For the Philadelphia Union, the message is clear: If you’re good enough, you will have a chance to graduate from the academy program and sign with the first team.
Zach Pfeffer paved the way last year and, earlier this week, Jimmy McLaughlin was the second teenager to be signed by Philly to a Home Grown contract.
“We graduate guys pretty fast because this is our philosophy, this is what we believe in and this is what’s good for our future,” Union manager Peter Nowak said in a conference call on Thursday.
According to Nowak, McLaughlin – who recently wrapped up a successful freshman season at Colgate – has a good understanding of tactics and is far ahead of other players his age in terms of speed and dribbling ability. If there’s one thing the young outside midfielder needs to work on, Nowak says, it’s his crossing.
But like the 16-year-old Pfeffer, McLaughlin will get the chance to improve on his weaknesses – not only in Reserve League games and practices but also, perhaps, in league games. Last season, Pfeffer started two of the Union’s most important regular-season contests.
“Zach Pfeffer made big strides last year,” Nowak said. “The reserve games, as much as we love our fans being there, is not the same environment as MLS games. I think we found the right time to give [Pfeffer] the chance, and the same thing is going to be with Jimmy.”
Because of roster space limitations, Nowak conceded that the club probably won’t sign another Home Grown player this offseason, and he declined comment specifically on prep star Christian Hernandez, who was featured along with McLaughlin in the Union’s international friendlies over the summer.
But the Union manager hopes that signing players from the academy becomes a yearly tradition.
“The best position to be in is to graduate one every year, but we have limited resources to do that,” Nowak said. “We want to make sure the [academy] guys get our values and principles and make sure what the Philadelphia Union is all about sooner rather than later.”
The talent within the academy system is certainly there, and for that, Nowak credits coach John Hackworth, youth technical director Alecko Eskandarian, and the rest of the staff at YSC Sports for the club’s unique system that allows its youth players to train with the Union’s affiliate club teams.
When McLaughlin wasn’t playing for the Union academy teams, for instance, he was training with local club powerhouse FC Delco, where Philly coaches monitored his progress.
“It’s a very unique system we’ve created here,” Nowak said. “A lot of MLS teams are looking in our direction to get the blueprint on how we are doing this stuff.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.