Cavan Sullivan: Messi, Hazard and the Philadelphia Union dream

Cavan Sullivan - Philadelphia Union - Quinn Sullivan

For as long as he can remember, Cavan Sullivan has dreamt of playing professionally alongside any of his three older brothers.

That opportunity is now within grasp, with the 14-year-old US youth international becoming the Philadelphia Union’s latest homegrown player.

When Sullivan's debut arrives, there’s a strong likelihood he’ll share the pitch with Quinn, his 20-year-old sibling who’s now in his fourth season with the Union’s first team.

“One time, I remember watching TV and it was the Belgian national team,” Sullivan said upon signing. “I saw the Hazard brothers playing together and Quinn and I looked at each other like, ‘That could be us one day.’ It really is dreams turning into reality.

“When it does finally happen, I know it’s going to make the entirety of my family proud. Not just my immediate family, but all the generations before and after us.”

It’s not just former Chelsea star Eden Hazard and ex-Borussia Dortmund star Thorgan Hazard inspiring Sullivan, though.

He also points to none other than Inter Miami CF superstar Lionel Messi, who’s won a world-record eight Ballon d’Or awards and is a living legend in his native Argentina.

“I admire Lionel Messi, the GOAT,” Sullivan said. “He’s been my idol since I knew how to work YouTube. I hope to play against him one day whether it’s in Miami or somewhere else. He’s my idol.

“I still watch Messi clips to this day and always watch his Inter Miami games. Even though I play for the Union, it’s such a fun team to watch – him, Luis Suárez, that old Barcelona team linking up. They’re all special.”

Whether a Messi matchup awaits or not, Sullivan is poised to make MLS history.

Already the fifth-youngest signing in MLS history at 14 years and 224 days, Sullivan can become the youngest debutant among the top North American professional sports leagues if he appears on or before July 29.

“I do get goosebumps thinking about my MLS debut,” Sullivan said. “I imagine it being a sold-out crowd at Subaru Park, the one I see almost every week and it never fails to amaze me. Finally hearing my name called for the substitution, it’s definitely going to put a smile on my face.”

He added: “Philadelphia is my home. I was born and raised here. I’m really excited to play in front of the city that made me.”

Before this point, Sullivan turned heads in the Union Academy. Highlights include a 2023 Generation adidas Cup Best XI nod, winning the 2024 Generation adidas Cup and making his MLS NEXT Pro debut in March 2024.

An attack-minded midfielder renowned for his dribbling ability and passing vision, Sullivan also won the Golden Ball (given to the best player) at the 2023 Concacaf U-15 Championship. Those efforts helped the United States win the regional tournament.

It’s all raised questions of what heights Sullivan can reach, for club and country.

“I’ve always dreamed big as a kid,” Sullivan said. “Signing my first professional contract was always my first goal and then from there on, whatever happened happened. But as of right now, I’m just focused on this season and I really haven’t done anything yet for my career. This is just the beginning and I want to be the best I can be. But right now, I just have to work hard and see what’s next.”

Along the way, despite the hype and anticipation, Sullivan is doing his best to stay grounded.

“I see all the noise,” Sullivan said. “It’s definitely hard to ignore and not see it on social media and stuff like that, but as of now, I’m just focused on my development here with the second team and first team. Hopefully I can make my debut soon. It’s really not paying attention to it, whether it’s good or bad. Whether someone’s talking positively about you or negatively, it means nothing.”