Both Union and Bethelehem Steel FC drew their opponents on Saturday, with the Union tying Swansea City AFC 2-2 and Steel FC staying even with Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1-1. And the results may not have been wins, the entire Union organization scored a big victory during the weekend.
Academy and Bethlehem Steel FC
Bethlehem Steel FC's draw continued the team's longest unbeaten streak, extending the run to eight games. Steel FC went down early to Pittsburgh, but drew a penalty, where James Chambers equalized for his fourth goal of the season. The streak continues to be the longest active streak in USL and the longest such streak in Bethlehem Steel FC history.
While that's a feat in itself, Steel extended its streak without any Union members in the gameday 18. Steel FC's gameday 18 featured seven Union Academy members, three of which made their Steel FC debuts (Brendan Aaronson, Tiger Graham and Seth Kuhn). Tomas Romero, Steel FC's 16-year-old starting keeper, became the youngest goalkeeper in league history to earn a result.
“Very happy with the result considering we had three guys make their debut today; young goalkeeper who I thought performed really well for us and one of his saves was an excellent one at the end of the match to come out and close off the angle,” Bethlehem Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke said. “Really happy that we got so many guys an intro, this is what we are all about. We were a little bit light so it’s an important result for us. A lot of the guys that we’ve called character guys stepped up today and were just that. Charlie Reymann was good, Matthew Mahoney was good, Yosef (Samuel) stepped in and did his work defensively and showed a flash or two going forward. Santi (Moar) pushed through a little bit of a grown injury and I think (Chris) Nanco carried the front line again. Really happy with the performance overall.”
Steel FC was without any Union player because they were all up with the senior club, who faced off against Swansea City AFC. The Union drew the Swans 2-2, but saw four players make their Union debuts. Auston Trusty and Jake McGuire made their Union debuts, while also starting a game for the Union for the first time. In the 76th minute, Aaron Jones and Anthony Fontana also made their Union debuts, finishing up the draw. The four starts continued a trend of the Union to reward young players with game minutes, while also showing the team to reap the benefits of drafting well and developing young talent.
"I think some pretty important things for the club happened kind of by chance and I got caught off guard a little bit by it and it kind of hit me" Union Head Coach Jim Curtin said. "Six to seven guys, 16-year-old kids, that are out there for us and doing a great job, not just being on the field, but impacting the game. Then you fast-forward to our game tonight and the performances of some of the young guys in a hard spot in a hard game. Auston Trusty and Anthony Fontana who comes in and looks experienced in the short time that he gets the opportunity to play. When Earnie Stewart talks about what we envision, this is a very positive night in a lot of ways. To having young kids coming up and making our decisions tough on the field, the success of Bethlehem Steel and how it has grown, I think it is always good to step back occasionally because we do get caught up because we do want to win, first and foremost, but, at the same time, it is good sometimes to step back and see that there are some real positive things the fanbase can be very proud of, and the Union badge is growing."
It wasn't just limited to club either, the Union saw success for country over the weekend. Alejandro Bedoya and Chris Pontius, for the first time in their respective international careers, found themselves in the starting XI together for the US Men's National Team. In the USMNT's 3-0 win against Nicaragua, Bedoya registered two assists, while both players saw the full 90 minutes. Bedoya also served as captain for the second time in three Gold Cup matches. After the match, Bedoya returned to Philadelphia as he awaits the birth of his second child, while Pontius stays with the USMNT and will compete with the team in the knockout stage.
Andre Blake and Cory Burke also represented their national teams, playing to a 1-1 draw against El Salvador. Both players earned the start, and helped move the Reggae Boyz into the knockout stages.
"Earnie and I believe strongly in having players represented internationally," Curtin said. "We've raised the bar in terms of that this year, but we want more. We want more guys playing for our national team, we want more guys playing for different national teams and representing the Philadelphia Union when they go there."
Steel FC extended its winning streak to eight games, using zero players from the Union and saw three Academy players make their professional debuts. The Union saw four players make their first-team debuts in a draw against an English Premier League team, and four Union members helped will their international teams to the knockout stage of the Gold Cup, one of which wore the captain's band. Not a bad weekend at all.