CHESTER, Pa. – Christian Hernandez took a break from signing autographs in the tunnel adjacent to the Union’s locker room.
There was a smile plastered on his face and rightfully so. Don't expect that smile to go anywhere for some time.
Hernandez, recently named the U.S. Soccer U-17/18 Development Academy Player of the Year, scored a memorable goal in the 87th minute to push the Union past English Premier League side Everton FC before a sellout crowd of 18,582 at PPL Park on Wednesday.
It’s a goal and an experience he will cherish forever.
“It felt like a dream,” said a jubilant Hernandez, a member of Philadelphia's academy. “I was running and it felt like I was floating.”
A rising senior at St. Benedict’s in Newark, NJ, Hernandez scored 16 goals in 26 appearances for his club team, Players Development Academy (PDA). PDA is a Youth Development Affiliate of the Union as part of an innovative "club-neutral" academy structure.
His goal gave the Union a victory over a club that routinely finishes in the top half of the EPL table.
In this international friendly, Hernandez was one of many young players who shined for the Union. For these players who don’t get the chance to play all that much, if at all, in the regular season, it had to be huge for their confidence.
The goalkeeping duo of Zac MacMath and Thorne Holder combined for a shutout, facing only one shot on goal all night thanks to a stellar defensive effort from the Union. MacMath played the first half and Thorne came on to complete the clean sheet in the second half.
“It was my first real experience in a friendly like this against a storied club like Everton,” said MacMath, the fifth overall selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. “I was nervous during the day and at the beginning of the game. I settled down after the first five minutes.
“Thorne and I talked about trying to get the shutout and to keep them off the board is a great feeling. I think we’re all very happy with the result and the experience we gained from it.”
Holder has missed a chunk of the season with a concussion, so to be inserted in the lineup was a special feeling.
To have the opportunity to face the Toffees only enhanced the experience.
“I was a bit anxious and nervous, but I was told I’d be playing the second half,” Holder said. “I was very happy to play. As a young player, you’re given an opportunity to shine against a club like Everton. I was so very happy to have the opportunity.”
The energy of a youthful Union side was contagious.
Hernandez, Ryan Richter, Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, Roger Torres and others continued to push as the game neared its conclusion.
Instead of settling for a scoreless draw, the Union celebrated a victory against a storied franchise.
“It was a great feeling to win,” said Pfeffer, the club's first and currently only home grown player. “The result isn’t as important, but you could see how important it was for our club to do everything we could to win the match.”
The Union’s young players won simply by getting experience and holding their own against a club like Everton. But to see a player like Hernandez come through was the perfect exclamation point.
“Absolutely, he had to be very excited and we were very excited for him and all the players who gave everything,” said second-year forward Danny Mwanga. “It’s something he’ll always remember to get a goal like that. We were all excited.”
Next up is a battle with Real Madrid on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. For now, the players can revel in their third consecutive win at PPL Park against an international opponent.
“It was a great night here and I was very happy to be part of it,” MacMath said. “Great win by our club.”