There’s something special happening in Chester, where all three levels of the Philadelphia Union share the same campus for the first time in club history.

Philadelphia Union’s first and second team are both undefeated after an impressive start to their respective seasons. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Union Academy, which recently moved their school to the Delaware riverfront, added new hardware to the trophy case after the U-17s lifted the prestigious Generation adidas Cup for a second straight year.

The club’s success as of late is unprecedented. The Union currently boasts their longest streak without a loss to open a season, and Union II are amidst their best start in the team’s three-year history. How did this come to be?

Instilling identity

The club’s identity is a steadfast one, and it has permeated through all of its branches.

“Results are a fickle, fickle, business. One day, they can be going your way, and the next day, they could be going quite the opposite way. But we're not talking about one day right now, we’re talking about quite a bit of time,”said Union II Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc. “Whether it's us coming from behind to grind out results in four of the five games that we've played this year, the first team coming from behind to find a way to get it done, and even the U-17s in the GA Cup final against the Galaxy down 2-1 finding way to come back, I think it has to do with the DNA of our club.”

That DNA is built, in large part, through the team’s renowned Pathway to the Pros, and on Wednesday, the club announced it has promoted Director of Scouting Jon Scheer to a new role as Director of Academy and Professional Development. In the position, he’ll oversee the entire player development pathway.

“It's the first time we have all elements of our club at the same place. If you look at the first team, if you look at Union II, if you look at the academy, if you look at the front office, we have a fantastic opportunity to bring everybody together and truly be one club, and I think that's going to pay off in a lot of positives in the future here,” Scheer said.

“I think it's been well documented that we have three pillars to our competitive strategy. We're a youth development manufacturing engine, we have a one club, one style of play technical continuity, and then our last pillar is innovation. If you look at the second pillar, not so many clubs and organizations around the country can really say that they have a real style of play that they're able to stick to from the top down and we're fortunate to have one.”

That playing style is embraced by the club’s coaches and instilled at the earliest levels, so that if and when academy-produced talents do reach the first team level, the concepts, strategies, and terminology aren’t new.

“We're very proactive. We're very direct and brave in our thinking. We value the cognitive player, and quite frankly, I think it's a really enjoyable and fun style to grow up in,” Scheer said. “The fact that we have a full-fledged academy where we can really work with our players at the youngest ages and impose that style in them, really changes their philosophy in terms of how they're able to train, how they're able to play, the instincts they have on the field. It's critical, because when they get to Jim and the first team staff, they're not hearing new terminology or expected to do completely different actions on the field. It's a really clear plan. We start with the end in mind, we know what the future game we want at the first team level is, so it gives guidance and structure to what our coaches are doing day in and day out.”

Fortifying the first team

Homegrowns Quinn Sullivan, Nate Harriel, and Jack McGlynn all started in the academy, then played for Union II before making an impact on the first team level. This season, they've been essential in Head Coach Jim Curtin's lineup, with each starting every regular season match that they’ve appeared in so far in 2024.

Other depth players like Jeremy Rafanello, Chris Donovan, Jesus Bueno, and Olivier Mbaizo have had their own unique journeys through the club’s pathway to make it to the big stage as well.

With homegrown talent abundant and plenty in the pipeline, the team’s star-studded cast of Designated Players, international talent, and MLS SuperDraft picks turned club fixtures have created a robust roster with winning ways.

The talent is indisputable, but an added layer of strength comes from their chemistry. All but two players who have started a regular season game this season have been part of the team for more than a year. The only outliers are rookies Oliver Semmle, who's been called upon six times to fill in for Andre Blake in net, and striker Markus Anderson. Familiarity has been key, especially in comeback results, of which they’ve had five this year.

“We've been playing together for a long time. We know what we're made of and we know how each other plays at this point,” said Danish forward Mikael Uhre after the team’s 2-2 draw in Atlanta. “It’s a pleasure to be a part of it. I love the guys and it's just great to see how much we're willing to put on the table for each other.”

#NSHvPHI | Jack McGlynn

Home sweet home

The Philadelphia Union have four draws, three wins, and no losses heading into their bye weekend, which commenced after training Thursday.

The players will return to campus on Tuesday after well-deserved rest, and favorably, they have a long stretch without travel ahead. They won’t need to board a plane for a match until May 19th; they have two pairs of home matches before then, and a bus trip to D.C. in between.

Head Coach Jim Curtin’s squad has only lost one of their last 39 home MLS matches including playoffs, scoring 86 goals, while only conceding 23. After emerging from a strenuous opening stretch of the season navigating Concacaf Champions Cup play, National Team call-ups, and five road games without a league loss, home sweet home will mean a little bit more when the team hosts Real Salt Lake on April 27th at Subaru Park.

"Playing five [away games] out of seven on the road is really really hard in this league, and I like where we're at. Could some of the ties have been wins this year? Of course. But like we've said we've proven we're tough to play against and at home, I know we're going to create chances, I know we're going to score goals, I know we're going to get the fans into the game, and we can't wait to be back home," Curtin said.

On Sale Now!

On Sale Now!

Every match matters! In 2024, you do not want to miss your favorite matchups as the Union take on the best MLS has to offer! When we score, make sure you are there to get Subaru Park shaking!

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