MLS NEXT Cup | 16s net stoppage time winner to advance to Semifinals


Emmanual Clark headed home the game-winning goal to send Philadelphia Union Academy’s U16 squad to the Semifinals of the 2024 MLS NEXT Cup.

With a penalty kick shootout looming, the substitute forward rose up and redirected a corner kick from Gabriel Wessah in the fifth minute of stoppage time to send the Baby Snakes to a showdown with rivals FC DELCO in the final four of the event.

The Baby Snakes were eager to take the fight right to the Arizona based club with Wessah attempting to score directly off the opening kick as Barca’s keeper lined up well off the goal line. The keeper raced back and to defend the goal but the shot from long range was just a little to hard as it dunked off on the wrong side of the crossbar. Fellow forward Daniel Dixon had the first scoring chance after getting called offsides a few times with a chance down the right flank but saw his right-footed attempt stopped by the keeper. Wessah continued to test the backline for Barca Residency as he raced into the open space on the left flank and tried to sneak a goal inside the far post but saw it go just wide.

Pinned back in their own half for the majority of the opening 45 minutes, the opposition nearly converted on their first chance of the game which game in first half stoppage time however it rang off the post and stayed out.

With 90 degree weather, Head Coach Guillermo Hamdan Zaragoza turned to his bench for a game-winning moment and it nearly paid dividends when the insertion of Jax Benton. The forward raced off his mark at the start of the half and used his fresh legs to forced a turnover by the keeper however the attempt on goal was blocked.

More changes provided more chances for the Boys in Blue as substitutes Brett Seemuller and Emmanuel Clark almost combined for the regulation winner in the 75th minute but Clark’s rising header went just wide. With a spot in the semifinals on the line, the emotions ramped up with Barca seeing a player sent off for yellow cards in each half to give Philly the man advantage with five minutes remaining. Just before the match went to the penalty shootout, defender John Illig cut inside and ripped a top from the edge of the box but once again saw the crossbar deny the U16.

The Boys in Blue finally broke through just before the end of regulation as they hustled to earn one last set piece chance. That’s all they needed as Wessah whipped in a cross to a trio of Union teammates surrounding the keeper with Clark getting the touch that won the match.

The U16s look to book their spot into the MLS NEXT Cup Final when they take on FC DELCO on Thursday, June 20th. The Semifinal will kick off at 11AM ET with the action streamed on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV