"The Path to PPL Park"
What does it take to play at the highest level?
That was the topic of Tuesday night's training, coaching, and information session at the stadium.
Former Union defender Chris Albright joined academy coaches Chris Brewer and Jeff Cook for a soccer education forum on the Chester waterfront.
"We want people to have an opportunity to see what we're doing with our players everyday, and at the same time have the ability to make it accessible," said U-14 coach Brewer. "They can translate it and use it with their own teams, or whatever they can take away from what we're doing."
Brewer took his U-14 players through training exercises, similar to a session you would see at the Union academy.
Players progressed through a number of drills – passing, two-zone possession, and high-repetition 4v3 and 3v2 situations that included goalkeepers and finishing.
Albright and Cook narrated the session, discussing the various drills and techniques while fielding questions from the assembled crowd.
"It's good as a coach to step back and think about what (we're) trying to deliver and how can we use that to maybe educate other youth coaches that are dedicated to the growth of the sport," said Cook, who oversees the academy's U-16 team. "(Other programs) may not have all of the resources we have at the academy. We feel like it's our responsibility to help the growth of the game in whatever way we can."
"I think part of the culture we're trying to build here with the Union is to see that there's a real connection between the first team and the youth academy," Brewer added.
A recurring theme throughout the evening was the continuity of the Union's youth setup – the idea that you can move through the ranks with the ultimate goal of playing at PPL Park.
It's a far cry from just five years ago, when no MLS team existed in the Delaware Valley.
Now there's a way for young local kids to play professionally in the same city where they were raised.
"Now they can have the first team," said Brewer. "They can have the players (to look up to). Not only can they watch the games on Saturdays and see these guys playing at a high level in MLS, they can now be part of the academy experience, train, and hopefully find a pathway to get to (PPL Park)."
"Philadelphia has been a great hotbed for soccer for years and years and years," Cook said.
"We're only trying to add to that community, not take away the good work that so many people have done. We want to capitalize on that and be a partner in that."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com