Houston Dynamo v Philadelphia Union - 1st Leg

Philadelphia plan to blaze a trail for MLS academies


The Philadelphia Union’s plans for future development are getting plenty of press this morning.

And those plans rely on youth, heavily.

Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and other high-ranking officials at the MLS club are thinking big in terms of youth development and using homegrown talent in their future, as they spoke to local press about the plans.

“Our plan is to develop a college-prep program that would provide players an opportunity to pursue their goals on and off the field — and it’ll be like no other,” said Richard Graham, part owner of the Union and a major benefactor to the Union Academy setup.

That goal is achievable and given the fact that the Philadelphia area is one of the hotbeds of youth soccer in the US, they could prove very fruitful.

It all ties in with the Union opening up their Development Academy for the 2013-14 season.

But is the model sustainable? What if the Union continue to throw plenty of cash into youth development and it doesn’t yield results? That’s the last though on head coach John Hackworth’s mind. “We’re in a business that spends millions of dollars in player acquisition,” Hackworth said. “To me it makes so much more sense to grow that player within your area, to teach him the philosophies and the style so that, when they get here — and it’s a long, long path, and very few get here — they’re ready and (will) be so much more prepared for it.”

While the CEO is harbouring dreams of one day having the enitre starting lineup made up of players from the Philadelphia area. “My dream someday is to field a starting XI from this region, with kids that grew up in this town,” Sakiewicz said. “With 35,000 boys in this area between eight and 18, that’s very possible. That’s more boys than Chelsea has to look at.”

So this all sounds great. It really does. But is it achievable?

There are so many factors that go into developing and nurturing young talented soccer stars who will go on to make it big in the future. The Union have incredible staff on board to help with their aim, former Glasgow Rangers academy technical director Tommy Wilson fronts the Union’s academy, while former US youth national team coaches and top college coaches now run teams at every age group of the Union’s academy.

Not to mention head coach Hackworth is the former US U-17 head coach and director of the US Soccer federation’s Bradenton academy.

But sometimes, despite having all these great coaches and developing wonderful facilities, a little bit of luck comes in to the equation. At Manchester United, when Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt all arrived on the scene at the same time, it was an anomaly. Something that couldn’t be explained. How did six future international soccer players just turn up? And look at the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi at Barcelona’s academy. United and Barca poured plenty of resources into their youth setup, and the Union are looking to do the same.

However there is a big gamble with building the whole structure of the club on youth development. What if you don’t get lucky and other external factors play a part in the development of your players, then what do you have to show for it?

But if any club in MLS are likely to succeed with ambitious academy plans, it is the Philadelphia Union.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]