Among MLS clubs at the 2017 Generation adidas Cup in Frisco, few acquitted themselves better than the rising Philadelphia Union academy. The Union have been beefing up their academy apparatus seemingly exponentially since opening the YSC Academy in 2013, and the recent addition of GM Earnie Stewart seemed to finally wed philosophy to reality.
Since then, the Union U16 and U18 Development Academy teams have annually been among the country’s best. They’ve already pushed out a U17 youth national teamer in Rayshaun McGann, a U20 youth national teamer in Auston Trusty and a bonafide Union first teamer in Derrick Jones. So it should perhaps not be such a surprise that the Union managed to win their group at the GA Cup’s Premier Division level (ostensibly the second tier) and earned a spot in the third-place game against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Without question, the jewel performance of that run came against Monterrey, toting as they were one of the most lauded academies in Mexico and the prohibitive favorites to win the group. In that sense, the Union-Monterrey matchup was always likely to decide which way the group fell, and as we already know, the Union won the head-to-head.
On an individual level, Brenden Aaronson was the hero. He scored both the Union’s goals, including one in stoppage time to secure the 2-1 win. But in reality, the team ethic displayed on Philly’s first goal was the real MVP. It was, without question, the best team goal produced by an MLS club at this event, and holistic play style is always far more important at the youth than individual heroics.
This was nice. Quite nice, in fact.
Including the quick goal kick, the Union used seven passes, all of which were kept along the ground and under 15 yards, to go the length of the field in under 60 seconds. Possession with purpose. And watch the movement from Chad Letts to ghost into space and find a quick-touch assist for Aaronson. Prescient maneuvering everywhere here.
People tend to focus on the individual glitz at the youth level because it’s easy to promote, but the real spadework of academy coaching is in movements like these. The team ethic that allows those individual moments of brilliance as part of a wider positive framework is the real story, and the Union are doing it now as well as any academy in the country.