This past weekend, our Philadelphia Union Academy hosted the Toronto FC Academy U-18 and U-16 teams for matches at YSC Sports. My personal ties to Toronto FC date back to when I was one of the first players the club signed in their inaugural season in MLS, and it is great to see my former teammates Danny Dichio and Jimmy Brennan serving as their U-18 and U-16 head coaches. We battled Toronto FC to a 3-3 tie earlier this summer in the MLS Generation adidas Cup in Dallas, and Friday night was no different as our U-18's played to another hard-fought 3-3 tie.
The game got off to a rocky start as our Union U-18's allowed two early goals and were forced to claw back after facing an early deficit. Both teams continued to play attacking soccer, and the Union U-18's actually earned two penalty kicks in the first half that were missed, before finally breaking through with Chris Ramirez's brilliant solo run and goal. Toronto FC answered back with a goal in the last minute of the first half to take a 3-1 lead into halftime.
Halftime substitute Darius Madison made an immediate impact for the Union U-18's by scoring a goal and helping to set up Cameron Alexander's game-tying goal late in the second half. Both teams continued to create chances, but goalkeeper Sam Frymeir made some big saves to thwart Toronto FC and preserve the tie.
I'm extremely encouraged by the character our boys showed in coming back from a two-goal deficit to earn a result. Obviously we were left to wonder what could have been had we converted our two penalty kicks, but it was an excellent effort nonethless. Chris Ramirez, Madison, Andrew Herr, and Alex Murphy came through with strong performances as our Union Academy U-18's remain unbeaten in regulation time in 2011.
Our Union U-16's got off to a good start as Colton Amidon scored off of a Zach Zandi assist to take a 1-0 lead over the Toronto FC U-16's on Friday afternoon. However, Toronto answered right back with two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. In the second half, the Union U-16's pushed for an equalizer and fell just short, while TFC got an insurance goal to claim a 3-1 victory. Amidon, Zandi, Mike Desiderio, and Connor Ryan came through with exceptional performances.
PHOTOS: Union U-16's vs. TFC U-16's
On Saturday morning, our U-16's played vs. Toronto FC once again and we took the opportunity to play all of our youngest Union U-16 players to give them some invaluable game experience. Our youngsters more than impressed as they held TFC to 0-0 at halftime while also missing a penalty kick that was drawn by Mark Shiiba. Charles Wheaton was dangerous all game long getting in behind the opposing defense, and Tyler Skwara, Alex Greene, and Kevin Carvalho helped control the midfield for the U-16's. Though TFC ended up scoring a couple goals towards the end of the game to secure the win, I am extremely encouraged by the performance of our younger players as we look to build for the future.
It seems as though we keep mentioning it each week, but once again I am grateful that our players were given the opportunity to play against another quality opponent in Toronto FC. These games are so important and integral in the development of our young players. Though we value our training environment immensely, the fact that we are able to expose our players to quality games at the highest level of soccer in their age bracket will set the bar higher than it's ever been before.
MLS Cup champion and two-time MLS All-Star Alecko Eskandarian serves as Philadelphia Union's Youth Technical Director. Follow him on Twitter at @Alecko11.