right now.
Nelson Pierre, F, Harrisburg, Pa.
Pierre only turns 14 in March, but has already made an impressive showing playing up in some cases two age groups. He had 18 goals between the U14 and U15 team last season and scored 43 goals in 28 appearances with the U12 the season before that. As a forward he still has plenty of developing to do, but signs point to him making more strides in that development this season.
Brandan Craig, D/MF, Philadelphia, Pa.
Craig became a regular last season playing up an age group with the U15s and played well enough to get a number of invites to the U.S. youth camps. An outside back and a midfielder, Craig is a constant danger crossing the ball across the box and on set pieces, who is also tactically advanced for his age.
Nick Pariano, MF, Wayne, Pa. (via Michigan)
The Union U15 team got a lot of deserved attention last season because of their explosive attack with Paxten Aaronson, Selmir Miscic and Patrick Bohui regularly carving teams apart. But it wasn’t just the offense that was class. Pariano was also a joy to watch patrolling the midfield.
Aboubacar Camara, F, Upper Darby, Pa.
Camara scored 31 goals over the last two seasons — 20 with the U14s last season — and will have opportunities to contribute even more to the U17 attack this season. A forward with breakout pace and clinical finishing skills, Camara has also been on the U.S. youth national team radar, earning some call-ups to training camps.
Paxten Aaronson, MF, Medford, N.J.
Aaronson is in many ways a spitting image of his older brother. He plays the No. 10 position with similar precision and while it helps to have the attacking talent he had around him last season with the U15s he’s the type of player who makes everyone around him better.
Sekou Soumah, D, Harrisburg, Pa.
The older brother of Patrick Bohui, Sekou was a late addition to the Union U17 team last year but has shown a lot of promise already as a center back. He’ll have the chance to partner on the back line with Ofeimu for the U19s this season and continue to develop in a system that already has a proven track record in developing high level center back talent.
Dante Huckaby, MF, West Virginia
Huckaby only turns 16 in March, which is hard to believe when you see the way he bosses a midfield around. Physically and athletically gifted, Huckaby’s work rate, timing and positioning make him an exciting player to watch who can be expected to only continue to grow while being tested at a higher level this season.
MD Myers, F/MF, Delran, N.J.
The Union U19s were led by striker from Delran last season (Jeremy Rafanello) and if the preseason is any indication, another Delran native could be helping to provide plenty of goals for the Union this season as well. Myers scored a hat trick last weekend in an exhibition against D.C. United after finding the back of the net eight times in 15 appearances for the U17s in the DA last season.
Dominic Wilson, F
Wilson is the lone 2006-born player on the roster for the Union U14s heading into the season coming off a season that saw him score 35 in 29 games split between the U12 and U13 teams.