Todd Morton and Zach Zandi share a lot of qualities that make them unique on a Philadelphia Union II roster mostly populated by players in their teens who aren’t originally from the local area.
They both have college degrees, grew up in West Chester, graduated from a public high school and have known each other they both played on a U11 team with Penn Fusion Academy.
“I think of the odds of us growing up together, playing together in the same club and then playing against each other in college all the time to now here,” Morton said in an interview earlier this week. “It’s a unique relationship because it’s on the field and off the field and we’ve known each other for a long time. It’s nice to have that to bounce ideas off each other and just having a buddy you know you can talk to.”
Morton and Zandi, who did battle every season while at the University of Delaware and Villanova University, became teammates again last August when Morton was acquired from the Real Monarchs.
Eight months apart, Morton (24) and Zandi (23) are the oldest players on a roster with an average age below 20 and yet are only second-year pros themselves.
“It’s been a good reunion,” Zandi said. “It’s nice to have a guy on the team who is a similar age and has had similar experiences who I’ve been friends with for a while. We’re both learning at the same time and we’re both in the same leadership role so it’s nice to have someone who is learning with you.”
The West Chester Henderson High School graduates illustrate how rapidly the Union’s development model has changed in recent years. Zandi was part of the first Union’s Development Academy teams when he joined the academy from Penn Fusion in high school but the path then is virtually unrecognizable to today.
Union II was founded as a club during Zandi’s sophomore season at Villanova and YSC Academy was still in its infancy as a school. Zandi excelled at Villanova on the field and earned a degree prior to turning pro last winter.
“The system is way different now than it was seven years ago, which is amazing,” Zandi said. “I wish I was in the system now because the opportunity is greater but I’m very happy with the journey that I had and the path I’ve taken.”
Morton played with Penn Fusion through high school and also played school ball at Henderson prior to his college career, which included a red shirt year at UMBC before transferring and playing four seasons with the Blue Hens. They played each other four times in college and crossed paths at Reading United.
“Against him was more fun because I was in his head all the time,” Morton quipped. “He only scored on me once the last time we played against each other.”
That one goal was one of the more memorable of Zandi’s college career — a smash-and-grab winner with seconds left in August 2018.
A preseason friendly last week against West Chester United afforded the opportunity for the two friends to play together on a pitch in their hometown for the first time since they were Penn Fusion teammates. Union II won the match 5-3.
Morton’s opposing goalkeeper that night was another West Chester native, two-time Division III All-American AJ Marcucci, who played high school and club ball with Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Matt Freese and will be part of West Chester United’s inaugural USL League Two team.
Like Freese, Union homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana is also an alum of West Chester United’s Penn Fusion Academy along with Colorado Rapids and former Union defender Keegan Rosenberry.
That so many pros have come from West Chester or been part of the club there — Todd’s brother Kyle Morton is with St. Louis FC in the USL Championship this season, Jeff Larentowicz is back for another season with Atlanta United — is a big part of Zandi and Morton’s development story too.
“It’s an established area for soccer and then just raising that level has been great for guy’s development,” Morton said.
Zandi’s father, Karl Zandi, helped launch West Chester United’s adult program and while Zach never ended up playing for the team in college he remains close to the program. He calls head coach Blaise Santangelo “Uncle Blaise.”
“They have a really good system in West Chester that is good at identifying talent,” Zandi said. “A lot of credit goes to the coaches, the parents too because they sacrifice a lot for their kids and then because we’ve been able to produce so many good players they’ll come back and younger kids can learn from them and it continues the cycle.”
Zandi and Morton’s second seasons as pros officially kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Subaru Park in Chester.
How to Watch
Where: Subaru Park, Chester, Pa.
When: 7:30 p.m.
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