Throughout five days of matches, Philadelphia Union's Under-17 and Under-19 academy teams faced off against some of best academies in the United States in the 2018 Winter Showcase in Florida. The 12th US Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase pitted the Union U-19s against Real Salt Lake, Real Colorado, and Seattle Sounders. The U-17s took on Varder, Toronto FC, and FC Dallas.
On Thursday, a strong Union academy lineup featuring homegrown signing Brenden Aaronson, Steel regular Ben Ofeimu, and goalie Tomas Romero faced a difficult test against Real Salt Lake. Although Aaronson put his side on top in the 11th minute, RSL stormed back in the second half with three late goals to take the points. Bethlehem Steel signee Selmir Miscic was a late sub, coming on for 18 minutes in the second half.
Friday brought more frustration for Kevin Coleman's squad as a Tonny Temple goal in the sixth minute was canceled out by a Jovany Herrera's second half strike. Aaronson started on the bench for the Union with Miscic coming into the starting eleven. Temple, who has committed to NC State, continues to be a threat off the wing with his acceleration. By staying wide he can pull a back line apart and look to provide chances for Shanyder Borgelin, the U-19s powerful central striker.
The second half brought pain for a third time on Monday as the U-19s fell to a late goal from Seattle Sounders. Aaronson returned to the lineup and Kris Shakes took over between the pipes, but Philly could not manufacture the finishing needed to break down Seattle's consistently strong academy side. Overall, the Union U-19s will look to continue building in new concepts from Ernst Tanner's methodology after a Winter Showcase that saw them continually start strong but struggle to close out matches. Before the showcase, Union Academy Director Tommy Wilson indicated that there will be some less subtle changes to the Union's style of play -- including some potential formation tweaks -- as the academy season moves into the start of their 2019 schedule.
The Union U-17s faced huge tests in their Winter Showcase matches. After putting six past Vardar on Friday -- including four in the first half -- they took on undefeated Toronto FC, which hadn't lost on the season (10-0-1). Two goals inside the first 22 minutes put the Union on top, but with 48 scored this year, TFC was bound to respond. Malik Henry got one in the 28th, but then Patrick Bohui gave the Union a buffer goal in the second half. Jacen Russell-Rowe added a second for TFC but the Union held on. The key for Philly was trusting their system even against a top quality opponent. When the Union have had breakdowns in the past, they tend to lose compactness, but that was not the case against Toronto.
On Monday, 9-0-0 FC Dallas, with 39 goals scored and three conceded, thought they could roll past Philly but they were sorely mistaken. A pair of penalty kicks on either side of an Aboubacar Camara goal gave Dallas a 2-1 lead. Tianshuo Yang evened things up in final ten minutes, but Dallas found a 90th-minute winner. Although Philly lost the game, they showed that the structure of their team could cause major issues for one of the best academy sides in the country. It's not too shabby to, in one game, scoring nearly as many goals as an opponent has given up in the previous nine.
A quirk of the Winter Showcase is that, while it pairs you with competition that is designed to provide a true test of an academy team's growth and progress, it also counts those games as part of your season schedule. Thus, the Union academy players will need to take their coaches' words to heart and focus on process over results as they review the work put in at the showcase.
The U-17s will now finish out their 2018 slate of games with a huge GA Cup showdown against Red Bulls in New Jersey on December 9 (the Union U-15s will also face Red Bulls in a GA Cup match that day). Although the U-19s 2018 schedule is completed, they will continue to train until the week of December 17th before heading off for a winter break.