CHESTER, Pa. – On Friday evening, two of the country’s traditional college soccer powerhouses will square off at PPL Park when Maryland and Virginia collide in the College Cup semifinals (7:30 pm ET, ESPNU).
A couple of fresh-faced Philly kids helped them get there.
And now Maryland freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen (below, right) and Virginia sophomore striker Darius Madison (above) are not only excited for their PPL homecoming but also about the unique opportunity they have to hoist a national championship trophy in front of a hometown audience.
“Me and Steffen are great friends,” Madison told MLSsoccer.com. “I guess it’s a rivalry now. It would be great to beat him.”
Added Steffen: “Playing Darius is pretty special. Since we played together with the Union, it’s obviously going to be a little bit of a rivalry.”
Madison and Steffen both played together for the Philadelphia Union youth academy and are now probably the two most likely players to sign the next Homegrown contract with the Union.
Madison, who hails from South Philadelphia and got his soccer start playing at a local city recreation center, credits the Union with giving him the opportunity to excel at the next level.
Heading into the College Cup, the sophomore striker ranks second on the Cavaliers with six goals and 15 points. He scored the game-winner in Virginia’s 3-1 NCAA tournament win over Marquette in the round of 16.
Steffen, meanwhile, has recorded eight shutouts while starting every game in net as a freshman.
“It took my game to a whole different level,” Madison said. “Being around the Union academy, being around a professional culture, just being in a pro environment day in and day out with the best players in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, was a great opportunity.”
Madison has already played at PPL Park three times for the Union academy and reserve team, which he hopes will help him beat Steffen and find the back of the net Friday. But the next time the Virginia forward steps inside the stadium after this weekend he hopes he’ll be wearing a Union uniform.
While Steffen said he still wants to spend more time in college, Madison admitted he’d gladly leave Virginia to sign a Homegrown contract with the Union whenever it might be offered.
“My dream is definitely to play at PPL Park,” he said, “and represent the Union in Philly.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.