Philadelphia Union preseason is in full swing in Clearwater, Florida.
Three days into the team’s opening stretch of training in the sunshine state, developing young players has proved to be a focal point.
The group has been without José Martinez, Mikael Uhre, Daniel Gazdag, Nate Harriel, and Jack McGlynn to start the week due to travel for the internationals and United States Men’s National Team January camp call-ups for the Homegrown duo.
In their absence, a contingent of zestful young players that could be in line to take on larger roles come Major League Soccer’s regular season have been busy learning the ropes.
“Guys are always excited, there's always a buzz once you get started on the new season. Everybody's coming in really good shape, which is a real positive that lets us start working on things a little bit quicker,” Head Coach Jim Curtin said of the first few sessions on the pitch.
Among the lot of players present are five from the Philadelphia Union Academy, namely midfielders David Vazquez, Frankie Westfield, and CJ Olney, defender Neil Pierre, and goalkeeper Andrew Rick.
The trio of offseason signings in 19-year-old midfielder Sanders Ngabo from Lyngby BK, 20-year-old Homegrown midfielder Nick Pariano hailing from Duke University, and 21-year-old defender Isaiah LeFlore acquired from Houston Dynamo 2 are accounted for as well, along with 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick 23-year-old goalkeeper Francesco Montali from Boston University.
“It's a great opportunity for a lot of our young players that we brought from Union II. They've been impressive so far,” Curtin said.
“They get to learn from some of the guys that have been MLS All-Stars, Best XI guys, Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year. Just being around that environment, picking those guys' brains every day, watching film with them, all the little things. It only makes them better in their development.”
The head coach anticipates 2024 to be another 50-game season, and it’ll be one with an inevitably hectic calendar of international tournaments including Copa America, UEFA Euros, and the Olympics, to name a few. With impending absences of premier players fulfilling National Team duties, the team’s depth will likely be leaned on throughout the season.
“We're going to call upon everybody and the mindset of the team is always to be ready. Some games that might be 90 minutes, some games that might be 45 minutes, some games that might be one minute to help us close out a game, but every point matters in this league,” Curtin said.
“There's a lot of really exciting competitions this year. We'll have guys away with their National Teams. So again, everybody's going to be called upon to play a big role in this season.”
Until then, Curtin and his squad will focus on preparation, which will include five preseason friendlies starting with an FC Series matchup against Brazilian side Clube de Regatas do Flamengo in a on Sunday, January 21 at 2:00 p.m.
All players are anticipated to earn minutes in the contests to come, and Curtin is confident that the new additions to the lineup will swiftly find their footing.
“They'll play a role, just numbers wise, in a lot of our games coming up, it'll be a good test for them. What they'll find is that they belong here. The games a little bit faster, they have to think a little bit quicker, but at the same time, once those first 5-10 minutes of nerves go by, they'll recognize that yes, they can play against a top club, like Flamengo, they can play against an Austin FC, a New York City FC, and that's how you get better and better,” Curtin said.
“Like we always talk about, it's about putting together good full training sessions, then good full weeks, then months, then a full season. Then, going from there and improving your career as you get better and better. There’s a lot of good young players that we have here, and our goal is to make them reach their maximum potential. I think the environment that we give them is one way that we've shown over the years they can get better and better and reach the highest level of their talent potential.”
Tickets for the team’s first preseason match of 2024 against CR Flamengo at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida can be purchased here.