One of the pillars of Philadelphia Union’s club strategy is to create a pipeline from the Academy to the first team. USL Championship side Philadelphia Union II is a crucial stop on the road to Major League Soccer. As Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Anthony Fontana and others show their talents off at the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, Union II Head Coach Sven Gartung is providing plenty of chances for the next generation to follow in the footsteps of the Union’s homegrown stars.
Six members of the Union Academy have already made their Union II debuts in matches against Pittsburgh Riverhounds and New York Red Bulls II since USL Championship play resumed. Goalkeepers Ben Martino and Mitch Budler have eached earned a start while Jack Jasinski, Quinn Sullivan, Brandan Craig and Paxten Aaronson have made substitute appearances. That’s three players with the U.S. Youth National Team experience has Budler, Aaronson and Craig have all been called into national team camps in the past.
While the final results haven’t gone Union II’s way thus far, the club remains focused on how young talent is nurtured and prepared for future careers as professionals. Each step along path to the pros involves an adjustment period and Gartung has said repeatedly that it will take time for players to understand how to play against professionals nearly twice his young players’ ages.
“They are impressed with the speed of play, so they have much less time and it is a new experience for them,” Gartung said. “Other than that they have done well. They kept playing vertical and trying to lay off the ball to score another one. They will gain a lot of experience in a very short time.”
Union II will be forced even more to utilize members of the Union Academy for the rest of the season with first team players’ availability unknown when they return from Florida. Injuries to signed Union II players will also present starting chances for members of the Academy. Gartung says there are some advantages to having a younger side.
They try things, they are brave to try out new things,” he explained. “Our team is young and brave in trying to push our style that we want to do. We are not going to park the bus with five defenders. We want to keep on playing and you can see that we scored a beautiful goal. We see it is possible to do these things. We will continue with our style of play.”
Philadelphia Union II concludes a hectic three-games-in-eight-days stretch on Saturday night with its first road match of the season at Hartford Athletic. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN+.