Last December, a then 15-year-old Zach Pfeffer made history as the first Home Grown player signed by the Philadelphia Union.
The club, having recently completed its very first season in MLS, had only recently announced plans for a youth development programs. Instead of a typical academy background, Pfeffer’s path to the Union instead ran through the IMG U-17 Academy where he trained in Spring 2010, and before that, his youth club FC Delco.
Located in Eastern Pennsylvania, FC Delco is a member of the USSF Development Academy league, and helped form current professional players like Jeff Larentowicz of the Colorado Rapids and Jeff Parke of Seattle Sounders FC. FC Dallas first-round draft pick Bobby Warshaw also played some of his youth soccer there.
Founded in 1989, the club was started with the aim to compete with some of the biggest and best youth clubs in the nation.
“Basically, the club was started trying to aggregate the [area] talent so that they could compete at the level of clubs like the Dallas Texans,” executive director Tom O’Malley told MLSsoccer.com. “Back then, there were a couple of clubs that nobody could compete with because of the way they were able to pull kids from such a large area.”
Through the 1990s, the club grew into a dominant force, when players like Larentowicz and Parke were coming through. After a dip in form at the turn of the century, fortune has picked up and the future is brighter than ever following an agreement with the local MLS club.
[inline_node:329872]Last fall, the Union announced plans to help foster youth development in the surrounding area. Instead of creating an Academy directly of their own, they approached several area youth teams, including the three Development Academy clubs in the surrounding area to become affiliates – PA Classics, Players Development Academy and FC Delco.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Union technical staff maintains a close dialogue with FC Delco officials, visits practices and helps the club in whatever other ways possible to help facilitate the improvement of young players in the region.
Along with that, players from FC Delco are eligible to be called up to the Union’s Academy team for specific competitions – such as the Soccer United Marketing U-17 Cup – or different training sessions held throughout the year. Players identified then could eventually become candidates to be signed to the first team.
For O’Malley, the experience thus far has been a success, and helped open the door for Pfeffer, a player he enthusiastically praised.
“[Pfeffer] has tremendous composure on the ball, great vision, sees things two, three steps ahead, never seems to be rushing to get somewhere,” O’Malley said. “He probably reminds me most of a Cesc Fàbregas-type player.”
As far as the current state of FC Delco’s Dev. Academy goes, both the U-16s and U-18s have yet to truly get started in the 2010-11 season.
Competing in the Mid-Atlantic Division – up against the likes of PA Classics, D.C. United and Match Fit Chelsea academies – they’ll get things kicked off on March 12 with a trip up to the Boston area for a doubleheader weekend.
With the Union partnership continuing to evolve things are looking good for FC Delco, and O’Malley remains optimistic about the club’s future both on and off the field.
“We are very excited about what’s coming through our young academies," he said. "The future for FC Delco looks really good from where I sit, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”