MLS Cup champion and two-time MLS All-Star Alecko Eskandarian joined the Union as Youth Technical Director on June 15. After his first tournament, in which the Union U-17's were the only academy team to go undefeated (3-0-2), Eskandarian checks in with a recap of the Generation adidas Cup.
What a great week it was for our Philadelphia Union Academy U-17 team in Dallas at the Generation adidas Cup!
I'd like to start this update by giving thanks to adidas for putting on a wonderful event for the players and staff of all the MLS academies to come together and compete. It has been great to be exposed to all the top players this country has to offer and the varying style each club plays. The experience for our players is priceless in their development as soccer players.
After a win and a tie/PK shootout loss in our first two matches vs. Seattle and FC Dallas, we played our final game of the group stage against Sporting KC on Thursday night. Despite a slow start, our boys came out on top with second half goals by Zach Pfeffer and Darius Madison to lead us to a 2-0 win.
At the end of the group stage we finished 2-0-1, undefeated without allowing a single goal. However, since we came out on the short end of our tiebreaker shootout against FC Dallas, we finished in second place in our group. Although all of us were a bit disappointed about not being in the first place bracket for the playoffs, we are extremely proud of our performances and results.
In this year's format for the competition, the first place teams from all four groups qualify to play against each other, while the second place teams from each group have a similar playoff, and so on for the third and fourth place teams. As a result, we qualified to play against the Houston Dynamo on Friday night.
In what could be described as a chippy first half that included one of our players being carted off with an ankle injury after a late challenge from behind, Houston took a 1-0 lead into halftime. Our team came out motivated in the second half and finally got a well-deserved goal as Billy McConnell rose up on a corner kick and headed in the tying goal.
About 10 minutes before the final whistle, Pfeffer made a convincing claim for Goal of the Week/Year honors by hitting a dipping volley into the upper corner after popping the ball over a defender's head to himself. The boys then did a tremendous job of managing the game as Houston continued to high pressure but never threatened our goal until the final whistle was finally blown. Kyle Bitterman, Jonathan Wenger, and Christian Kaschak all put in outstanding efforts along with Pfeffer and McConnell to secure the 2-1 win.
After beating Houston, we had one final game to determine whether we'd finish the tournament in fifth or sixth place. Toronto FC defeated the NY Red Bulls to play us on Sunday morning, and both teams definitely had tired legs going into the fifth game in seven days.
After taking a 3-1 lead through goals by Connor Maloney and two more by Pfeffer, Toronto came back to the tie the match at 3-3 in the last minute of regulation. Once again we went to a shootout, and were defeated 9-8. Although we came out on the wrong end of the penalty shootout again, I am extremely proud of the brand of soccer played by our academy. After witnessing so many shootouts this week, one thing is for certain: we will be spending a lot more time working on our PK's next year before we head to this competition!
Along with all the work the boys put in on the field, we also emphasized the importance of taking care of their bodies and using the resources provided off the field. Head coach Jim Curtin was able to get the team into the Dallas headquarters of Athlete's Performance, a training facility used by the world's premier athletes, to help recover from multiple games over the course of the week.
As we stressed all week, we did our best to treat our players like young professionals and they have carried that mentality onto the field with them. I can't say enough about how proud Jim and I are of this group.
In the end, we finished the GA Cup with a 3-0-2 record, and the tremendous feat of being the ONLY team over the course of the week to finish undefeated in regulation time. The future of the Philadelphia Union Academy looks bright, as these boys set a standard for the level of work ethic, discipline, teamwork, attitude, and success we will expect from all our teams from here on out.
From a personal standpoint, with this being my first-ever trip as the Youth Technical Director of the Union, I just want to thank all our players and staff for their efforts in making my first experience with the Academy such a successful one. I look forward to what the future holds in store, and Union fans should as well.
UNION U-17'S GA CUP RESULTS
July 25 - Union 1, Sounders 0
July 26 - Union 0, FC Dallas 0 (Union lose in penalties 5-3)
July 28 - Union 2, Sporting KC 0
July 29 - Union 2, Houston 1
July 31 - Union 3, Toronto FC 3 (Union lose in penalties 9-8)