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Academy to Reading United to Steel to Union: Zach Zandi made first team debut in U.S. Open Cup loss

West Chester native first to play at all four levels of the Philadelphia Union development pathway after coming off the bench at Audi Field on Wednesday

Photo by Nathan Huber

Bethlehem Steel FC midfielder Zach Zandi is accustomed to making appearances in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. but his most recent appearance in the competition on Wednesday night doubled as his first team debut in a competitive match.

The West Chester native, who appeared in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Open Cups with Reading United, checked into the game in the 100th minute. Five minutes later a ball fell to him in the box that he was unable to get on frame in a game that was still scoreless at that point.

Anthony Fontana ended up getting a goal to put the Union in front but D.C. United responded with a Chris McCann goal and a Wayne Rooney to take the 2-1 win and knock the Union out of the competition.

“It was a moment that I’ll never forget,” Zandi said in an article posted on the Union website. “To be able to make my debut with my hometown team, a team that I’ve supported and been a part of from the very beginning, is something special. To do it in front of a bunch of my family who traveled and who have supported me throughout my career made it even better.”

Zandi signed a USL contract with Steel in January after playing four seasons at Villanova University.

Prior to college, the West Chester Henderson High School graduate played two seasons with the Philadelphia Union Academy in the Development Academy after spending the bulk of his youth soccer playing days with Penn Fusion Academy and West Chester United. Fontana, the goal-scorer Wednesday, and goalkeeper Matt Freese also played for Penn Fusion prior to joining the Union Academy.

While first team defender Ray Gaddis spent time with Reading United, along with other former Union players like Keegan Rosenberry, CJ Sapong, John McCarthy, etc., Zandi is the first to play for the Union Academy, Reading United, Steel and the Union. His first game for the Union actually came in a preseason scrimmage in Florida back in February, but Wednesday’s game was his first official ticketed game.

“It’s well deserved, he obviously fit into the game, he had an impact on the game,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “There were certainly things he would want to have back or make a little cleaner but overall it’s a great sign of progress for a kid whose made steady progress through every level of the club. I just walked away really happy for him.”

Zandi has been one of the Steel’s most consistent performers this season as a 22-year-old rookie. He has a goal and three assists in 10 appearances and 8 starts but missed four straight games with a right foot stress reaction before coming off the bench against Nashville last weekend.

His return to the lineup is a welcome sign on a team that has struggled with injuries. Saed Díaz (partial right meniscus tear) and Yomi Samuele Scintu (right groin strain) are out for tonight’s game against Saint Louis FC at La Salle’s McCarthy Stadium while Steve Kingue (left hamstring strain) and Chavany Willis (right ankle sprain) are listed as questionable.

The Steel are seeking their first win since April in their first meeting with Saint Louis since 2017.

How to Watch

Where: McCarthy Stadium, La Salle University, Philadelphia, Pa.
When: 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, June 15, 2019
TV: None
Streaming: ESPN+*

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