The Kids Are Alright: Philadelphia Union U15s defeat Arsenal 4-1 in the first knockout round of the Generation Adidas Cup

The Philadelphia Union U15s ran out 4-1 winners over Arsenal this morning in the first knockout round of the Generation Adidas Cup*. The Union was dangerous throughout, using a high press to win back the ball high up the field, and quick, incisive attacking play to cut through the Arsenal defense repeatedly. In truth, they could have scored a few more. Full disclosure, I am also an Arsenal fan, so while I’m thrilled about the Union’s performance, it was a little bittersweet for me.

*The Generation Adidas Cup is a competition hosted by MLS, with every club’s U15 and U17 youth teams taking part. Equivalent youth teams from around the world are also taking part, including the likes of Arsenal (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Palmeiras (Brazil), and (Union first team opponents in the CONCACAF Champions League) Atlas (Mexico), among others. The matches are shorter, with two 30-minute halves making up a 60-minute match.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

First Half- A Quick Start

All that’s not to say the Union dominated the game completely. They started well, and after they pressured Arsenal’s defense into a turnover, Cavan Sullivan (yes, Quinn Sullivan’s younger brother) capitalized to open the scoring just 19 seconds in. The team then rode that momentum through the opening 10-15 minutes, after which Arsenal grew into the match and began to get more time on the ball. They used that time to full effect, scoring on one of their first chances to tie the game. The goal came from Louis Zecevic-John, the main threat from Arsenal who showed his quality throughout the match, beating multiple defenders on more than one occasion.

Despite growing Arsenal pressure after their goal, the Union continued to generate good chances on the counter. A pass over the top from Sullivan to Aaron Wesseh, who took a long touch into the box and then beat the Arsenal keeper to the ball before the keeper tripped him up, led to a penalty right at the end of the half. Leading scorer Anisse Saidi dispatched the penalty calmly, the briefest of stutter steps sending the keeper diving to one side while he placed the ball in the opposite corner. With that, the Union went into halftime up 2-1.

Second Half- Putting the Game Away

Much like the start of the match, it didn’t take long for the Union to score after the halftime break. And once again, it all started with the high press. Wessah slid in to knick the ball off the advancing Arsenal player, then played in Sullivan, who in turn played a simple ball across the box for Saidi to bury in the back of the net. 

Other than one great chance created by Zecevic-John in the 44th minute, Arsenal seemed beaten long before the whistle blew. A 51st-minute goal for the Union simply confirmed the result. Following a short corner, Jamir Johnson crossed to the far post for substitute Mateo Gallegos to sneak a header into the net just before the scrambling Arsenal keeper could get there.

Looking Ahead

After the 4-1 win, the U15s are right back at it tomorrow at 11:30 am EST, when they take on Real Madrid. Whichever team advances from that fixture will be considered one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. No matter the results from here on out, the Union proved today that they, and the US as a whole, have made significant strides in youth development over the past 5-10 years. Watching the Union’s dynamic attack, it’s hard not to be excited about the future impact these players may have on the first team, and, potentially, the US Men’s National Team.

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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire