Our Philadelphia Union Academy fall program came to a close this weekend with games against the NY Red Bulls and NE Revolution academy teams.
Two weekends ago, the Union U-18's traveled to DC and beat United 3-1 on two goals from Darius Madison and another from Chris Ramirez. Meanwhile, the U-16's avenged a 3-1 loss earlier in the year by playing D.C. to a 1-1 draw on a goal from Mike Desiderio.
This past Saturday at NJIT, our U-18's kicked off the weekend in strong fashion with a convincing 1-0 victory over the Red Bulls. Filip Kula scored the lone goal for the Union off of a great assist by Darius Madison in the second half. Madison was effective up front while Zach Pfeffer helped control the midfield, and Zack Steffen made some big saves to preserve another shutout for the Union U-18's. It was another positive result against a Red Bulls side that is considered to be one of the best in the nation, as the two teams battled to a 2-2 draw earlier in the fall.
On Sunday, the Union U-18's traveled to Boston and beat the Revolution 3-0 to cap an UNDEFEATED fall season. Madison scored two goals and Pfeffer scored on a great free kick to ensure the victory. The Union received strong performances from Madison, Pfeffer, Steffen, Andrew Herr, and Joe Farrell in both games.
Head coach Jim Curtin did a fantastic job all year long training and preparing his U-18 team to play at a high level. The only loss this group suffered was in a friendly match vs. Everton in July. In all competitions, the Union U-18's did not lose to any MLS academy team. This success is a true testament to the commitment, hard work, and preparation our players and staff have put in since we began our fall program in August.
Curtin had this to say about his experience with the Union U-18's this fall: "From day one we spoke about 'accountability' within the team. To watch them develop through the fall and truly understand what it means to be accountable both on and off the field was what made me most proud. I feel the boys really bought into the idea that if a competitive training environment was created during the week, the games would become the easy part. They all have bright futures in the game, and hopefully learned what a tremendous responsibility and honor it is to wear the Union jersey."
Our Union U-16's also enjoyed a successful weekend despite a rocky start with a loss to the Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon. In these last two games, our staff decided to give an opportunity to some of our younger players in the U-16 age group to prepare them for this level of competition in the years to come. Although the U-16's suffered a 5-0 loss on Saturday, I strongly believe this was a valuable and important step in the right direction for the development of our young players. As I told the players after the match, sometimes getting beat can be the best thing that can happen to a player, as long as they take it the right way and are motivated to improve.
Our U-16's clearly showed that to be the case, as they responded in a great manner by earning a 3-1 victory over the Revolution on Sunday in Boston. Goals by Charles Wheaton, Taylor Dempsey, and Colton Amidon secured the win as Kyler White played 90 minutes in goal.
Over the course of the weekend, the U-16's received strong performances from Wheaton, Amidon, Ryan Talbot, Zach Zandi, Tyler Skwara, Kevin Carvalho, and Isaiah Young. Head coach Phil Karn did a great job managing and developing our players as they showed tremendous improvement throughout the course of the fall program.
Karn spoke highly of the Union Academy fall program: "As a coaching staff we stuck to our development curriculum, teaching the kids how to play the 'right way.' We never wavered from this plan and the group continued to develop and improve throughout the fall. The players worked extremely hard at every training session and kept the level of play very high regardless of what we threw at them. These kids now have a good idea of what it takes to become a pro."
More and more of our players are now getting recognition from youth national teams and elite college programs all over the nation as we continue to build off of these fantastic results. However, the training and development of these players – not the results – serves as the focal point of our program and will determine the future of the Union. I would like to thank all the players, parents, and club/high school coaches for all their hard work and support in making this fall program as successful as it was.
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.