For the first time since Jim Curtin led a U17 team to the 2012 Generation adidas Cup crown, the Philadelphia Union Academy lifted a trophy on Saturday in Costa Rica.
A 2-1 win in the 18,000-seat Estadio Alejandro Merera Soto capped off a dominant run of games for the Union in the Concacaf Under-13 Champions League in Costa Rica. Twenty-two goals for, three against. Six games, six wins.
“The biggest joy comes in watching the boys’ faces,” head coach Phil Karn said. “They put a lot of hard work into last year, starting out as U13 players, learning 11v11 and to see it end like this with me as their coach for me is such a fitting finale.”
Karn called the entire event first class and said the opportunity was one the boys will never forget, but noted that the most important thing was that they won by “playing the right way.”
“One of the Concacaf directors said to me ‘your team played the best soccer, the way they played, the way their lines stayed together defensively, their understanding of how they played, when the games got tough they had to battle but then when they found a way to play they played the right way,’” Karn said. “That was the most special thing we could have heard.”
Development, after all, is the name of the game. The end goal isn’t wins or trophies, but pushing young prospects in top competition to groom them for future professional careers.
Like the 2012 team that won a trophy, it will be interesting for fans to look back on this team in years to come. Curtin’s 2012 GA Cup team featured current pros Zack Steffen, Connor Maloney, Brian White and Drew Skundrich.
“We won’t be judged on the trophies we win but if you go down to an event you might as well go and win it,” Academy Director Tommy Wilson said. “I think we’ve done it really well. I thought we were really dominate throughout the event. (They received) the goalkeeper award, fair play award, golden ball and golden boot. That speaks volumes. I’m absolutely delighted for the staff and the players that represented us.”
Andrew Rick Jr., who wore the armband in the final, was named the goalkeeper of the tournament, midfielder Aaron Heard received the golden ball, Henry Bernstein the fair play award and Angel Gael Medrano scored 10 goals en route to the golden boot. Heard and Medrano were both newcomers to the team along with Matthew Routzahn, who was second on the team in goals with five.
Routzahn opened the scoring in the fifth minute in Saturday’s final and Medrano doubled the lead in the 43rd. A late penalty led to a Santa Ana PK goal to cut the lead in half, but the Union were able to close the game down in the final minutes to set off an on-field celebration at the full time whistle.
“The scouting team with Jon Scheer (director of talent identification and an assistant coach in Costa Rica), Baba (Idrisa Kone) and others deserve a lot of credit for the boys that have been brought in who have been scouted by a number of other clubs,” Wilson said.
The trio of newcomers added a punch to a team that had a solid season together at the U13 division in the Development Academy last season. Captains Henry Bernstein, Gavin Wetzel and Rick were leaders in the team last season who also stood out in Costa Rica.
“All year long they’ve been consistent solid performers and in and around training they’re able to be vocal,” Karn said of his captains.
Bernstein’s performances last season and in Costa Rica are of particular note when considering he’s a 2007 who played up with the U13s last season and was competing in a tournament with a number of players born in 2005. Bernstein had a pair of goals and four assists in Costa Rica.
The Union fielded all 2006-born players except for Bernstein and defender Neil Pierre. Their opponent in Saturday’s final, Santa Ana of El Salvador, had 10 player born in 2005 in their squad.
The win was the second straight for a U.S. team in the fifth edition of the competition. LAFC won the competition last year, Universidad Cantera Norte won in 2017, CD Santa Ana in 2016 and Club Toluca in 2015.
Most of Saturday’s medal winners will move up to play for coach Fred DaSilva’s U14 side, but others will be playing up an age group with the U15 team. The Development Academy season starts August 31.