And one Union player who’s turned heads aplenty down in Bradenton, Florida is only 13 years old: Cavan Sullivan.
Don’t just take our word for it. Philadelphia first-team head coach Jim Curtin, during his Matchday 7 preview press conference on Thursday, singled out the attacking midfielder in an opening statement.
"Those that maybe haven’t learned yet, a young Cavan Sullivan has the talent and ability to become, I’ll just say a household name and is doing really big things," Curtin said.
That’s high praise.
Sullivan is the younger brother of Union homegrown midfielder Quinn Sullivan, a 19-year-old who likely will represent the United States at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup this spring. Cavan’s a US U-15 international himself, looking beyond his years against older players while pulling the strings as a No. 10 with impressive vision and chance-creation ability.
Sullivan is reportedly already on the radar of German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and other top European sides. On social media, keen observers of the US youth game have even generated highlight compilations of the blonde-haired prospect.
So it comes as no surprise that this week, Cavan’s helped Philadelphia knock off world-renowned squads like Valencia (group stage), Arsenal (Round of 16) and Real Madrid (quarterfinals). According to Curtin, the GA Cup provides a platform for those like Sullivan to shine.
"Those are big names in the sport of soccer," said Curtin. "And when you think about opportunity and the growth of the sport in this country, it’s great to see young academies, not just ours but also other MLS academies doing really well against top clubs, not only in Europe but the world."
This perspective comes from a coach who’s helped mold one of Major League Soccer’s top academies. Curtin led the Union’s Under-18 team to a Generation adidas Cup title back in 2012, all before taking over the first team in November 2014. Now, Philadelphia are again knocking on the door of the Concacaf Champions League semifinals and last year came a whisker away from raising both MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield trophies.
Along the way, the Union have steadily supplied key US men’s national team players and secured lucrative homegrown transfers abroad in recent years. Leeds United midfielder Brenden Aaronson, Genk center back Mark McKenzie and Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Paxten Aaronson are the highest-profile examples. Arsenal center back Auston Trusty (on loan at Birmingham City) originally came through Philly's system before moving overseas via the Colorado Rapids.
Perhaps Sullivan, even at his young age, is next one day?