One of the rationales for the Philadelphia Union trading all five of their picks to FC Cincinnati for allocation money last week is that they’d rather fill their Bethlehem Steel FC roster with a mix of younger players from their academy and players discovered overseas.
Academy players can already play in USL without being signed to a pro contract, but the league requiring at least 12 players on the roster to be signed to USL contracts means there are additional spots still to fill for the 2019 season. Six to be exact.
While signing a player is never a given, particularly when talking about USL deals, there are a number of potential targets within the Union pipeline, which includes a couple academy grads who are currently playing college soccer.
Here’s a look at some of the players who could be factoring into Sporting Director Ernst Tanner’s thinking. (Note: Tomas Romero and Kris Shakes are both pro prospects in their own right, but I left them off this list because the practice for Steel FC has been to not have any goalkeepers on USL contracts).
Ben Ofeimu, Center Back
Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke confirmed last week that Ben is still an unsigned academy player, but also said that he has big plans for the Michigan native this season. This suggests that it might be up to Ben at this point whether to sign a pro deal or head to Penn State in August. The organization depth chart is also rather short at this point with just three center backs (Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie and Jack Elliott) under contract.
Issa Rayyan, Forward, Duke
Rayyan returned to campus last week, but his standout first season en route to being named ACC Freshman of the Year suggests he has options on the table beyond returning for another regular season for the Blue Devils in August. He could be in a similar spot to Mark McKenzie, who turned down a USL offer to go to college but left to sign a first team deal after one season.
Kalil ElMedkhar, Forward, Kentucky
Kalil’s partner in crime, JJ Williams, slipped to the 18th pick in the SuperDraft on Friday but the Middletown, Delaware native proved last summer with Reading United and in his second season in Lexington that he too has potential for the next level.
Patrick Bohui, Forward
A U.S. youth international originally from the Ivory Coast, Bohui has been a goal-scoring machine since joining the academy from Harrisburg, Pa. in 2017. He’s averaged about a goal per game in league play and is currently leading the rather explosive U17 attack. His finishing ability in front of goal isn’t the only reason to be excited for his future prospects either as Bohui’s athleticism, skill with his feet and creativity continues to impress. He’s a 2003 so he still has a ways to go but if a contract hasn’t been offered yet one will in the near future.
Shaynder Borgelin, Forward
Borgelin was brought in as a project from Florida in summer 2017 and after a challenging start to his Union Academy career playing as a No. 9, he started to show improvement when pushed out wide and still has a tremendous upside. USL will be an ideal place for him to continue his growth, whether on a pro deal or not.
Nathan Harriel, Defender
Harriel is a U.S. youth international outside back from Florida who recently joined the academy and is expected to factor in for the Steel this season. A 2019 high school graduate, Harriel has de-committed from Clemson and has his sights set on going pro.
Axel Picazo, Forward
Picazo hasn’t yet broken into the Steel so he has something to prove in preseason. He’s one of the only players graduating high school in 2019 who hasn’t committed to a college program and certainly has the skillset to turn pro somewhere if not in the Union organization.
Danny Flores, Midfielder
Flores was recruited over the summer to join the academy from Shattuck-St. Mary’s and wasted little time making his presence known, scoring a beauty of a goal in his first game. A central midfielder who makes everyone around him better, it’s hard not to watch the U17 team play and not notice him.
Jack de Vries, Midfielder/Winger
Few academy players saw their stock rise as much as Jack’s did in the first half of the academy season. His play tormenting defenses on the left wing with his ability to take players on and craftiness with the ball earned him a spot at the recent three-team United States Youth National Team camp. He recently verbally committed to the University of Virginia for 2020.
Dante Huckaby, Defender
Huckaby came into the academy from West Virginia more as a No. 6 but has been playing a lot of center back lately and has looked pretty smooth and dominate doing so. Like several of his U17 teammates, Huckaby has received a number of youth national team call-ups and continues to grow in confidence. He’ll turn 16 in March but seems to be on a similar trajectory Ofeimu.