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Philly MLS 25: Discovered in a friendly, Derrick Jones made the most of Union Academy opportunity

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The Ghana-born midfielder blazed a trail to MLS that has produced major dividends for the Philadelphia Union

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As we countdown the days until the MLS season begins, we will be looking at 25 players from greater Philadelphia who have made an impact on the league 25 years after the first ball was kicked. Read the rest of the series at brotherlygame.com/philly-mls-25.


Eastern University has hosted a number of big games over the years at Olson Field but few have ended being as influential on the professional game as a 2013 friendly played on the Main Line campus.

As the story goes, the game between the Philadelphia Union Academy U-18 team and Philadelphia Lone Star (then known as Junior Lone Star) featured a teenager named Derrick Amaniampong, who caught the Union staff’s eye and eventually led to the Ghana-born midfielder joining the Union Academy setup three miles away.

“My recollection was that he was the best player on the pitch that day and we decided to take Derrick in on trial and quite quickly realized that here was a boy with great potential,” Academy Director Tommy Wilson said when he signed his first professional contract.

Amaniampong, who started going just by Derrick Jones when his professional career began, joined the Union’s residency program and initially committed to play college bll at the University of Rhode Island but ended up accomplishing a number of firsts for what was still a fledgling Philadelphia Union development pipeline at the time.

He was the first player signed to a pro contract with their USL Championship team, Bethlehem Steel, and the first to go from academy to second team to first team when he signed a homegrown contract with the first team in late July 2016.

His signing also ended a long draught for the Union in homegrown signings. Where we now expect multiple homegrown signings a year for the Union, Jones was the first since Cristhian Hernandez was signed all the way back in March 2012.

Jones is 24 now and entering his sixth season in MLS with Houston Dynamo. His journey to the Lone Star state was not quite what fans had in mind when he was impressing in his MLS debut in Vancouver two days after his 20th birthday in March 2017.

But he still deserves a ton of credit for his role in helping to establish the pipeline that has become the talk of the league and is still every bit a player to watch that he was here.

His departure from Philadelphia came via trade to Nashville SC in exchange for $175,000 in allocation money in 2019 and was part of Nashville SC’s inaugural season in 2020 after playing out the rest of 2020 with the team in USL. He was traded again this offseason when the Dynamo sent $250,000 in allocation money to Nashville in January.

The trade reunites Jones with former United States U-20 coach Tab Ramos, who coached the 2017 U-20 World Cup team Jones was on.

“Derrick is a player I know very well,” Ramos said in a news release announcing the trade in January. “Although he is young, he already has four years of experience in the league and knows what it’s like to be a starter for a playoff team. He has a big career ahead of him and we feel fortunate and excited that it will be here in Houston.”

While his Union career is in the rearview, his 1,144 minutes are still good enough for fifth all-time for Union homegrowns playing for the first team behind Zach Pfeffer, Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty.

He’s also arguably still one of the best to put on a Bethlehem Steel uniform during the team’s tenure, dominate as he was in USL. He made 55 appearances and logged 4,776 minutes for the Steel, scoring 10 goals.