There is no better way to gain experience than to play.
That especially holds true for young players.
In this inaugural Philadelphia Union season, a young and talented group of players continue to improve. Through 18 games, including Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake at PPL Park, the progression is evident.
And it’s only going to get better from here.
“I think it’s huge to get game experience,” said defender Danny Califf, 30, who is just one of six Union players 30 or older. “You learn by playing and going through each game. Each game is different. Sometimes, things won’t go your way and you have to be able to give 100 percent and learn from it. I think the young players have done a great job for us.”
Philadelphia features four teenagers – Jack McInerney (18) along with Danny Mwanga (19), Amobi Okugo (19) and Roger Torres (19).
Mwanga scored his sixth goal of the season in the 1-1 tie against RSL.
“I think experience is good playing against good teams like Real Salt Lake,” Mwanga said. “You know what you have to do to work hard and what you have to work on and learn from. I have learned a lot from players like Alejandro Moreno and Sebastien Le Toux every day and I have tried to follow their lead.”
The Union have held the lead in a number of games this season only to see the opponent rally and steal points.
That’s where this valuable game experience will come in handy down the road. The young players can look back on matches this season and learn how and when to make the proper adjustments over the course of 90 minutes.
“I think the attitude and work ethic have been great,” said Le Toux. “The younger players have come in every day with a great attitude. They want to get better and improve all the time. I think you see that on our whole club. We are all in this together. You can see the desire on their faces and that’s what I like to see.”
Midfielder Kyle Nakazawa, 22, played a steady all-around game before being replaced by Okugo in the 63rd minute.
For Nakazawa, the minutes on the field have been beneficial in a multitude of ways.
“Sure, game experience is always a great thing,” said Nakazawa. “As a young player, my goal was to come in and play hard and to earn playing time. I’m excited to be contributing. I’m going to keep working as hard as possible and give them everything I have on the field.”
The same goes for Okugo.
“Yeah, we’re satisfied, but we’re always looking for more,” Okugo said. “We’re always striving for perfection. We know we could have come out with the win so it was disheartening right there. At least we didn’t lose it, so we are just looking forward to the next game.”
This young group of players clearly looks forward to every game. The next chance for them will come Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.
“I think the young players really have come such a long way,” said 26-year-old defender Jordan Harvey. “Remember that we haven’t been together as a club all that long. I think the improvement has been tremendous.”