"We aren’t going to bring in a player just to strengthen a team. If we have a younger boy who has a pathway to the pros we believe in, we will play him up to really challenge him, rather than bringing in another player just to strengthen the team. That in a nutshell what this is, we want to produce professional players. To put it in a team framework, we want our teams to be strong as we should be successful and there’s an expectation that we will win, but it is not about building teams, it’s about putting players in the right situations to be successful."
-Pete Pososki, Philadelphia Union Academy Director of Talent Identification
Pete Pososki brandishes a unique title in American soccer as Philadelphia Union Academy’s Director of Talent Identification. As part of the Union Academy’s ambition to establish a best-in-league operation, however, Pososki plays a vital role.
Pososki joined the Union in 2016 as the second full-time Director of Talent Identification, and quickly set about working on the 2017 recruiting class. On Monday through Friday, Pososki spends a lot of time observing the current Union Academy “to see which attributes are fitting in and which aren’t,” but the crux of his efforts happen on the weekends.
"Having a broad picture of what is happening in the leagues around Philadelphia, South Jersey, Delaware, etc., and which teams are ebbing is crucial," Pososki explained. "We want to make sure we get to see everybody, though, because it’s not about teams it is about individual players. There may be player on a team, even if they are struggling, that may fit in well with what we are doing here.”
Philadelphia Union Academy provides a unique opportunity for regional players to compete at the highest level, free-of-cost, under the tutelage of some of the best coaches and support staff in the country. With a uniform methodology extending from the U-12s to the first team, each player Pososki identifies must befit the system the club has implemented, possess the quality for a professional academy, and harbor the aspiration to one day suit up in the Blue and Gold at Talen Energy Stadium.
While players from the Greater Philadelphia region make up a majority of Philadelphia Union Academy, Pososki's scouting efforts extend nationwide. With a residency program in place and the unique offering of partner school YSC Academy, Pososki is in an enviable situation to sign up top prospects from around the nation. Amongst the new players for the Union in 2017 are Anthony DiFillippo (’04) from Alabama and Shanyder Borgelin (’01) from South Florida, who turned down professional opportunities in Germany to join the Union.
“Shanyder was a kid I saw for the first time at a tournament at Disney," Pososki said. "I made a connection with his family at around that time, and the recruiting process took the entire spring of us speaking on the phone, Shanyder visiting a few times, and having other scouts, without knowing specifically about him, watch his games.”
With the commitment both a family and the Union must undertake to bring in an out-of-market player, Pososki utilizes a scouting network to ensure he is well informed on all potential recruits. However, he utilized a unique approach to Borgelin’s recruitment to disqualify potential confirmation bias by sending in scouts without specific directions.
“The process for Shanyder took quite a while," Pososki said. "I’d tell someone, ‘Hey, will you go watch this game for me,’ and that was it. Two of the scouts called immediately after the game and told me there was a kid on this team we had to take a look at. I then told them at that point that I knew about him, but I wanted to ensure what I was seeing was right."
Borgelin’s extended recruitment lasted into the summer, as international suitors took note of his talent as well. Pososki, however, welcomed the competition and remain committed to the process he employs in his recruitment.
“I want what’s best for these kids. That’s fairly easy for me to say because of the programming we have here, because for the vast majority of the kids this is the best place for them, but not always. And if this isn’t the best place for them, they shouldn’t be here. In the end, these are real people with real lives, and you want what’s best for them as a person and not just what is making our soccer teams good. I think it’s additionally important that we have players and people that are desperate to be here, people who know this is the place for them to be. So if a player wants to go visit X, Y or Z club, then great. I want them to have no doubts in their mind that they want to be here, opposed to believing in what we do. It helps with everything we have here at the Union, so we’re confident that we can sell our environment. "
The extended recruitment of Borgelin is only one anecdote of the recruiting process Pososki and the Union undertake in bringing in new talents. Anthony Difilippo, a new Union U-14 from Alabama, is an example of how impactful the Union environment can be in drawing players to the organization. Difilippo’s local coaches sought out a new challenge for their player and arranged visits to MLS clubs like Atlanta United FC seeking out an ideal destination, but eventually connected with Pososki to arrange a visit to Philadelphia.
The Union’s commitment to youth development, its residential offering, and the unique partnership with YSC Academy tipped the scales for the young prospect. Anticipating how a recruit adapts to the challenge, however, is a major component of Pososki’s job.
“It’s not an easy pathway once you’re here," Pososki said. "There are a lot of hurdles, some are put there on purpose, others are just happenstance. If you don’t have the confidence that this is the best environment for them, it will be harder to get over those hurdles and continue to grow. It’s not simply watching a player and seeing how technical are they, how athletic are they. We are trying to predict who they are, and how they are going to express themselves, and what makes them happy. That’s a lot more time on the phone with their coaches and their families too."
The job of identifying players for the Union Academy differs from that of a first team scout, or the responsibilities of a college coach. The Union Academy’s primary goal is always to produce players for the first team. As such, identifying talents that translate to a professional setting must always be the priority for Pososki, rather than building a team.
What that means, on the pitch, is that good is not always good enough.
"It’d be foolish for me to bring in a player who didn’t have a shot to make the pros," Pososki said. "It wouldn’t be fair to the players in the program, nor to that player himself. The level here is high enough that everyone has a chance. We are never going to sacrifice the principles we believe in for our individuals, our organization, and the way we play the game on any given day to get an outcome."
The way the Union plays, a methodology and ethos implemented throughout the organization, is a critical aspect of what Pososki must consider as he identifies players. A commitment to that ethos that puts individual development first resonates with the decisions made by the Academy staff for each player.
Players throughout the Academy “play up” in older age groups than their birth year necessitates to ensure that they are in an environment that challenges them and fosters growth in their game. This often means that the Union Academy players face opposition older and more physically mature, and must overcome a physical deficit with mental acuity, technical quality, and adherence to style of play.
These abilities to overcome these challenges belie the future Homegrown stars of the Philadelphia Union. These qualities are tested throughout their time with the Academy, during opportunities to play against professionals with Bethlehem Steel FC, and hopefully one day with Philadelphia Union in MLS.
For Pete Pososki, it is finding these qualities in a potential recruit that indicate a pathway to the pros.
“We get a lot of recommendations, and they are always good players," Pososki said. "They can all pass, dribble, shoot, etc., but I think our players are a little bit more mature and confident within the game. It’s one thing to be in your own environment, be comfortable, and be successful. That is seen in a variety of ways. Within the game, we see some boys play, and they are very good when they are involved, but they wait for the game to come to them. The boys that make it here, that we sign, that we bring in and are successful, they go and involve themselves in the game. They go and attack the game. They don’t wait for the game to come to them, They go and seek it out. That mentality is what, in my mind, will make them successful here at the Union."