Union Academy youth shines in the MLS NEXT All-Star Game

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union communications

In yesterday’s MLS NEXT All-Star Game the East All-Stars defeated the West All-Stars 2-1 with two goals in the last six minutes.

Union Academy striker Marcos Zambrano-Delgado scored the match winner in the 89th minute.

The West had scored in the sixth minute of the first half on a long-range deflection from San Jose Earthquakes youth player Cruz Medina.

The first half was back-and-forth racehorse soccer of high technical proficiency. Both teams substituted without limit at half time, and the game changed from a continual sprint to the East dominating possession punctuated by the occasional West counterattack.

Ben Cremaschi of Inter Miami’s academy and Inter Miami II won a penalty kick six minutes from time. In an all-or nothing gamble, East second half captain Alex Pearlman did not shoot but lightly tapped to his left for Cremaschi to run onto the ball. The Miami man buried his shot to the far back corner past the unfortunate West goalkeeper.

Then in the 89th with a PK shootout looming, New England youth player Jack Panayotou penetrated the right end line and crossed on the ground behind the retreating west center backs to Zambrano-Delgado  who roofed it from just inside the six for the win.

Union youth players

The Union tied San Jose for having the most academy players represented with three. But unlike the baby temblors none of the Union’s representatives started. All three started the second half.

Sixteen-year-old goalkeeper Andrew Rick received several shots on target in the course of the West’s counter thrusts, and was noticeably stretched once. When no first-team keepers are available, Rick backs up Union II man Brooks Thompson in MLS NEXT Pro.

Left center back Daniel Krueger, also 16, had little to do outside of one western 4 v 3 counter in which he played his central position intelligently. He is expected to return to the Academy U-17s this fall since he remains eligible for another season with them.

 Zambrano-Delgado, 17, showed as a classic center forward in the box, being positioned higher than the two wingers and having the defensive responsibility of separating the two halves of the field from each other when the West had the ball. He started the half somewhat tentatively, being more concerned to preserve his energy than to high press the opposition, at first. As time passed his spurts of activity became more vigorous.

For what it is worth – and the single lone day of training means inferences should be drawn  more than cautiously – Zambrano played the near-post, heading-defense position on the East’s defensive corner kicks. On their offensive corners he was clearly a primary target.

Of the three Rick is most ready to step into an MLS NEXT Pro match tomorrow. That is no surprise since he has been training with them upon occasion since last year after MLS NEXT Cup 2021 was complete.

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