U17s fall in shootout at MLS NEXT Cup


Philadelphia Union Academy’s U17 saw its magical run at the 2024 MLS NEXT Cup conclude on Friday night, falling in a penalty kick shootout to the LA Galaxy.

The match pitting the last two U17 champions lived up to the billing with the Union once again having to battle back from a deficit after the California side scored in the ninth minute of play. Anisse Saidi delivered the equalizer in the 57th minute to knot the game up at 1-1 and Union II center back Neil Pierre delivered the go-ahead goal with a corner kick header in the 73rd minute. LA found an equalizer with their own shot of the second half to send the match to a penalty kick shootout where the California side were perfect in all five of their attempts to move on.

In a rematch of the 2024 Generation adidas Cup Final, the rivalry between two of North America’s best Academies renewed under the lights of the at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Head Coach Peter McDonnell sent out his high-powered lineup featuring Neil Pierre, Kellan LeBlanc, Jamir Johnson, Diego Rocio and Anisse Saidi. The Galaxy had the better chances in the first 10 minutes of the match with the ball finding the back of the net inside the first two minutes however the free kick goal was disallowed for a box inside the Union’s box. LA’s second attempt however did stand as they chipped the ball to the edge of the box to pull the Union defense to one side. The California side took advantage with a threaded pass to the other side to set up a one time shot from the top of 18 that snuck underneath the Union’s keeper.

The Union U17s sought to respond after falling behind in the 16th minute as a free kick opportunity allowed for the Union’s size to get into the box. It nearly turned into a goal as Lennon Harrington headed the ball across the face of goal to Pierre for a one time shot that crashed off a defender standing in front of the goal line. Philly kept the pressure on and five minutes later generated a beautiful counter attack with a pass to Johnson in the midfield quickly going out to the left side for Jordan Griffin. The left back picked up his head and floated a cross right to the edge of the six where Saidi won it cleanly but saw the header kiss the wrong side of the crossbar.

The Boys in Blue came out of the halftime break eager to find the back of the net with the first scoring chance going Philly’s way. Again it was a combination play between Johnson and Griffin as the ball whipped to the back post for a smashing header from LeBlanc that was turned away at the post. Moments later, Henry Bernstein recovered the ball at the top of the box and hit a cutting pass into the six for a redirection at the goalline by Saidi however the keeper somehow placed himself right where the chipped ball was placed by the Union forward.

Before the hour mark the chances continued to add up for the Union as a corner kick chance pinballed off a trio of defenders and dribbled out of bounds for another Union corner. On the second attempt from the Union, Bernstein’s service was even better as he connected with Harrington for a header that rang off the post and went right into the gloves of the Galaxy keeper. Philly kept on battling as they turned to their pressure from the front as LA tried to build from the back and it paid off as Saidi intercepted a pass for the keeper and poked it under him to make it 1-1 in the 57th minute.

The momentum continued for the Union as just before the hydration break Johnson put the Galaxy defense on skates with a pair of cutbacks before ripping a shot through the defense. The potential go-ahead strike was stopped however with a fingertip diving attempt. The break just gave the Union more life as they continued to pepper the California side with Johnson beating the keeper with a curler only to be cleared off the line by a defender and then a Saidi header going over the bar in the 70th.

Déjà vu struck again in the East v West matchup as the Union grabbed the lead with a goal three minutes later like the GA Cup Final. It was set piece magic once more for the Union as Pierre smashed home a corner kick in the 73rd minute to put Philly ahead for good.

The U17s continued to push and press to stifle any chance of a comeback from the LA side as they were held without a single shot in the final half until the 89th minute. LA were awarded a throw in just outside the Union’s defensive area and were able to find a cross into the box and in the chaos found the back of the net on their only shot of the second half to tie the match at 2-2.

Off the kick off, Philly went right back to the attack with Johnson cutting inside and ripping a shot with his left that forced the ninth save of the evening by the Galaxy however it would be the final one as the two sides went to another penalty kick shootout which saw LA convert all five attempts from the spot to advance.

The U17s conclude their 2023-24 campaign with an outstanding 28-5-9 record across all competitions, having become the second team in league history to win back-to-back GA Cup Championships.