Local

The Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals look to build off a strong first season in NPSL

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals

In their first year of play in the National Premier Soccer League, the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals came roaring out the gate to a 6-0-0 record in the strong Keystone Conference.

While the Ukrainian Nationals ultimately finished the regular season with a 6-3-1 (W-D-L) record, they did make the NPSL playoffs.

Dan Harmon, co-head coach of the Ukrainian Nationals, was extremely proud of how the first NPSL season went, despite losing in the playoffs to eventual NPSL champion FC Motown.

“For an expansion team, we could not be happier with where we finished. For us to have this year one success and the energy and exposure that it brought to our players and our club was awesome, we couldn’t ask for anything else out of year one.”

Building blocks already in place

The Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals soccer club applied for a franchise in January 2022 and played their first match just five months later.

So how were they so well prepared to not only compete, but to do well in league play?

The building blocks for the team have been in place for some time now.

The Ukrainian Nationals have always had a strong adult soccer program playing in local leagues major’s divisions. However, about ten years ago, they really made a push to build up their youth programs at the club. They went from five teams to 48 total teams at the club currently. Both the boys’ and girls’ youth programs have made it into national prominence, and they have helped place close to 65 players in college soccer programs.

But the club felt something was still missing. Per Harmon, “We knew there was a bit of a disconnect between the adult side and youth side, so we felt we needed something to bridge that gap. With all the players that we have placed in college, they all need to play somewhere in the summer in between school.”

So Dan contacted Mike Gorni, who is regarded as local soccer coaching legend, and they both decided to put together an NPSL team. The goal was to provide a high-level summer training program with competitive games, which included supplemental games for players who weren’t cracking into the top 18.

About 46 kids were interested in playing for the team and in just a few months, Dan and Mike were able to build the program and be ready for NPSL match day 1.

Soon afterward was the 6-0-0 start to the season, culminating in a trip to the NPSL playoffs.

The foundation is set

As with any building project, setting the foundation is key.

While the Ukrainian Nationals did accomplish one of their year one goals of making the playoffs, they fell just  short of another one, which was winning the Keystone Conference.

But they will be back in year two looking to achieve that goal, helped a few key foundational players. Their two goaltenders — Justin Grady, who plays at George Washington University, and Alex Geczy, who plays at the University of Massachusetts — were outstanding in year one. They were two of the top goaltenders in the region if not the country.

Josh Jones ,who plays at the University of Louisville, could arguably be the best player in the region and will also be back. Also, a bit of an unsung hero in Zach Barrett, who plays at the University of Vermont, will return. Barrett, an outstanding center back, also played up top for a few games, showing his versatility as a player.

Harmon described them as “tremendous leaders and incredible players who will be the core of our team as we grow over the years.”

When pressed for a favorite memory of the season, Harmon could have mentioned one of the games that they grinded out for a win, or when Josh Jones had a header against Torch FC to win with 15 seconds left.

Instead, Harmon highlighted one of the supplemental exhibition games from the season, when Philadelphia Union II came to play a friendly at the Ukrainian American Sports Center.

There were over 2,000 people at the game and it was a real Philadelphia soccer community event. It seemed like anybody and everybody who was a current or previous part of Philadelphia soccer wanted to see the game. Old timers were there, local college players were there, and the environment and energy was great.

The energy was much needed the Ukrainian people, given what is currently going on in Ukraine. It was a great atmosphere that showcased high quality soccer and served as a rallying support for Ukraine as well.

Harmon was especially appreciative of Union II for coming out. “We were honored that the Union 2 gave us a game and were agreeable to come to our place. Credit to the Union for providing a local game against a local club even though the Union technically had nothing to win in this, other than advancing the game and supporting a local club. They had the integrity to come out and play the game and it was a fantastic night.”

The Ukrainian Nationals ended up winning the game 2-1 in front of the home crowd, proving that the club foundation is strong.

Building for the future

When building for the future, sometimes it helps to look to the past.

The Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals have four U.S. Open Cup titles to their name, which were won during the 1960s.

A goal for the club is to get back to play in the U.S. Open Cup; Harmon and Gorni believe they have the squad in place to do so.

The club is planning for significant facility and infrastructure improvement and to expand the turf offerings for the entire club, which will expand their total team offerings as well. Harmon, who is also the Director of Soccer at the club, expects they will go from 48 teams to about 60 teams. They are also looking to build a stadium for the NPSL program, which they hope would seat 500 to 1,000 spectators and include a Ukrainian Nationals fall of fame and retail stores.

But all that is still to come. After a great first summer in NPSL, everyone with Ukrainian Nationals are looking forward to year two.

2 Comments

  1. My support for the PUN only strengthened when we visited for a youth socccer game and beer was readily available on a scorching hot day. Sometimes its the little things…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

%d bloggers like this: