Last week, Gareth Southgate expressed worry about the amount of game time young English players were getting in the Premier League. In the US, few clubs have shown a greater willingness to give first team minutes to youth than Philadelphia Union. Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real, Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones, Keegan Rosenberry, and Jack Elliott are all players that saw significant minutes in their first seasons in Major League Soccer, and five of those players came through the Union’s increasingly productive academy.
That record with young talent shows youth players that if they work hard and develop, the Union are a club that will not hesitate to take a chance on them, and as a result another wave of top players is cresting in the academy and preparing to crash into MLS.
On Saturday, the academy returned to action with matches against Lehigh Valley United and New York City FC. The Union Under 12s through Under 14s faced off against Lehigh Valley and all came out winners by a combined 35-3 scoreline.
In the older age groups, Philly has a number of standout players that are turning heads at the national level, and those stars shined brightly on Saturday as part of the organized, team- and possession-oriented system that the first team executes at the professional level.
At the U15 level, US Boy’s National Team captain Brandan Craig showed off his set piece prowess with a pair of goals from dead balls just outside the box. In the first half, Craig fired a laser to the left of the wall and into the far corner of the net. Later, he curled a confident shot around the right of the wall to put the match away. Most of the U15s were born in 2004, but striker Nelson Pierre and winger Million Evans are a year younger. Pierre, a big, extremely fast striker, scored a second half goal when he simply pulled away from the defense and tucked his shot past the NYC keeper.
The U15s struggled at times to build through their midfield, but key aspects of the Union system were evident in their play. After turnovers, they often sought to isolate Evans and right winger Ian Abbey on the edges and both players were aggressive in their 1v1 duels.
The Union U17s featured three players recently called up to the US National Team: Dante Huckaby, Patrick Bohui, and Selmir Miscic. All three were born in 2003, while the rest of the starters were 2002s. In the first half, both teams trapped along the wings near the midline. This resulted in a back-and-forth contest, most of which was played up the Union’s right. Miscic, at left wing, was largely left out of the first half, though he controlled play well when he was on the ball. After NYC went up by forcing a Union own goal, Miscic dribbled into the box and touched the ball to attacking midfielder Julian Anderson for a shot. The deflected strike looped over the goalie and in, tying the game.
After halftime, Philly began playing over NYC’s pressure and gained more control over the proceedings. Miscic became increasingly involved while Aboubacar Camara and Bohui tried to drive at the visitors’ back line, but it was New York City that snatched a second goal against the run of play.
The Union were undeterred, however, and Huckaby made an excellent angled run into the box to get on the end of a bouncing ball on the left. He centered it and in the resulting chaos there was a clear handball by a NYC defender. Miscic coolly slotted home to draw the contest even.
Late in the match, Bohui took over on a darting run through the center, pushing back the NYC defense and patiently waiting for a passing lane. He used a decoy run on the right to shape the defense then laid off to the left where Miscic took a touch and lifted the ball beyond the goalie for the winning tally.
Importantly, the U17s continued to press aggressively after going down and held a high, though at times ragged, defensive line. They adjusted their approach to get past an effective pressing system from the visitors and found success by finding the spaces left open when the press came high. However, this adjustment left attacking midfielder Anderson out of play for long stretches in the second half, and the team will likely seek to ensure their central trio remains involved even when they need to play over a press in the future.
In the final match of the day, the Union U19s fell in a physical matchup 2-1. There were three red cards in the game, two to Philly — including one for defender Ben Ofeimu, who has seen time with Bethlehem Steel this season — and one to NYC.
The Union U13s through U19s are back in action at YSC Sports next weekend when they welcome Virginia Development Academy to town.