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Union Academy alum first pick in MLS SuperDraft by Charlotte FC

Ben Bender played a season with the Union U14s in 2015-16

Maddie Kyler/Maryland Terrapins

A former Philadelphia Union Academy midfielder was selected as the first pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft by expansion team Charlotte FC on Tuesday.

Ben Bender, a Baltimore native who starred at the University of Maryland and left school early to sign a Generation adidas contract, spent a season playing for the Union Academy U14 team in 2015-16.

Bender’s two older brothers also have ties to Pennsylvania as former standouts for Messiah University. Jacob Bender was the Division III national player of the year in 2016 and was part of the national championship team in 2013. He went on to play professionally with Charlotte Independence during the 2017 season and is still active at the amateur level with Christos FC. Josh Bender was part of Messiah’s 2017 national championship run.

Bender was a first-team All-American at Maryland this fall in his second season with the Terps. He also starred in the NPSL for FC Baltimore Christos and was named the NPSL Young Player of the Year in 2021.

During the live broadcast on, Bender was surrounded by his family — Josh was wearing his No. 10 Messiah jersey — and eight shirts hung behind them on the wall representing the teams he’s played for. In addition to the Union, Christos and Maryland, Bender played high school soccer at Calvert Hall and academy soccer for Baltimore Armour prior to college.

Benjamin Bender playing for the Union U14s during the 2015-16 Development Academy season
Matt Ralph

Bender is the highest draft pick for a player who spent time in the Union Academy. Keegan Rosenberry was drafted third by the Union in 2016 after they had a homegrown claim denied by the league. Rosenberry was part of the Union’s youth setup when it was a “club and country” model allowing for players to play for their club team while training with the Union and competing in tournaments like the Generation adidas Cup.

The highest draft pick in the full-time academy era which began when the Union joined the Development Academy for the 2013-14 season was Justin McMaster, who was drafted 17th overall in 2021.

Philadelphia Union Academy Alums Drafted in MLS

2022 - Benjamin Bender, No. 1 by Charlotte FC; Ivy Brisma, No. 67 by CF Montreal; Seth Kuhn, No. 73 by New York Red Bulls; Daniel Bloyou, No. 75 by Atlanta United
2021 - Justin McMaster, No. 17 by Minnesota United FC; Lamine Conte, No. 40 by New York Red Bulls; Dawson McCartney, No. 43 by Portland Timbers;
2020 - Jack Skahan, No. 27 by San Jose Earthquakes; Joey DeZart, No. 31 by Orlando City; Andrew Verdi, No. 65 by DC United
2018 - Brian White*, No. 16 by New York Red Bulls; Drew Skundrich*, No. 40 by LA Galaxy
2017 - Colton Storm*, No. 14 by Sporting Kansas City; Brian Nana-Sinkham*, No. 22 by Seattle Sounders; Connor Maloney*, No. 49 by Columbus Crew
2016 - Keegan Rosenberry*, No. 3 pick by Philadelphia Union; Darius Madison*, No. 70 by Toronto FC

* Part of the Union Academy setup when it was a club and country model; the academy went full-time when it joined the Development Academy for the 2013-14 season