One of the most important accomplishments for any athlete is earning the chance to represent their country. 2019 is only a month old, but Philadelphia Union is already showing the club can produce talent capable of pulling on the red, white, and blue across all levels of the 'Pathway to the Pros'.
Union Academy defender Brandan Craig is the most recent academy player to earn a call-up to the Stars and Stripes. Craig was named to the roster for the U.S. Soccer U-15 Boys' National Team training camp that is taking place through February 6th in Carson, California. The camp is vital as the U-15s are preparing for this summer's 2019 Concacaf U-15 Boys' Championship.
Higher up the ladder, other Union standouts have caught the attention of national team coaches as well. The club is one of three in MLS with five or more representatives at the U.S. Soccer Men's Youth National Team January training camp. Academy player Jack de Vries participated with the U-17s in his first national team call-up after scoring four goals in nine games with the Union U-17s under head coach Gary Lewis.
Union homegrown player Brenden Aaronson and Academy goalkeeper Kris Shakes were selected for the U-19 National Team after strong 2018 seasons. Aaronson impressed with Bethlehem Steel FC in the USL Championship while Shakes played a part in the U-18s Vaclav Jezek tournament in the Czech Republic, which the US won for the third consecutive time.
Moving one rung up the ladder, Union homegrowns Anthony Fontana and Matt Real repped the national badge with the U-20s. Real was the official captain for the U-20 Concacaf Championships as the Americans claimed a second consecutive title with a win in the final over Mexico. Fontana collected a hat trick against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to help take the tournament title and secure a spot for the US in the U-20 World Cup this spring.
The ultimate goal for all young American talents, though, is a place on the senior team, and that is where center backs Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty find themselves today. Both have worked their way up the national team ladder and gained valuable experience along the way.
On-field talent isn't the only way the Union is tied to the United States National Team this year. B.J. Callaghan was recently named to new USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter's staff as a strategy analyst and assistant coach. And everyone knows that former Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart now sits atop US Men's Soccer as its first General Manager.
Overall, the Union are producing top American talent at many levels, and that talent is being recognized more and more as time goes on. The club isn't sitting still though, and will continue to add more and more top young players and push them to reach the point where they can compete at the highest level. This paid dividends for the club last season as Fontana, Trusty, McKenzie, Real, and Derrick Jones all made contributions to the club's domestic campaign. And now, with McKenzie and Trusty hoping to secure their first senior caps on February 2, 2019, it is beginning to pay off for the country as well.