When the final whistle rang out at Subaru Park this past weekend it capped off an inaugural MLS NEXT campaign that saw Philadelphia Union Academy U15s go unbeaten within its age group. With the MLS NEXT Playoffs rapidly approaching, the team is looking to continue that form as they head to Dallas to face off against the best U15 teams in the nation.
Despite the unbeaten record the Boys in Blue emerged from the Boys’ U15 Mid-Atlantic Division in second place behind the rival New York Red Bulls who too completed an undefeated campaign but grabbed the top spot with the assistance of an extra match and higher points per game. The two sides battled for the top spot but ultimately ended deadlocked at a 1-1 margin on Saturday.
“To me, it’s deserved,” U15s Head Coach Ryan Richter said of his team’s success. “I’ve had the chance to work with these guys all year and seen how hard they train and how hard they work to improve as a team and as individuals.”
The Union U15 team has scored in every single game since the Spring phase of the MLS NEXT season began. The last time the team was shut out came in a friendly match on February 13, a 0-0 draw against Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals. The team’s last loss came in a December friendly against an under-17 team.
“I think it’s the intensity of our practices,” said captain and defender Gavin Wetzel when asked about what makes the team so successful. “Everyone’s out to show for themselves to get into the starting lineup. We’re practicing hard and it’s showing in the games.”
“It makes everyone better, everybody competing like that,” striker Dominic Wilson added.
The U15 side has averaged 3.5 goals per game (28 goals in eight games) while allowing less than one goal per game. The team has the second-best goal differential, goals scored, and goals allowed numbers in their division, and it is one of seven undefeated teams among all 80 MLS NEXT U15 teams.
One of their most promising performances came recently at the MLS Academy Cup event in Atlanta during Memorial Day Weekend. Playing three games in four days, the team not only won all three matches and had to come back to win in each one. They won 4-2 against Inter Miami, 3-2 against LA Galaxy, and 4-2 against Atlanta United.
“We knew we were going to get a goal somehow,” Wilson said. “Once we got our first goal against Inter Miami, everything connected and we just started finishing all of our chances.”
“Once you go down by a goal, something goes off in your brain and you just start playing so much harder,” Striker Jaden Francis said. “That momentum, once you score one, it starts going crazy. It turns into a domino effect.”
Richter said that he admired his team’s hunger to win and confidence in its ability to come back after conceding. The team has flashed its scoring ability consistently this season, as they have put away six goals or more on five occasions this season.
The team wants to bring that form to Dallas for the playoffs, where the players will get a sense of where they stand compared to other teams in their age group.
“We always want to be the best team in the country, so showing that we can beat top-level teams proves that we’re up there,” Wetzel said.
The players feel confident and so does the coach. He has seen them play at a high level all season, and is now ready to see his players build on that in Texas.
“My expectations are for us to step on the field like we did in Atlanta, as a very confident team with an understanding of how to play together, of what the staff and the club is asking of them as far as a style of play, and I’m expecting good competition,” Richter said. “And you’re competing to win something, so there’s that emotion involved as well.”