Until March 5, 2017, no player had climbed through the ranks of the Philadelphia Union Academy, to Bethlehem Steel FC, and made the final step to the Union first team. Just a day before the team's season opener in Vancouver, Derrick Jones was told he'd be the first.
"I didn't know until we went to Vancouver," Jones said. "The day before the game, they put me with the Starting XI. I was kind of confused."
It didn't take Jones long to make an impact on the game. "I thought he was the best player on the field, for both teams," Head Coach Jim Curtin said of Jones' performance. "I’m very happy with Derrick. I thought he was excellent. He broke up a ton of plays defensively."
Jones' journey to the Union first team started when he was playing for Junior Lone Star FC, a club primarily made up of West African immigrants. Jones immigrated to Philadelphia from Ghana not long before. At 15 years old, Jones was discovered during a match against the Union U-18 team. "This young boy playing in the middle of the pitch reminded me of Yaya Toure. I asked the other coach after the game about this Yaya Toure-type player," Union Academy Director Tommy Wilson said. The next day, Jones visited the Union Academy to begin the process of joining the Union.
“I think he grew more as a person than as a player while at the Academy, because he always had that talent,” Wilson said. “He’s always back here at the Academy, teaching the kids and watching games.”
Watch the video above for more on Jones' first team debut.