MLS NEXT Cup Tournament Updates
The U17s kicked off their journey to the MLS NEXT Cup on Saturday morning with a showdown against Total Futbol Academy out of Southwest CA. The Boys in Blue dominated form the opening whistle to rack up a 4-0 win that will see them through to the Round of 32. They will face off against fellow MLS Academy, LAFC on Sunday, June 27th. Kick off from the Lone Star State is set for 7 p.m. ET.
After receiving words of encouragement from Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin and club captain Alejandro Bedoya, the Philadelphia Union U17 team is in Dallas for the MLS NEXT Playoffs, which kick off tonight and will run through July 3.
The team finished in first place in the MLS NEXT U17 Mid-Atlantic Division, ending the season with 21 points from eight games and dropping points just once.
“After having the three matches in Atlanta and winning all three, we have a lot of confidence going into the playoffs,” U17s Head Coach Tobias Nubbemeyer said. “We’re getting back into shape and then we can reach a new peak in the playoffs. The playoffs are great because it’s a knockout mode, and that will definitely give a little spiciness to the tournament.”
The team played Charlotte FC, Inter Miami CF, and Atlanta United in the MLS Academy Cup in Atlanta, winning 3-0, 1-0, and 3-1, respectively. One obstacle the team has had to overcome is the fact that much of the U17 team moves up to the Union 2 at times, which makes it hard for the team to keep up its chemistry and continuity from game to game.
Logan Oliver has played with both teams and says he enjoys the different roles he has to fill: he enjoys the professionalism of Union 2 and the challenge of dealing with the physicality that comes with playing at that level, and he also enjoys being a leader and playing a more important role on the field with the U17s.
“I think the balance of trying to dominate your age group while also competing with some of the best players at a semi-pro level is a really cool experience,” Oliver said.
One way the team has kept its chemistry up on the field is by doing things together off the field. For example, the team, with the U15s, went on a camping trip on Monday after their match against the New York Red Bulls U17 team.
“We stay connected all the time,” says Jackson Gilman. “When we come back as a group altogether, we’re already close from playing for all the years we’ve been in the academy that we don’t really miss a beat. We’re back like we never left.”
Gilman looks to the U17s’ 5-2 win against Baltimore Armour as the team’s benchmark performance of the season thanks to the team’s overall performance in all phases of the game. Oliver sees the Inter Miami win in Atlanta as the team’s best performance thanks to the players’ mental fortitude after receiving a red card.
Nubbemeyer says that the players moving between the U17s and Union 2 have a lot of responsibility, but that he holds individual talks with those players and has daily phone conversations with Union 2 Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc.
“It’s not always optimal because the players might train three times [with Union 2] and two times [with the U17s], and it’s hard,” Nubbemeyer said of players coming in and out of his team. “But the one thing I can do, as long as they’re in my environment, is to create a team atmosphere every second they’re in there.”
The coach strives to set a culture and a “standard of excellence” within his team where everyone leads by example through their work.
That standard has the club ranked at the No. 3 overall seed in their age group. Their path to the inaugural championship in MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs begins on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET against Total Futbol Academy, which finished fourth in the