Union / Youth Soccer

A stacked youth academy, other Union thoughts

Photo: Earl Gardner

Have you seen the coaches Philadelphia Union hired to staff its academy? This group is stacked.

Tommy Wilson left a similar position at Rangers FC in Scotland to head the Union’s academy. He spent his playing career largely in Scotland.

Peter Fuller coached the New England Revolution’s reserve team for two years, leaving only after the club decided to partner its reserve component with Rochester in the USL. Fuller won more than 300 games at the college level, spending 16 seasons coaching the University of Mobile, where former Reading United star Stephen Okai played for him.

Chris Brewer was an assistant coach for the U-18 U.S. national team and technical advisor for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in the Mid-Atlantic.

Jeff Cook spent 17 years as a Division I college soccer coach, winning five conference titles with Darmouth and the University of Cincinnati. Cook may be most likely to look beyond the academy toward a spot as an assistant with the Union’s senior coaching staff. He wants to coach at the pro level beyond just a youth program.

Ironically, this group has more experience than the group of coaches heading the Union’s senior team.

With the Union’s academy joining the U.S. Soccer Development Academy this year, the club has shown it’s serious about establishing itself as a long-term youth development pipeline to MLS and further cementing itself within the region’s soccer framework. The most talented youth players will play for free. YSC Sports, now an investor for the Union (as close to the equivalent as part-owner as it gets in MLS), will play a key part in the training.

So what does this mean for longtime regional youth soccer powerhouses like FC Delco? Well, FC Delco has merged with Spirit United to form a new, broader organization. It could be a scrap for the best players. Even with FC Delco’s history, it may be tough to compete with the Union’s program because of is direct connection to the pros, but that’s presuming all works out as the Union hope. So far though, so good.

Farfan & Daniel, perfect together?

On to other topics:

Gabriel Farfan and Keon Daniel look like they’ve been playing together for years. It may be no coincidence that the Union have looked best during the rare stretches this season (opening day and Saturday) when the two played next to each other in midfield. Their quick exchanges of short passes and ability to find space when playing off each other have shown a dynamism lacking in the Union’s other matches. That’s something to build on.

MacMath, post-concussion

Earlier this season, I wrote about Zac MacMath’s confidence level and neglected to mention something I noticed last year (and readers reminded me of) : MacMath never looked the same after suffering a concussion last spring. That’s not surprising. Concussions aren’t like other injuries. The increased awareness of the long-term threat of brain damage means concussions can change the way you play the game.

Over the last two or three games, however, MacMath has been more aggressive coming off his line and looked good doing it. He has still saved just 8 of 15 shots this season, but his more active play in the box shows he could be gradually progressing back to where he was before the injury.

Casey, Le Toux, and the best 11

Conor Casey has looked good the last two games, adding a dynamic the Union have never truly had: A true target forward who can not only play hold-up but also score. If he can keep this up, he should be a regular starter.

Is this a way to play the Union's best 11 all at once?

Is this a way to play the Union’s best 11 all at once?

But what does this mean for Sebastien Le Toux?

Coming into the season, it was obvious the Union had improved at forward, with four players who could potentially start (Casey, Le Toux, Antoine Hoppenot, Jack McInerney).

Le Toux remains a two-way player with a great engine who can score in bunches. He deserves a place on the field. So does McInerney, who continues to find ways to score.

With Danny Cruz serially underwhelming and Ray Gaddis inspiring little confidence in his conversion to left back, Hackworth may have to get creative in finding ways to put his best 11 players on the field together.

For example, Hackworth has yet to deploy a 4-3-3 with one defensive midfielder as opposed to two, and that could be an option, even though it might require Gabriel Farfan to return to left back (regrettably, since he looks good in midfield). Considering Daniel’s tendency to drop deep in center midfield anyway (or Kleberson in his place), it’s not a dramatic change from the 4-3-3 Hackworth has already deployed.

That’s just one example. There are alternatives, as Union observers know quite well. After all, choosing your Union best 11 is the most popular fan sideshow now that Peter Nowak jokes are finally stale.

Few would argue that the Union’s best 11 players have regularly appeared on the field together. A good team doesn’t necessarily have to have them all on the field at once, but it seldom hurts.


  1. Which great youth players have Rangers produced recently? Is John Fleck still any good?

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Are you saying ever so subtly that I may be vastly overestimating the quality of Scottish soccer? Well, I … I … OK, fair point. 😉

      But they did produce Kenny Miller, Charlie Adam, Barry Ferguson, Ross McCormack and various others. Maybe not superstars, but quality professional players.

      What’s most significant is the ability to construct the institution of the academy.

      • Kenny Miller came through at Hibs….

      • Dan Walsh says:

        True. I mistakenly included him. Not sure why. (Braindead moment? I think I had just been reading about him.)

        Here’s a list of Rangers academy grads.

      • And Charlie Adam wasn’t developed by Rangers either. Came up through the Dundee system.

        I am not impressed with this development. Scottish football stinks. There are so many other youth coaches that you could draw from. I really hope to be proven wrong with this, but Rangers isn’t known for Youth Development.

  2. Jeremy Lane says:

    And Dan, your best eleven discussion fails to mention Kléberson, who is very likely to figure. I’d assume Keon is the most likely to be sacrificed, but stranger things have happened, so I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      Although I should say that, otherwise, I agree with your formulation, with Garfan at LB and Le Toux displacing Cruz.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Yeah, I think that’s probably fair to presume. I’m just sticking with the what-we-know part of things. (Post updated to make that clear.) It also leaves out Soumare, but that’s also merely a concession to the realities of the present.

  3. Southside Johnny says:

    I don’t know if this is the best way to get the best eleven on, but I sure would like for Hack to give it a shot.

  4. Hoppenot deserves a start in place of Cruz. I am sure he will track back just as good as Cruz, and his touch has to be better than Cruz.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    Something tells me (unfortunately) that Casey, LeToux, and Mac will never start a game together. I would love to see it, but I’ll be surprised.

    And yeah, Kleberson has to start if he is your DP.

  6. There is another development: Graham Richie seems to be sponsoring a special school for those who play for the Union DA and will no longer get HS scholarships (since they are not allowed to play HS soccer). This is pretty revolutionary.

    • I thought that scholarship students were going to be permitted to play for their high schools, no?

      • No; only last year. Although non-MLS DA’s may start to allow it again… Ever changing landscape…

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