Mark McKenzie vs. Orlando City SC

RE-DOOP: Youth Movement

Six homegrown players on the roster: The Philly Five and a Jersey boy. A back line and goalie composed entirely of homegrowns and SuperDraft picks. A USL team starting teenagers on the wing and up front, and quickly becoming a breeding ground for MLS talent.

Philadelphia Union’s youth movement is underway.

The thing about building from a young base is that you get to see players develop from promising prospects into something far more influential. Brenden Aaronson remembers playing with Auston Trusty when both were barely teenagers, and Jim Curtin remembers coaching them both. Aaronson’s younger brother, Paxten, is so short he could run through Matt Miazga’s legs while the big defender was still busy making fun of his height, but he’s also tearing up academy opponents with ease. Selmir Miscic is 15 years old and already an unstoppable force against U17 competition. Patrick Bohui: Remember the name.

This year, the Union have staffed three quarters of their defense with teenagers and Bethlehem Steel have turned over the keys to the offense to a 17-year old. The club is talking the talk on youth development, and with a pipeline from a pre-academy through Steel up to the first team, players always have somewhere to grow and develop against competition that pushes them to improve. A possession-oriented, pressure-heavy philosophy guides instruction at every level, so when young talents reach the first team they already know their roles, the coaching cues, and how to interact with teammates. In fact, they already know many of their teammates from the academy.

This is only the beginning. The Union’s pre-academy is relatively new, and the system as a whole is only in first gear. More talent is on the way, and new Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has a long history of maximizing that talent and turning it into on-field success.

This season, the present and the future of Philadelphia Union have shared the field, and each day in practice the next wave is pushing everyone to give all they’ve got. The rest of the league recognizes Union soccer now, but the club’s youth have understood it for years. And now they’re bringing it to the big leagues.

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