The pathway to the pros is valued and emphasized throughout the entire Philadelphia Union organization. As a youth development-focused club, the Union wants its identity to be closely tied to local talent grows and thrives internally.
That pathway bore fruit Wednesday night when Bethlehem Steel FC midfielder Zach Zandi stepped onto the field for the Union in their US Open Cup 4th round match against DC United. Zandi is now the first player in history to have ‘completed the cycle,’ that is, playing competitively for all four levels of the Philadelphia Union organization: the Union Academy, Reading United AC, Bethlehem Steel FC, and the Union first team.
“We have a unique pathway to the pros that covers really any development trajectory a player might find themselves on to reach the first team,” said Steel Head Coach Brendan Burke. “Zandi is an excellent representation of a guy that has gained the trust of his teammates and coaches at every level of the club, which is why he has steadily progressed through the levels. He still has a ways to go, but I am confident that his approach to training and his own development will see him enjoy a very good professional career. I am so happy that our ownership group and technical leadership have put in the time and resources to allow for guys to choose various pathways towards the top of our club, without losing years of development.”
The match was in extra time when the West Chester, Pa. native stepped onto the field, coming on for Union forward Fafa Picault. Zandi was up against tough competition, with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta on the other side of the ball. He represented himself well, despite missing a chance on goal. The midfielder made two tackles and earned one foul for the Union, including sneaking up on Rooney, relieving him of possession and then drawing a foul from the Englishman. Even though Philadelphia didn’t get the result, it was an impressive night for Zach Zandi, and a just reward for his work with Steel.
“My thoughts and reactions were the same as when any of the guys who have spent significant time with us, especially those that have been with us through multiple levels of the club, get the opportunity to represent the Union for the first time; just happy to see them make the first step toward hopefully establishing the same level of trust that we have in them with the first team staff,” responded Burke when asked for his thoughts on Zandi’s appearance. “I though Zach did quite well. He would want the chance on goal back, so I’m sure he has already absorbed that moment and will be clinical in it the next time he sees it. He’s a great kid and a testament to steady concentrated development over a number of years with the club. I was actually sitting next to Stephen [Hogan] when he went on and that’s basically what we said to each other, if anyone works for this type of opportunity/reward around the clock it’s Zandi.”
Zandi has made 10 appearances (eight starts) for the Steel so far this season and has scored one goal and provided three assists. He made a name for himself in his Steel debut against Birmingham Legion FC (March 10) by scoring a goal and providing an assist in his first time out with the club. The Union Academy product signed for Steel FC on January 8, 2019, following a four-year career at Villanova University.
“It was a moment that I’ll never forget,” stated Zandi. “To be able to make my debut with my hometown team, a team that I’ve supported and been a part of from the very beginning, is something special. To do it in front of a bunch of my family who travelled and who have supported me throughout my career made it even better.”