Jack Jasinksi's late goal lifted Philadelphia Union's U17 squad to the top of their group in the DA Winter Cup. The Union, along with Montreal Impact, are one of only two clubs that finished atop their group in both the U17 and U19 age groups. That means both Union teams will compete for the overall DA Cup crown in the spring.
These strong performances finish off a 2019 academy year that brought cup titles for the U12s and U13s, and, for the U17s, no losses since the 2019-2020 season began.
"I am extremely proud of how our teams have performed over this first half of the 2019-2020 season," Academy Director Tommy Wilson said after the U17 win. "While I always look for performance first and results second, I believe they normally go hand in hand.
"I'm especially pleased with our performances this week considering how young the teams we brought to this competition are."
While Kevin Coleman's Union U19s crushed their first two opponents by a combined 6-0 scoreline on their way to the top of the group, Ryan Richter's U17s had to come from behind in their first two matches before taking out Dallas in a thrilling back-and-forth game.
Perhaps most impressively, though, both teams got strong performances from players playing up an age group.
Bethlehem Steel's youngest-ever starter Patrick Bohui, midfielder/defender, Dante Huckaby, and Steel's youngest goalscorer Selmir Miscic all made important contributions to the U19s, while a plethora of younger players stepped up for the U17s. Ian Abbey scored the gamewinner against FC Golden State, while Brandan Craig and Sam Jones were incredibly impressive defending in space against a strong FC Dallas attack. In that same match, Nelson Pierre, born two years after most U17 players, came on up top in the second half and blasted a left-footed shot against the crossbar after charging past his defender.
The Union's academy is becoming increasingly central to the club's first team as players that stand out prove themselves at the USL level and make an impact on the first team. Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie played key roles in the Union's playoff win over New York Red Bulls, while Jack de Vries and Cole Turner -- who both scored for the U19s -- will push for time on the first team in 2020.
Ernst Tanner has continued Earnie Stewart's focus on developing talent internally, and by trading all of the club's 2019 MLS SuperDraft picks, he made clear the club will retain a path to the first team for its younger players. Wilson and the Union academy have responded by pushing younger players to prove themselves at higher levels and use their mentality and intelligence to overcome the physical challenges they face by playing up.
"In terms of methodology, we continue to gradually implement our new style and will look to embed it deeper in our playing style as we move forward," Wilson explained.
So expect more of the same results in 2020, and expect to see more academy players making their way to the Union first team in the coming years. But there will be new elements introduced as the academy continues to develop its tactics toward an increasingly aggressive pressing style.