Union U-15’s are on an outstanding run, make first-ever MLS NEXT Cup final

The Philadelphia Union under-15-year-olds (U-15’s) are on a tear in the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup. In what will be the next step to a real development pipeline for US Soccer, MLS NEXT is going to be a development league for MLS clubs academies and other youth teams across the United States and Canada. The Union’s U-15’s are on a run that sees them at the U-15 final. Philly will take on Real Salt Lake’s U-15’s Friday, July 2nd at 7:00 pm EST.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Twitter

Union U-15’s make outstanding run in Inaugural MLS NEXT Cup

The Union U-15s have played four matches in these single-elimination playoff matches in six days to get to the final, and will play the fifth and final game in what is an eight-day stretch. These youngsters are coached by former Union and Bethlehem Steel FC player, Ryan Richter, and have been on a tare in this tournament.

They took care of Portland 2-0 in the round of 32. In the round of 16, Philly battled back to tie LA Galaxy U-15’s, and then beat them in Penalties 5-4. The Union played Austin FC U-15’s to a 0-0 draw and then beat them on Penalties 3-1. Philadelphia made it to the semifinals and beat New England Revolution 2-0. Now, they will play Real Salt Lake’s U-15’s on Friday for a chance to lift the MLS NEXT Cup.

This tournament has had everything! From great set-piece goals to beautiful play, and amazing penalty heroics. Here’s a look at some of what has ensued, and players to keep an eye on in the final and beyond as they continue to develop at the Philadelphia Union academy.


The U-15’s have many budding players who could make that jump in the coming years to securing a Union homegrown contract. One of those players who is standing out is Bajung Darboe. This attacking player has shown his quality finishing from set pieces and from the run of play.

In the semifinal, he hammered home a free-kick to give Philly the lead in the 18th minute. It was a truly great free-kick. The ball was hit at pace and dipped below the crossbar as it headed to the far post and went in. 15 minutes later Darboe was hanging out near the top of the box, while the other Union U-15’s moved the ball around with ease. Once he got the ball at the top of the 18-yard-box, he turned and had to beat just one defender. He maneuvered to his left leaving the defender behind and fired a shot to the upper 90’s of the near post.

Bajung Darboe was the sole reason the U-15’s made it to the MLS NEXT Cup Final. Remember his name as he could be another great homegrown for Philadelphia in the next few years. He’s not the only standout for this Union side.

Penalty heroics

Union U-15 Andrew Rick goalkeeper Andrew Rick was the hero for the Union in their quarterfinals match against Austin FC U-15’s. He made three straight Penalty saves and won player of the round honors for his efforts. The stops he made were all instinctive. The three shots were all played in different areas, and Rick was explosive off his line to make all three stops. The Union has a good history with developing goalkeepers. Whether it be through the MLS Draft, with Andre Blake, or through the homegrown process, with Matt Freese. Could Andrew Rick be the next product to make the jump to the first team?

Another attacking player who has shown goal-scoring prowess is Matt Routzahn. He has come up big converting winning penalties in the round of 16 and quarterfinals. He’s also akin to scoring goals from the run of play. However, his penalty shootout heroics could pay big dividends in the MLS NEXT Cup final. Could he also have a bright future and move up the ranks to becoming a Union homegrown?

Both of these players are ones to watch moving forward. If they ball out in the final, they could be names of the future that Union fans want to see on the first team.

On to the final!

The Union U-15’s take on Real Salt Lake U-15’s in the final of the MLS NEXT Cup tomorrow at 7:00 pm EST. It’ll be live-streamed on MLSsoccer.com.

Be sure to tune in to see the next generation of Union players take the field for a chance to win a trophy. Some of these players could be playing for the Union’s first team in the next few years. Don’t you want to see them play at this level to know about their potential before they make a jump to playing with Union II and/or the first team? If you answered yes to that question, then you have to tune in on Friday night as the Union U-15’s look to lift the first-ever MLS NEXT Cup trophy!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Twitter