When Philadelphia Union welcomed Eintracht Frankfurt to Talen Energy Stadium for an international friendly match, Jim Curtin wanted as many players as possible to get minutes against the defending DFP-Pokal Cup champions. By the end of the match, only two remained in pinnies on the sidelines: Fafa Picault, who was carrying heavy minutes on his legs, and a thin kid from Bosnia with intense eyes, a confident gait, and nearly 30 goals to his name in the 2017-18 Union academy season. Selmir Miscic plowed through the U15s this year to the tune of 27 goals. He traveled with the US U16 Boys National Team; he scored for them too.
Born in 2003, Miscic is still slight in stature, but his soccer brain is developing at a frightening pace. And as Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie cement places on the Union first team, players like Miscic, his U15 teammate Patrick Bohui, Brendan Aaronson, and Ben Ofeimu are already demonstrating vast potential, portending an increasingly robust academy influence on the Talen Energy Stadium pitch in the years to come.
But first there will be moments like the Frankfurt match, where Miscic can get tantalizingly close to the action, but still can’t touch it. Still, when Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke told the young attacker he would be part of the Union's matchday team against Frankfurt, Miscic quickly determined that he needed to live in the moment.
"I was surprised, but at the same time very happy" he said after a recent practice. “The opportunity doesn't come a lot to us young guys, so just enjoy it."
Miscic could not participate in the match even though it was a friendly because it could have jeopardized any chance to play in college. "By league rules he's unfortunately not allowed to play," Union head coach Jim Curtin said post-game. "There's NCAA stuff — archaic, silly rules from the 1920s that still exist and prevent development — but we live with that."
Although he displayed impressive composure scoring two goals for the U16 BNT in the Torneo Delle Nazioni in Italy earlier this year, sitting next to Haris Medunjanin, a Bosnian national team fixture he watched while growing up, was an experience on an entirely different level. "I know Haris," Miscic said with an unaffected smile. "We're from the same country — I grew up watching him as a little kid. To be there with him was so special."
For his part, the Union midfielder did his best to inform Miscic what it takes to both become and remain a pro. "You see in him that he wants it, that's most important," Medunjanin said. "These kids, they have potential to play professional soccer; they need to be humble. In the beginning, for example, you need to fight for your places because a lot of guys are competing for the places. He has a good family next to him, his father — I met him — his mother, his brother, they're all humble. And I think he's going to come a long way."
Aside from the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the more intelligent players in MLS, Miscic also got to be a part of the Union locker room before the match. He drank in the atmosphere and tried to understand what makes the guys who successfully turn soccer into a full-time career different from everyone else. His takeaway is quick and simple: "The bond they have as a team."
"They're like brothers with each other," Miscic continued. "They love what they do."
That love is important, but when it comes to becoming one of the best Medunjanin has only one word of advice. "Discipline, man," he said, shaking his head as if discarding more complex answers. "Because just one day is not enough. That's how professional soccer works. Nobody cares about the past, everybody's looking to the future."
Then, after a short pause, a sly grin and a rejoinder: "You need to be also a little bit of a dirty guy."
Miscic can do that. He's been practicing with Bethlehem Steel this summer, learning to play with an edge and use his growing frame to protect the ball. He's also discovering the differences between pro-level and academy soccer. "Every touch matters, play quicker; it's very demanding," he said. "The intensity, the focus all the time. If you're playing against Eintracht Frankfurt, you have to be fast.
"Because it's really fast, the pass, the weight of it, where you put it, you have to cut off a second or two."
There is plenty of time for Miscic to shave off those seconds before the Union ask him to contribute to the first team. Including one of the academy's brightest lights on the match day roster for a friendly was not, after all, meant simply to reward, but also to galvanize. And Miscic got the message.
"I feel like I've deserved it," he said confidently after a practice with Steel in which he threw himself after loose balls with wild intensity. "I know that I haven't gotten anywhere yet, so it's just a start.
"I still have a long way to go, a lot more work to do."
Nobody doubts Miscic will put in that work. Because one day soon he wants to pull off that pinny and stand next to the fourth official when his number is raised high and lit in green. And then he’ll finally be on the pitch with the first team. He’ll receive a pass and turn upfield, and at that point it will take a lot more than arcane rules to stop the next wave of Philadelphia Union talent.