U15s fall in penalty kicks at 2023 GA Cup Final


After battling back to tie up the match in the second half, Philadelphia Union U15s suffered a heartbreaking 7-6 penalty kick loss to fall to Austin FC in the 2023 Generation adidas Cup.

Jamir Johnson’s delivered the game-tying goal in the 38th minute goal with a perfectly timed back post run to tap home a cross from Jordan Griffin. After playing over 80 minute the two sides traded shots from the penalty spot going seven rounds where Austin FC denied the Union the chance at their first U15 GA Cup.

The Union once again looked to take control of the match and play it on their terms. From the opening kick, the Union’s pair of forwards were quickly at on the boots of Austin FC’s defenders as they tried to build from the back. The Texas side went defensive in the opening half, allowing the Union the majority of the possession but clogging the middle of the pitch to deny the Union playmaking midfielders.

With the outside the only path forward, the Union attacked on the left in the seventh minute with a long diagonal ball to the feet of Jordan Griffin. The left back fed a pass forward to team captain Anisse Saidi who saw his first shot of the afternoon blocked. Philly regained possession with the attack going back to Griffin who had a go off the volley but couldn’t sneak it through the defense.

The Union adjusted midway through the opening period, dropped their playmakers to the outside to get on the ball and create in combinations. In the 17th minute that was the roadmap with Cavan Sullivan drifting to the left side to start an attack with a quick pass to Nehan Hasan. The Union forward sent a centering ball to Saidi for a one touch pass to Jamir Johnson at the top of the box. Seeing a bit space, Johnson unleashed a right-footed rocket for the upper corner that beat the keeper but was just wide.

Playing on the championship field which has featured four matches a day for over a week after a 2.5 hour rain delay created some unique challenges on the pitch. One such moment resulted in the opening goal of the U15 final as in favor of the opposition as a back pass took a difficult bounce on the ground and snuck into the Union net in the 21st minute.

Trailing for the first time of the tournament, the Union looked for the quick response and nearly found an equalizer four minutes after going behind. Sullivan turned on the skill moves on the left side of the pitch with a pair of flicks to create space before sending a chip over the Austin defense for Hasan. Austin FC opted to take down the Union forward just outside the box instead setting up a key free kick chance from the corner of the box. Kellan LeBlanc and Jamir Johnson stood over the ball with LeBlanc peeling off at the last second to allow Johnson to attempt a play off the YSC Sports training grounds feeding a pass on the ground to Sullivan whose shot was blocked.

The Union continued to test the Texas defense with Saidi battling a pair of defenders with his back to goal to hold up play before a back pass to Sullivan for a hard left-footed blast that couldn’t sneak by a center back. In the 33rd the Union went to another set piece play with Johnson serving up a corner kick chance for center back Andrei Chirila but the header went on the wrong side of the post.

Head Coach Henry Apaloo made one change at the break, bringing on Mateo Gallegos for LeBlanc and with it a formation change to get Peter Doran and Sullivan more forward. The move paid dividends just two minutes into the final frame with Doran spraying a pass to the left side for Sullivan. Patiently waiting for the run from his left back, Sullivan played a pass to Griffin inside the box who cut a hard pass on the grass to the back post where Johnson tapped in the tying goal in the 38th minute.

Austin FC looked to regain the lead in the 41st minute with a long ball over the high pressing Union but saw a hard shot crash off of Chirila to keep it 1-1.

The Union’s set pieces continued to cause chaos for ATX, with a free kick floated into the six by Johnson. Heading to a defender, the ball sailed over and bounced in no mans land to force a reaction scramble that somehow was cleared before Doran could tap it home.

In the 49th minute, Austin FC had their own chance from a set piece with a ball floated into the box that big center back Gavin Wolff headed toward goal. Union goalkeeper Alex Smith had the perfect reaction, tipping it up and off the crossbar to keep it a 1-1 contest.

The Union’s high press once again forced a scary moment for the Texas side with Saidi and Hasan putting pressure on the keeper who just had to kick it forward. Sullivan jumped on the pass and went for quick blast but saw it blocked. The blocked shot spun directly to Hasan and he had to quickly reposition himself for an one-timer but the right-footed blast went inches wide on the grass.

Apaloo turned to his depth for the additional 10 minutes of regular time added for the U15 final, bringing on Gavin DeHart, Gabriel Wesseh and Peyton Presson to maintain the pressure on Austin FC. In added time of regulation both teams would trade potential game-winning blows but couldn’t find the winner to send the contest to extra time.

The additional pair of five-minute periods saw fatigue become an additional opponent with both sides playing their seventh match in nine days. Philly had the only opportunity of the first period of extra time as Hasan made a slide tackle pass to set up Presson at the top of the box. With the focus on the substitute target man, he played a perfectly threaded pass to the feet of Wesseh but this low shot was saved by the Austin FC’s keeper.

The final five minute period saw Austin FC push forward for a possible match winner looking to keep the Union on their side of the pitch. Less than a minute before the final whistle, Austin FC delivered a dangerous cross to the back point to an unmarked forward but the shot went wide.

In the penalty kick shootout both sides showcased their calmness and ability to finish in pressure situations. After five rounds of both teams sending the keeper the wrong direction, Smith made a remarkable kick save but the power of the shot saw it spin across the goal line to make it 6-5. The pressure turned to Doran who showed nothing but confidence with a curler finish inside the upper corner. In the seventh round Smith guessed correctly again but the shot went just out of reach and Austin FC secured the victory with a save to secure their first hardware as an Academy.