Bethlehem Steel FC announced another Union Academy graduate signed a pro deal earlier this morning. Steel FC have now signed four players in just three weeks to start 2019 (Saed Diaz – Jan. 2nd, Zach Zandi – Jan. 8th, James Chambers – Jan. 10th)
Imagine you’re 15 years old trying to explain to your parents that you’d like to move half-way across the country to enroll in a soccer team’s youth academy.
Now I don’t know exactly how Ben Ofeimu and his parents reacted at first but one thing is for sure, Ofeimu’s decision paid off earlier this morning. The former Penn State commit decided to take the Union’s path to the pros.
The Union Academy graduate inked his first professional deal with Bethlehem Steel FC much to the delight of Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. “Ben has a big, physical presence on defense and is very technically skilled on the ball. His addition will strengthen the core of our back line and be a real asset to us this season. We feel that Ben has proven himself well at our Academy,” said Tanner.
Ofeimu earned major minutes with Steel FC last season and even netted his first professional goal after a ball settled to his feet inside the box. The teen remained calm and utilized his quick feet to knock the ball into the back of the net for an 83rd minute game tying goal at North Carolina FC last June.
Steel FC Brendan Burke has always been an enthusiastic supporter of the tall center back. “Ben has emerged over the last 12 months as a very mature and hard-working prospect,” said Burke. “He has good feet for such a big guy and he communicates very well. He will be a key figure in our 2019 season and we are so happy to be welcoming another Union Academy graduate to the Steel on a permanent basis.”
At just 18 years old, Ofeimu already packs 200 pounds onto a six-foot, four-inch frame. Needless to say, Ofeimu should forever be known as ‘Big Ben.’
Ofeimu’s size in combination with quick feet and a willingness to talk with teammates at this age is remarkable for sure. But what’s more remarkable perhaps is the fact that Ofeimu became the first player to sign a pro deal after completing the Union Academy’s Residency Program. It’s a program that both YSC Academy and Philadelphia Union take much pride in. In fact, this program draws attention from several states and regions throughout the country in which no Major League Soccer team has first pickings.
Players travel to the Academy from Florida, Virginia, and Michigan to name a few. Ofeimu himself made the trek to Wayne, PA from West Bloomfield, Michigan. One main factor Ofeimu and his parents enrolled with the Union Academy is the housing program which allows these players to live with a host parent or family.
By providing a healthy and stable living arrangement, players (more like teenagers) can easily transition from life back home to their new journeys to the professional ranks.
“Ben is a shining example of what can be achieved when you ally attitude and commitment with talent,” said Union Academy Director Tommy Wilson. “Ben and his families’ commitment to our program have now been appropriately rewarded and we wish him the best of luck as he embarks on the next step of his journey.”
Ofeimu racked up a total of 56 starts over four seasons within the ranks of the Union Academy. He netted three goals and appeared in an additional seven matches in that span. He started all 25 matches with the Academy last season while earning significant professional experience with Steel FC.
He started nine times for Burke and made three of appearances and quickly became a likeable locker room guy as a teenager. His ability and skill were not only respected, but they were praised by fellow teammate James Chambers as well as others. Ofeimu gained recognition for his ability to remain poised in tight or stressful situations. Which is a major attribute to have as a center back.
Ofeimu’s signing is now a continuing sign of what’s to come for the Union organization under new Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. We now know his intent was true when he traded away all 2019 SuperDraft picks for cash. That cash has been redistributed in meaningful ways like adding a veteran center back who can not only spot start when needed but can also become yet another mentor in what is becoming a locker room full of veterans thanks to the resigning of Ray Gaddis.
Keep an eye out for further signings for both the Union and Steel FC. Burke already stated Steel FC’s roster will be “years” younger than last season. Not months… Years. So that means more Academy players will get a chance to forego college ball for the pro ranks.
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Mandatory Credit: Bethlehem Steel FC