Professional soccer players don't become a professional overnight. There's years of an incredible amount of work, honing skills, playing games and practices, and a little bit of luck sprinkled in here and there.
It's all a part of the path to the pros, and for the Union, that starts with the Union Academy.
The Union Academy has become one of the best in all of MLS, from its teams to the facilities. YSC provides an outlet for Union Academy members to get state-of-the-art training, while also excelling in the classroom. While the actual Academy begins at the U12 level, the organization recently launched its Union Juniors Pre-Academy program.
The organization has made it a point to have the Academy lay the foundation for generations of Union players, and fans are starting to see that investment pay off. Currently, the Union have signed three players from the Academy in its current form to homegrown contracts; Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty and Anthony Fontana. Jones became the first player ever to start for the Union Academy, Bethlehem Steel FC and the Union when he earned the starting spot in the Union's season opener back in March. Trusty and Fontana made their Union debuts in 2017 when the team played Swansea City AFC in an international friendly in July. Two days after that match, Fontana signed his homegrown contract.
There are a few players in the Academy who have the opportunity to play for Bethlehem Steel FC, which is the middle ground between the Union Academy and the first team. Bethlehem Steel FC plays in the USL, a second-division team, which was founded as the Union's affiliate in 2016.
It wasn't hard to see the impact Bethlehem Steel FC had on the club, as Jones became the team's first ever signing, and Trusty was not far behind him.
The club is in its second season playing in USL, and currently projects to have its first playoff appearance this season. Throughout its time, Steel FC has served as an extension of the first-team, playing the same style while developing players to get ready to play in the next level.
In 2017, Steel FC has seen plenty of turnover, as a significant amount of players both in the Academy and first team have suited up for Bethlehem Steel FC. Union players such as Marcus Epps, Adam Najem and Jack Elliott have spent time down in Bethlehem Steel FC to hone their skills to be contributing members of the Union. Thanks to their time in Bethlehem, Elliott is a major player for MLS Rookie of the Year and Epps has earned starting time and serves as a regular sub.
There have also been major moments for the Academy with Bethlehem Steel FC as well. Five academy players made their Steel FC debut in a single match, while Tomas Romero became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to record a win and result, playing a full 90 minutes at just 16 years old and stopping shots from men double his age.
During the 2017 season, Steel FC has seen records for most goals and assists in a season and a career broken. It has served as a significant place for players to get playing time against quality competition, as well as continue to teach organizational pillars of the game.
It all culminates with the Union first team in MLS. Players continually have to fight and work hard in games and training to secure a spot on the first team, but because of the Union Academy and Bethlehem Steel FC, those things come second nature. Those who go down the path to the pros already know what it takes to be a Union player and what is expected of him.
Secure your season tickets for 2018, and see the next wave of players come down the path to the pros.