WAYNE, Pa. – For Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, there have been a number of momentous occasions that have marked the growth and development of his MLS franchise.
There was the inaugural game, the groundbreaking at PPL Park and the first trip to the playoffs, just to name a few. But according to Sakiewicz, Tuesday was the biggest day of them all as YSC Academy – the Union’s brand new, state-of-the-art, private high school – officially opened its doors.
“It’s huge,” the Union CEO told reporters following the unveiling ceremony, as students scurried to their classrooms for their first day of school. “It’s one of those days in Union history where we will look back 10 or 15 years from now and see a bunch of players at PPL Park and say we were there when we affiliated with YSC Academy and the school.”
Among the hundreds of people in attendance for Tuesday’s ceremony were members of the Union first team, as well as manager John Hackworth.
A former US U-17 national team coach and technical director of U.S. Soccer’s Bradenton Academy, Hackworth has unique experience in the field of youth development. And the Union manager believes this school, in many ways, represents something even bigger than the residency program at Bradenton, calling it “a huge and monumental game-changer.”
“I think it’s a landmark day personally,” Hackworth said. “When we were in Bradenton with the Under-17 national team, we had the residency component and we utilized schools in that area – and we had great schools, don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t that you could literally go from the soccer field to the classroom and back and forth in the way that the student athletes will be able to do here. And there was never that connectedness to the very first team to an eighth grader.”
Connectedness is certainly a big theme for the 32 students enrolled at YSC Academy, all of who play for one of the Union’s academy teams or for the Union Juniors program. Those players now have the unique opportunity to train in the morning at YSC Sports and walk just a few steps to their classroom at YSC Academy.
On Tuesday, some academy players even watched the Union first-teamers train at YSC Sports.
“My whole life, all I wanted to do was be a soccer player,” said Matthew Real, a ninth-grader in the school and a defender who’s played for the US U-14 national team. “And just to have a school that affiliates soccer with learning gives me so much more concentration and focus to want to be good in school but also in soccer as well.”
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Sakiewicz has made it no secret that he hopes the Union’s first team is eventually made up of players like Real, although he knows it’s a “very long-term project that will take a decade.”
Hackworth, too, believes the franchise has the foundation in place where he might be able to one day coach the students roaming the halls at YSC Academy.
“We know that it will be a small percentage of student-athletes here that actually make it,” the Union manager said. “But the point is that now they have a true path and an opportunity that is, to me, the most authentic and unique of any professional team in the United States or Canada.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.