WAYNE, Pa. – Jimmy McLaughlin's time as a college student didn't last long.
One semester after enrolling at Colgate University, McLaughlin was forced to say goodbye to his new friends and teammates.
He wasn't complaining.
After earning Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors in his lone season with the Raiders, McLaughlin signed with the Union on December 12 as the club's second Home Grown player.
The former FC DELCO and Union Academy star midfielder speaks with an assertive confidence belying his years. He plays the same way, leading Union manager Peter Nowak to proclaim after his signing that “he’s not afraid to play against the big boys.”
Yet the 18-year-old Malvern, Pa. native knows his professional journey has just begun. Signing a deal with his hometown club was just the first step.
There is a certain validation, however, that comes with seeing your name listed on the club's official roster. Last year McLaughlin featured for Philadelphia in Reserve League matches and friendlies against Everton and Real Madrid, but never in league play.
So McLaughlin has reason to be excited about his first training camp as a professional.
"It's awesome, it's just great to be together with everyone again," McLaughlin told philadelphiaunion.com after training on Wednesday. "I kind of feel like I've earned my spot now. It makes me more comfortable out there and more confident."
While McLaughlin's time at Colgate was brief, his performance spoke volumes.
“Jimmy had a really good first year of college,” Union coach John Hackworth said recently. “Right from the start, he came out on fire. And his team won the conference and made NCAAs, and he was a tremendous part of that.”
Now, it's on to proving that he not only belongs in Major League Soccer, but deserves a meaningful role. When asked about his goals for the 2012 season, McLaughlin was hesitant to set specific benchmarks.
"Number one, just to improve myself as a player," he said. "I'm just going to do everything possible to get on the field and show everyone what I can do."
What he can do is attack the right flank with pace to spare. According to Nowak, he's a "very good dribbler and he’s not afraid to take players on." Nowak also praised McLaughlin's tactical maturity, especially for his age.
With his youth comes plenty of room for improvement, which is why McLaughlin is mindful of soaking up as much as he can from the technical staff and his teammates. Two veterans in particular have been quick to mentor the youngster.
"All the older guys really help – everyone is really helpful," McLaughlin said. "But Danny Califf and Brian Carroll are always the guys where when you're in need they point you in the right direction."
While the reality of his signing continues to sink in, McLaughlin admits that the past couple of months have been an enjoyable time for him and his family.
"It's been a lot of fun," McLaughlin said. "Everyone is really excited for me, just very happy. I was just really anxious to get going so I'm glad [preseason] is finally here."