News and notes: Academy shines in open of second season, trip to Qatar and more

Our new weekly roundup devoted to the Union's youth system

Academy image Chris Brewer

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

Much like the senior team, the boys of the Philadelphia Union Academy got off to an impressive start as the second season of the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy schedule reconvened following a brief winter break.

All three divisions of the Academy enjoyed solid openers, specifically the U14 team which won 7-0 over its opponent. The mantra has always been that it’s not about wins and losses in these matches more over what these young athletes are getting out of the experience. Union Academy director Tommy Wilson told philadelphiaunion.com that with the harsh winter the program experienced and how much it threw a monkey wrench into getting routine training in during the offseason as a resuly, the fact all divisions opened with a bang is a testament to the quality of players on the roster.

“The winter break and the preseason leading up to the season was disjointed quite frankly because of the weather,” said Wilson. “However, I was pleased with our recent games. The 14s did extremely well; they won their game, 7-0. The 16s played well, but maybe through lack of opportunities to play on the big field we did struggle a little bit. The 18s were scored on late in the game but I was pleased on how they performed. Generally, they looked fit enough. These early games against allow us to feel our way back into the season.”

The Academy added new pieces in all divisions – but with addition also came subtraction. Wilson discussed the process and that although a player is no longer with the program, it’s important for the Academy to ensure his development continues elsewhere.

“I think the one thing with the Academy is that you should never be comfortable, you should always be looking over your shoulder, and that goes for players and the staff,” said Wilson. “I think that’s the nature of elite player development. Our scouting focus is tasked with getting the best of the best and keep in mind that the staff can only recruit a number of players. However, we do make sure that if their place isn't with us that these players return to their clubs and we keep a close eye on their progression.”

Wilson said the ideal number in each division is to keep anywhere from 18-20 players on each squad behind the mindset that players in lower divisions will continue to come up to older squads based on either age or in some cases talent level.

Additionally, since the advent of YSC Academy, the new school designed to give many of these talented players a chance to excel in the classroom while devoting their time to growing their game, the Union academies have benefitted from the horde of applications arriving from prospective students and parents looking to join the initiative. The school has delivered top notch players from not just the Greater Philadelphia region, but from all over the country.

“The school receives a number of applications throughout the country,” Wilson added. “People whose families might be moving here or people who want to give their children an education with good football attached to it. So obviously the players that we scout and recruit, if they live in a different state, it gives us the opportunity to not only bring them [into the player academy] but keep close tabs on them through the accommodations we have through the school. There are some kids at our school who play in other clubs. For instance, right now we have an interesting mix of Union academy players in addition to players from other area clubs. They all train together in the morning, regardless of what club they play for. They get five sessions in addition to what they do with other club teams.”

The Union academy is back in action on Saturday when all three divisions host Bethesda-Olney at YSC Sports in Wayne, Pa. For complete times, schedules visit the Union academy website for more information or U.S. Soccer’s developmental website.

Qatar, here we come.

On Saturday, members of the Union Academy, the Union Juniors program and other select players traveled to Qatar – that’s right Qatar, hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup for an international tournament hosted by the Aspire Academy located in the capital city of Doha. The players are there through Thursday competing against Aspire and the academy system of Italian Serie A club Atalante FC.

And the overall feeling from members of the Union’s academy on the intrinsic value this excursion will provide – besides getting to see a unique, exotic part of the world?

“We believe this trip will create an invaluable experience from competing against some of the world’s best youth programs. The lessons learned both on and off the pitch provide a progressive understanding of what it takes to compete at the international level, and allow us as a staff to evaluate areas we can improve upon as a program and educate our players on how to become world-class players.”

Look for images, video and more from this trip in next week’s Academy notebook and keep up with the latest news on the Academy, by following along on Twitter: @PhilaUnion_Acad

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com