After falling in the MLS NEXT Cup Final at the U15 level just one year ago, Philadelphia Union Academy’s U17 squad completed its redemption journey with a memorable 3-2 comeback win over the Columbus Crew to claim the MLS NEXT Cup.
Playing on the exact same pitch at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas where they had to watch the U15s of Real Salt Lake lift the trophy, the Boys in Blue refused to let history repeat itself and will now bring hardware back with them to Pennsylvania after stunning displays on both sides of the ball.
The heart of the U17 champions was on display in the second half, coming back from a 2-0 deficit with a trio of goals in 19 minutes to complete a sensational comeback. Forward Marcos Zambrano-Delgado led the rally with a pair of goals highlighted by a clinical finish in the 73rd minute that officially turned the match on its head and secured the championship.
The Union were the stronger side from the start and controlled the tempo of the match. The Crew jumped out a 1-0 lead via a penalty kick that snuck in even though goalkeeper Andrew Rick got a hand to it. TheOhio side doubled its lead just 34 seconds into the second half, but just like the city they represent, the Union proved they had the grit and mentality to take on any challenge. A Luke Martelli corner kick volley connected to a well placed Zambrano-Delgado header to the back post and the match was suddenly wide open.
In the 67th minute, the Boys in Blue tied it up with a smashing headed finish from David Vazquez. Momentum was fully on Philly’s side, and they capped off the comeback in true Union style. Forcing a turnover in the midfield, the Golden Boot-winning Zambrano-Delgado dribbled into the box and flicked a perfectly placed blast inside the near post for the 3-2 advantage. So dominant was the striker that his teammates celebrated before the ball even left his foot.
The U17s run to the title began exactly one week ago with a dominating performance in the Round of 32 in a 6-2 win over the Cedar Stars Academy of Monmouth. The offense kept rolling in the Round of 16 with a 5-1 result against Toronto FC the following day. After a rest day, the Boys in Blue knocked out their club rivals Wednesday morning with a 4-2 win over New York Red Bulls behind goals from Antonio Horozoglou, Luciano Sanchez, David Vazquez and Luke Zielinski. In the semifinals, the Union’s defense locked down a difficult LAFC side for a 2-1 win, with goals coming from Alex Perez and Marcos Zambrano.