The U-16 and U-18 Union academy teams will train for the first time this Sunday, a monumental day in the club’s short history.
Select players from 11 different youth clubs in the Philadelphia region will converge at YSC Sports, a recently renovated, state-of-the-art facility in Wayne Pa. YSC Sports is the official youth development partner of the Union.
Philadelphia’s academy is unlike any other in MLS, employing a club-country model within which elite players in the region will continue to play for their respective clubs. The Union will then hand select the top players in the region to receive no-cost, supplemental training and compete in major youth tournaments.
“The U-16 and U-18 academy training sessions this weekend are a continuation of the player development program the Union and YSC have established over the last two years,” coach John Hackworth said from Greece on Saturday. “We look forward to working with these very talented groups of players as we begin this phase of our Academy program.”
The primary benefit of the Union player development structure is this: Competition for elite players is eliminated, which in turn facilitates communication between Union academy coaches and local youth clubs. Many of the players invited to this weekend’s sessions have been recommended by local coaches and academy directors, including a number from Youth Development Affiliates of the Union.
The result is a wider net and more harmonious player development environment, one that effectively equates to a giant, region-wide academy system for the Union.
“We’re extremely excited to welcome so many talented young players to YSC for a historic moment in the development of the Union academy,” said YSC Founder Rich Graham. “It’s terrific to see so many different youth clubs represented. We’re grateful to all of the coaches and regional youth clubs who have helped us assemble an impressive group of aspiring professional soccer players.”
The objective of this weekend’s sessions is to construct two separate rosters, the top levels in Philadelphia's academy system. Each of the two squads will train independently, with YSC Union Juniors staff observing the youngsters during technical drills, possession exercises and match play.
The two academy teams will each continue to gather twice a month for the next three months, with sessions planned around players' club obligations. The Union will soon be beefing up their academy staff to manage the youth squads and report to Hackworth, who oversees the academy set-up.
While this is the first gathering for the U-16 and U-18 squads, the Union fielded a U-17 team for the SUM Cup last summer. YSC Academy Director Iain Munro led the youth side to a 1-1-1 record, including a 1-0 victory vs. FC Dallas for the club's first-ever victory in youth competition. 16-year-old first team member Zach Pfeffer featured in all three SUM Cup matches for Philadelphia.
The U-16 and U-18 sides will comprise phase three in the Union player development system. Phase one is the YSC Union Juniors program (ages 8-12), phase two is the Union Juniors Academy (ages 13-14), with the Union Youth Academy (ages 15-18) serving as the final phase.