It wasn’t quite how Jack de Vries imagined it as a 13-year-old when he joined the Philadelphia Union Academy, but the first-year homegrown became the latest to make his senior team debut when he stepped on the field on Thursday.
“They were pretty strange circumstances with no fans and there wasn’t an external atmosphere but we were also trying to hold a lead so when I came on I knew I had to defend and stay compact,” de Vries said about his first MLS action. “I knew I had to step up and see out the game.”
De Vries played the final six minutes of the match, which the Union held on to win 1-0. He also became the eighth player whose dad also played in MLS to debut. Raimo de Vries made four appearances for the Colorado Rapids in 1996.
While Jack didn’t have a chance to showcase the attacking talent that has garnered regular invites to youth national team camps and serious interest from clubs like PSV Eindhoven he passed over to sign with the Union, he did demonstrate the confidence head coach Jim Curtin has in a player he has repeatedly commended since arriving in the bubble in Orlando.
“Sometimes I worry about singling a guy out in a press conference because they hear it and they think they’ve accomplished something, but Jack’s done just the opposite he’s kept pushing,” Curtin said recently.
Unlike most of the homegrowns who have come before him, Curtin doesn’t have stories to tell about working with de Vries as a wide-eyed 10-year-old but his rise since joining the academy five years ago is a window into the next wave of talent coming through the team’s development pipeline.
While the identifying feature of homegrowns like Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Matthew Real and others has been their Philly roots de Vries moved to the area from Virginia Beach with his family when he joined the academy after also living abroad in Belgium for several years and spending time in the world renown Anderlecht academy.
He was recruited in part via connections to the organization through his dad, who played at Wake Forest with former first team head coach John Hackworth and former academy coach Chris Brewer.
“He came here with a good pedigree, but he’s worked really hard to get to where he is,” Academy Director Tommy Wilson said, noting that like a lot of players his path was not linear and included a fair amount of struggle. “He kept at it and he kept at it and then hit a purple patch after Ernst Tanner got here.”
Since arriving as Sporting Director, Tanner has placed even more of an emphasis on bringing players like de Vries through at younger ages, recruiting top players from outside the area in addition to those locally who can prove themselves at the USL level and debut with the first team as teenagers.
While there are still plenty of local players with the potential to fit that bill, future homegrown prospects like Nathan Harriel (Florida), Jack McGlynn (New York), Issa Rayyan (Michigan) and others show how important the recruiting piece is.
“I was out at training for Union II the other day and there wasn’t an academy player in the group you didn’t think has that chance (to make the first team),” Wilson said. “That’s exciting.”