Coach Jeff Cook’s group, the senior-most team of Philadelphia Union Academy, similarly faced a schedule against elite squads with diverse styles of play.
"We maintained our approach across three games, and we were able to impose our style on our opponents," said Academy Director Tommy Wilson. "We’ve really benefited from a number of that group that plays and trains with Steel. To have them play and train with seasoned professionals is really invaluable. They’re a young team, only three players who wouldn’t be eligible again next year. I was most impressed with our range in our quality of passing…not just short ranged passing, but the longer accurate passing, and a real quality in the final third. Goals came from all over...midfield, from Jeremy Rafanello, from Liam O'Brien. We carried a real goal threat in every game. That was pleasing. At the same time, we were secure in the back."
Philadelphia Union 4 - 1 Real Salt Lake
The Union started the Winter Showcase versus the top team in the West, Real Salt Lake. However, Coach Cook and his squad had prepared extensively for the match, utilizing video and data analytics to understand the strengths of the opponent.
"We had a gameplan the players stuck to, and they performed it brilliantly," Wilson said. "I think it's good for young players to use video and data to see their opponents and seeing what their strengths are, as that’s part of becoming a professional. We wanted to press right from the start and impose ourselves on the game, and our players did that."
Despite Real Salt Lake’s technical proficiency and skill in possession, it was the midfield of Seth Kuhn, Michael Pellegrino, and Brenden Aaronson who dominated the match. Pellegrino added a goal, and Aaronson scored two as part of a Man of the Match performance. Striker Jeremy Rafanello tabbed yet another goal himself to complete the comprehensive win for the Union.
Philadelphia Union 2 - 2 Sporting Kansas City
The Florida heat and a congested schedule ensured a grueling match for the U19s against Sporting. The exertion of the high press against Real Salt Lake lead to a slower start for the Union, who gave up the first goal. The second half, however, saw the Union’s style of play impress upon their opponents with precise passing, highlighted by Seth Kuhn’s distribution, isolating talented wingers Darius Lewis and Issa Rayyan against defenders. Both the wingers scored consecutive quality goals, with Rayyan's dribbling of the keeper especially impressing.
Unfortunately, a 94th minute equalizer from Sporting would limit the Union to a draw.
Philadelphia Union 2 - 0 Kendall SC
Just like the U17s, Coach Cook’s squad decided to start all players on the trip out of a belief in the quality throughout the team. As such, there were a string of changes against a talented and aggressive Kendall team. Yet, again, the Union were able to impose their style of play and broke the deadlock with a Liam O’Brien goal off a Seth Kuhn cross.
Shortly after, a Ben Ofeimu header clanged off the crossbar, and Jeremy Rafanello pounced on the opportunity and scored the insurance goal. In the back, the Union remained composed and earned their first clean sheet of the Showcase, with fullback Nyk Sessock leading the charge.