Union continue to invest in club's future


CHESTER, Pa.Probably every team in every league around the world says its committed to its future.

But its hard to imagine too many teams backing it up as much as the Philadelphia Union.

From the start, the second-year MLS franchise has tried to build from the ground up with a young core of talented playersaided by a select few veteransthat will grow along with the club.

One more example of that: Earlier this week, the Union made an extremely young team even younger with the signing of 21-year-old Joe Tait, a relatively unheard-of English-born defender who the Union coaches believe could develop into an excellent MLS player.

This is more a move for the future, Union manager Peter Nowak admitted Wednesday from his weekly press conference. Were still looking to get youngsters, which is something that will benefit all of us for the future. Tait is one of those guys that can stick around for a couple of years.

With seven games remaining in the regular season, the club in the thick of the playoff chase and the roster freeze deadline approaching at 5 p.m. Thursday, some might think the Union would opt for a more experienced player to help for the stretch run, especially on the teams dangerously thin backline.

But the Union, especially this year, have seemed more interested in future potential than potential stopgaps. Nineteen of the 25 players currently on the Philly roster are 27 or under, and with an average age of 24.6 the club is the youngest in the league.

You can see it, said 31-year-old defender Danny Califf, the fourth oldest player on the team. The club is trying to establish a tradition. And in order to that, you need to focus on youth.

Of course, the Union hope to make the playoffs this season, and go on a deep run once they get there. But should that be expected?

In the teams recent Supporters Summit, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told fans that the team had already done a little bit better than expected in year two, according to what Peter and I had planned, a long-term plan. And that long-term plan should not be sacrificed for the sake of older, more expensive playersnot when the club is loaded with young talent that needs to get on the field to develop.

Its great, said Tait, the clubs newest acquisition. Obviously the manager is not scared to play young lads. He gives you the freedom to go and play.

And heres the best part for Union fans: the young players are all very good.

In fan voting for MLSsoccer.coms 24 under 24 feature that highlights, you guessed it, the best 24 players under the age of 24, five Union players were selectedFreddy Adu (No. 3), Danny Mwanga (7), Roger Torres (11), Jack McInerney (20), Michael Farfan (21) and Gabriel Farfan (23). That was more than any other MLS team.

And that list doesnt even include one of the teams most valuable players (21-year-old right back Sheanon Williams), two stalwarts on the United States U-20 team and, perhaps, future Olympians (goalie Zac MacMath and midfielder Amobi Okugo), and a kid that Union assistant coach John Hackworth once said could have been one of the greatest college players of all-time if he didnt decide to turn pro (16-year-old midfielder Zach Pfeffer).

Of all of those potential rising stars, however, only Williams has been a regular in the everyday lineup as Nowak has tried to carefully monitor playing time as to not overexert young kids who are used to shorter college seasons.

Just like how they approach new signings and how they have put enormous focus on their youth academy system, thats all part of the long-term plan.

Were not just looking what we need to do to win the next game, Nowak said. But were also looking what is beyond that.

No one knows for certain what beyond will hold for the Union. But we do have a pretty good idea what players will be there.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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