Jim Curtin and Brendan Burke reunite with former Philadelphia Union U17 Generation Adidas cup winner Drew Skundrich

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The three-time national champion midfielder out of Stanford rejoins Philadelphia Union organization and adds depth to an impressive Bethlehem Steel FC midfield group.

Steel FC announced the signing of Lancaster, PA native and former back-to-back-to-back NCAA National Champion at Stanford Wednesday morning.

Bethlehem Steel FC announced the 13th player to join their official USL roster ahead of their home opener Sunday with the signing of box-to-box midfielder Drew Skundrich Wednesday morning. Skundrich was selected 40th overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft by LA Galaxy. Following a brief trial with LA Galaxy’s USL affiliate, LA Galaxy II, Skundrich’s agent received a call from Steel FC and the Lancaster native could not turn down the offer.

Despite pending status attached to his first professional soccer contract, Skundrich was a full participant at the annual team meet & greet with Steel FC season ticket holders Tuesday night. Skundrich and his new teammates embraced the opportunity to mingle with the team’s faithful.

Skundrich first graced Philadelphia Union’s radar in youth club days

The return of Skundrich to the Philadelphia Union organization with Steel FC signifies the team knows how to evaluate young talent. Skundrich frequently joined the small but growing Union Academy teams during his teenage club days with PA Classics in Lancaster, the Stanford alum’s hometown. Skundrich made waves then and Philadelphia has been keeping a watchful eye ever since.

“He has been on our radar since his academy days when Jim [Curtin] and I first came across him with PA Classics and in training with our academy. I’m excited to start getting to work with Drew again,” said Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke in an official team press release. “We’re lucky to be able to add a young player in Drew who is versatile and who has proved over and over throughout his college career that he is a leader by example and tireless worker,” continued Burke.

Skundrich shared Burke’s excitement to reconnect with the organization while beginning a new future with the club he once practiced with as a youngster. “There is a comfort level from being close to home and along with being familiar with the faces here like Jim Curtin and Brendan Burke,” said Skundrich. I know those guys, they know me. I played for them in the Cup,” Skundrich said.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Union U17 team dominated. They without allowing a goal in three-consecutive matches under then head coach Curtin. The roster featured current Columbus Crew SC players D Connor Maloney and GK Zack Steffen in addition to the now retired Zach Pfeffer, former Penn State kicker Joey Julius and the bother of current Union Academy player Seth Kuhn’s brother Austin. Quite the squad Curtin coached to victory over five years ago now.

Skundrich looks to continue winning ways at the professional level

Drew Skundrich (left) and Tomas Hilliard-Arce (right) celebrate together as co-captains of the 2017 Stanford National Championship team. Hilliard-Arce and Skundrich co-captained the Cardinal to a championship victory last November in Chester.

Skundrich’s leadership skills earned him co-captain honors during his junior and senior seasons with Stanford. Both of those years yielded a National Championship for Skundrich and his teammates. The first of three consecutive National Championships occurred during Skundrich’s sophomore season in which his impact was limited but effective still.

Skundrich and fellow 2018 LA Galaxy SuperDraft pick Tomas Hilliard-Arce (2nd overall selection) captained the Stanford Cardinal to their third straight National Championship last November at the 2017 NCAA Men’s College Cup in Chester at Talen Energy Stadium. Skundrich now returns to Chester but this time under completely different circumstances.

But even though the situation changes, the goal remains the same: win. Success comes in many ways, that is known. However, in professional sports, the most common factor determining whether a club is ‘successful’ or not relies solely upon the number under the W column at season’s end.

A state title during high school followed by a U17 Generation Adidas Cup title followed by three consecutive NCAA titles… It’s more than obvious Skundrich and winning go hand-in-hand.

Both Burke and Curtin’s attitudes toward success and wining were obvious to Skundrich when he first encountered them as a teenager. “I thought they were great coaches – great guys. They had a great mentality and attitude towards coaching,” said Skundrich. “They want to be successful. They want to win. And that’s something that I want to do too,” continued Skundrich.

When asked whether anything has changed regarding Burke’s mentality as a coach, Skundrich was quick to point out the importance placed on continued success by Burke and his staff. “Coming back here after a few years, it seems like their mentalities are the same and mine is as well. I’m looking forward to working with them,” said Skundrich.

Skundrich can also lean on fellow MLS players Jordan Morris (unfortunately out for the 2018 season but recently underwent successful knee surgery), Brandon Vincent (2016 MLS All-Star as a rookie, started 50 matches and logged 4,500+ minutes in first two MLS seasons), and Adam Jahn (former Supplemental draft pick turned reliable back-up striker entering his sixth MLS season) considering they have been trail blazers of recent past for Stanford Cardinal soccer players making the jump to the professional level.

Over the past five years, eight different Stanford soccer players have been selected in the MLS SuperDraft. Only Vincent, Jahn, Hilliard-Arce, and now Skundrich are currently playing professional soccer. The remaining four Stanford Cardinal drafted into the MLS/USL ranks have since moved on from the sport or actively seeking a roster spot in hopes of playing soccer somewhere in 2018.

INTERESTING SIDE-NOTE REGARDING JORDAN MORRIS:

Morris did not enter the MLS via the SuperDraft. The decision to forego Morris’ senior year at Stanford was announced during the first week of 2016. Morris’ father, Dr. Michael Morris, has been working as the Seattle Sounders‘ Chief Medical Officer since the team began in 2009. In addition to Morris’ father working for Seattle, the Sounders also held Morris’ amateur rights and would later ink Morris to the richest Homegrown contract to date in late January of 2016. BUT, that almost was not the case. Jurgen Klinsmann, then US Men’s National Team (USMNT) coach, reportedly pushed for Morris to sing a pro deal to play in the internationally acclaimed German Bundesliga with SV Werder Bremen. Following a a few training sessions with the German club, Morris’ trial was extended, he played in a preseason friendly, and recorded an assist. Werder Bremen then offered Morris a chance to play in one the world’s premier soccer leagues as a 21-year old. But Morris longed for a chance to stay close to home with family and signed with Seattle on January 21, 2016. Morris’ decision would later be questioned rather bluntly by longtime USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones, a German-American, following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup later this June.

Steel FC begin season Sunday

Steel FC host one of the eastern conferences top teams this Sunday as Richmond Kickers travel to Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium for a 2PM kickoff. Following a lackluster home form in 2017 in which Burke’s squad won just six matches while drawing five and losing just as many, Steel FC want to come out firing on all cylinders in what will be an early opportunity to showcase their skill against a top-tier USL squad. After all, earning just 23 out of a potential 48 points at home leaves much to be desired in 2018. Home wins are an extremely valuable asset to be able to rely on later in the season. Steel FC won just as many games away from the Lehigh Valley than in it throughout 2017.

Burke understands the importance of using one’s home field as an advantage and spends countless hours with his young team demonstrating what is required of his group to succeed at Lehigh.

“One of our focuses in this off-season has been to improve our home form. We were very good on the road last year but we were not as good as we wanted to be at home, not even really close to it,” said Burke during a conference call with media members Wednesday afternoon. “So this [Sunday’s match-up] presents a great opportunity because it comes right off the bat against a good, solid opponent but one that I think is beatable if we are really on our game,” Burke said.

Steel FC captain James Chambers will look to anchor the team’s midfield as in season’s past. Chambers is the only player on Bethlehem’s roster not born in the ’90’s and the game experience and knowledge Chambers accrued throughout his time in the Irish Premier Division is extremely valuable for a club like Steel FC. Chambers looks to remain the calm yet vocal veteran presence through Steel FC’s central channel.

Both Burke and Chambers know the significance of Sunday’s match. Chambers mentioned the team’s progress throughout the six-week preseason during a conference call Wednesday. “I think we are stronger and added a more quality so we’re excited as a group and personally I can’t wait to get started,” said Chambers. A key point of emphasis Chambers will continually stress to the team over the next few days involves the group’s ability to play with pace.

Chambers mantra ahead of Sunday? “Play with energy,” the Dublin, Ireland native suggested. “We have some new faces so we are trying to stamp our style on those lads so they are up to speed,” Chambers said. “Everything is gearing up nicely toward Sunday, it’s just a matter of going and enjoying the experience and occasion and put on a performance.”

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

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