CHESTER, Pa. – Philadelphia Union coaches have always said that if you’re good enough, they will find you.
Morgan Langley is living proof of that.
Once cut from his high school team in Hawaii because he was too small and later relegated to a bench role for his freshman season at Division III Swarthmore – a small liberal-arts college outside Philadelphia known more for its academics than its athletics – Langley was signed by the Union last week.
Just two days later – in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Columbus at PPL Park – the one-time castoff made his MLS debut, coming on as an 80th-minute sub and completing his unlikely rise to the country’s top-tier league.
“I can’t say anything prepared me for this moment,” Langley admitted following Saturday’s game. “It was a whole new set of feelings that I never thought I’d have.”
While Langley came out of nowhere to sign his MLS deal, he was fortunate enough to play his college soccer right in the Union’s backyard. Philadelphia assistant coaches John Hackworth and Rob Vartughian both live nearby and are friends with Swarthmore soccer coach Eric Wagner, making Langley an easy player to scout.
But they still took a risk by looking to Division III, where there are traditionally very few future pros.
“What we want to do is do the best possible job of trying to identify the best players,” Hackworth said. “It’s always important you look every place and see as many players as you can.”
While at Swarthmore, Langley quickly set himself apart from his D-III peers, setting the school record for career points (95) and career assists (27). The 2011 graduate was on the Union’s short list for January’s Supplemental Draft, but instead signed with the Harrisburg City Islanders, the Union’s USL-Pro affiliate.
When the USL season ended, Langley began training with the Union and signed his deal after impressing the coaches with a good week of training.
“We thought with some development, Morgan had a chance to be a really good player,” Hackworth said. “To go from a D-III program to the professional ranks is difficult as it is. Through his association with Harrisburg, he grew a lot under [City Islanders] head coach Bill Becher. Ultimately, he earned the chance to come train with us and ultimately earn a spot on the roster.”
Hackworth admitted there are still a lot of adjustments Langley has to make to succeed at the MLS level. But the Swarthmore grad already showed his value by entering Saturday’s game late when the Union needed speed along the flank.
Besides, it would appear continuing to improve would not be too much of an issue for Langley, who grew late, came into his own in college and said his goal at Swarthmore was to the best player in all of Division III.
“I always dealt with being called too small or being written off,” Langley said. “To be standing in the Union locker room is something four, five years ago I never would have thought. It’s always a dream but you never expect it.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.