On the signing of Jack de Vries

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Jack de Vries signed with the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday night, effective January 1, 2020.

He will still be underage on New Year’s Day. But since he lives in the area, we can safely assume that having his parents give permission in front of proper legal authority to satisfy U.S. child labor law is not a problem, the way it might be with underage overseas players.

What does the de Vries signing mean?

De Vries is the third youth signing during the season whose play with Bethlehem Steel FC had not already risen to the level of unmistakable “USL difference-maker” before he signed. The other two are Shanyder Borgelin, 17, signed to Bethlehem, and Cole Turner, 18, signed to the Union beginning in 2020. (Turner showed well in a secondary position — CB — during preseason.) All three are physically capable, technically excellent, and compete successfully in the USL environment. But their presences or absences do not – yet – change Bethlehem games.

The “yet” probably helps us identify a key change made by Ernst Tanner to the Bethlehem Steel player development program. Tanner has vast experience spotting talent and preempting others in order to sign that talent to his teams. He does not wait to see proof manifest itself on a game pitch, whereas in the past proving it as a difference-maker on the USL game pitch always preceded the MLS contracts.

Consider Faris and Michee Ngalina both. Each makes a clear and positive difference for Bethlehem when playing, to wit, they render Bethlehem’s offense credible. But Faris is not yet a Union player, and Ngalina only recently became one.

The Cameroonian striker still has a great deal to demonstrate in understanding the most complex and difficult position in the game. But he can change games. Whether he can do so as a well-integrated part of the overall system remains his opportunity for future growth. But when individual opportunity presents itself, USL defenders must be alert and attentive. Their coaches undoubtedly warn them so.

Ngalina is likewise tracked by USL coaches. Ilsinho this past June is not the only Keystone Sports player to have exploited New York Red Bulls reserve flank defender Connor Lade decisively. (See NYRB2 halftime subs May 16, 2018.)

From 2016 to 2018 Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke made it clear when discussing academy players “playing up” that they had to do more that competently hold their place in the overall scheme of things. They had to affect play, noticeably. While still with the Academy, Issa Rayyan did not, and went off to Duke University where something changed.

As the signings of de Vries and Turner to the Union (and Borgelin and Rayyan to Bethlehem) illustrate, Ernst Tanner has removed the “unmistakable USL difference maker” requirement.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for pointing out this keen observation.

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