For the first time in franchise history, the Philadelphia Union have elected to bring members of their youth academy to Florida for preseason training – with the primary goal to show the youngsters what it’s like to be a professional for a few weeks.
But that’s not the only goal.
According to head coach Jim Curtin, a couple of the teenagers have a real chance to remain with the squad into March and earn Homegrown contracts for the 2015 season and beyond.
One of those players is 17-year-old attacking midfielder Derrick Jones, who emigrated from Ghana to Philadelphia in 2012 and is currently a senior at YSC Academy, the Union-affiliated high school that’s the centerpiece of the franchise’s youth academy.
“He absolutely has a chance of making the team,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “You can’t coach 6-foot-3 and having good feet. He has ability beyond his years. Derrick has moments with our first team where he can dominate, and then Derrick is a young player so he also has moments where he makes a silly mistake.”
Jones is one of two academy players currently in Florida. He’s joined by forward Yosef Samuel, who Curtin also had very high praise for, saying that “he’s going to be a pro for sure – it’s just a matter of the timeline on it.”
Forward Sebastian Elney and midfielder Sean Wilson also trained with the Union before the two were called up to the US U-18 national team, with Curtin calling Elney “a top striker in our country in his age group.”
For Jones, being one of a handful of academy kids brought up to the first team is an opportunity he’s relishing.
“When I found out, I was so happy,” Jones told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “I wanted to come here because of soccer. In Africa, you can play but you can’t get the opportunity like this.”
Jones – who was playing with Junior Lone Star FC, a club founded by West African immigrants living in Southwest Philadelphia, when he was discovered by the Union academy – added that he’s been trying to seek advice from some of Philly’s older players.
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For Curtin, that’s an important step in his development because the Ghanian-born midfielder is still a “quiet, shy kid.”
“I like that part but I’d love to see him get angry on the field,” the Union head coach said. “I haven’t seen him change expressions yet. Part of that is because he’s young – he’s kind of adjusting and adapting.
“He’s a Philly kid, though. He doesn’t live too far from where my family is, and I think it’s a great thing to see a kid who maybe didn’t take the pathway that a lot of our young players do coming up through the Philly club teams. Everybody’s road is different, but he’s gotten himself here and shown that he belongs.”
And while he might be shy, he’s also confident. When asked what his plans are after graduating YSC Academy if he doesn’t make the Union, Jones chose not to consider that an option.
“I think I’ll make it,” he said.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.