Academy image
Greg Carroccio

Union academy model reaping benefits of dedicated weekend warriors and soccer junkies

They arrive in droves.

From office cubicle dwellers, landscape designers to students home on summer break, white collar meets blue collar every day at noon on the expansive green turf inside YSC Sports in Wayne. Instead of a meet and greet at Starbucks or some restaurant chain, this lunchtime crowd instead break out their wallets to play pickup soccer for one hour.

For some, it’s an escape from the doldrums of staring at a computer screen all day. For others it’s a way to blow off steam, get in shape or connect with old friends. But for the past 18 years since the notion came about -- before YSC was even the haven it is now for not just the Union academy, but for scores of youth and adult leagues -- it was a “place to play pickup” from 12-1 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

“I enjoy coming out a couple of days a week, it’s a good run,” said Corey Taragna, who normally plays defense and has been a lunchtime mainstay back when the facility under a different moniker featured old wooden boards, hard tattered green carpet and rickety aluminum goals. Today, in the completed overhauled facility less than five years old, Taragna still makes it out to play. “It breaks up the work day and makes me feel good when I go back to the office."

However, many of these players – along with anyone that has ever signed up for one of YSC’s nine adult leagues – may not realize is that all of the proceeds from their registration directly benefit the Union academy program and system.

Right down to the $5 fee it costs to have that hour of football Zen.

“The idea behind all of those programs is that 100 percent of the profits benefit and fund our Union related youth development activities,” said YSC Sports owner Richie Graham. “Essentially, it’s the idea that an adult soccer player likes what we provide and says ‘hey, I want to work out at that place, because I know that by playing there I am not only in a good environment, but more importantly that 100 percent of the dollars that I am putting forward goes to the development of Philadelphia’s future.”

In conjunction with YSC Sports, this week the Union is set to unveil its new look academy system. The new look includes four brand new coaches, two of which hold top European and American coaching licenses, the first within any academy in Major League Soccer. In addition to the three academy teams which feature U14, U16 and U18 programs, the Union Juniors (ages 8-13) and the Union Future (ages 6-7) programs have taken undergone a revamp as well.

Read: Q&A with Union academy director Tommy Wilson

However, the mantra has always remained the same – the clear path to PPL Park and beyond will follow carefully planned and executed guidelines.

“I always thought my money was being put in the pockets of the folks who run the place, but it makes me feel good to know it’s getting put to good use,” said Taragna. “I watch these academy kids play and they are fantastic players, smart and skilled. It’s nice to know that I am helping even in a small way to make sure the best soccer product comes right out of [Philadelphia.]”

In addition to the mid-afternoon matches, there are over 600 teams that compete across the nine divisions of men’s and women’s adult leagues alone at YSC in the course of a year, according to YSC president Charlie Dodds. It’s a steady stream that not only generates revenue but ensures a strong foundation for an ever budding youth development system.

For Graham, who himself plays in the afternoon sessions from time to time, it's a smart investment.

“I think it’s kind of cool that we are investing in the future of the game,” said Graham. “Not only for Philadelphia, but on a national level and I think that anyone who loves the game and would like to see the United States one day win the [FIFA] World Cup gets behind that idea.”

Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at


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