This week, the Philadelphia Union made headlines by signing 18-year-old Jimmy McLaughlin as our second-ever Home Grown Player through the Union Academy system. He follows in the footsteps of his good friend and former FC Delco teammate, Zach Pfeffer, who signed for the Union at the age of 15 before last season. This marked a very special moment for our Union Academy, and for myself personally, as Jimmy is the first product of our academy who has signed with the first team since I joined the Union staff in June.
I am extremely proud of Jimmy's path to PPL Park because it exhibits the value our youth program has been able to offer aspiring professional soccer players in the Philadelphia area. The affiliate program under which the Union Academy operates allows each player to train and compete with their respective Union affiliate club teams while also being heavily involved in our program. In this particular case, our relationship with FC Delco allowed us to monitor Jimmy's progress by keeping in close contact with head coach Alan Mezger and attending many of FC Delco's training sessions and matches. In turn, Jimmy was invited to all of the Union Academy training sessions and events since our inception and left quite an impression on every coach along the way.
After competing in last year's SUM Cup with the Union, Jimmy was then called up for reserve games and even got the opportunity to play against the likes of Everton and Real Madrid with our first team this past season. From a relatively unknown youth player in the FC Delco system, Jimmy worked his way up step-by-step through our academy process in order to make his dream come true and earn the contract he signed this week.
In the short time that I have gotten to know and work with Jimmy, he has shown incredible professionalism and commitment for a player his age. His work rate is second to none in our academy program, and his positive attitude and genuine love for the game is refreshing to be around. I have no doubt in my mind that he will come into preseason with humility to develop, but also with passion to step in and contribute when his number is called.
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.