Split Decision: Philadelphia Union U15s fall, U17s rise in Generation Adidas Cup finals

With teams in both the U15 and U17 Generation Adidas Cup finals, the Philadelphia Union came away with a heartbreaking 7-6 penalty kick loss following a 1-1 draw for the U15s, followed by an uplifting, frankly relieving 1-0 win for the U17s that ensured Philadelphia does not go 0 for 5 in finals within a year. Yes, one win out of five isn’t great. But it’s a hell of a lot better than none. And it offers the slightest ray of hope. A tiny light amongst the darkness. A spark. Maybe the sports gods haven’t completely forsaken Philadelphia after all.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

U17s win; U15s lose in GA Cup Finals

No, I’m still not over the MLS Cup final/World Series/Super Bowl/now U15 GA Cup final. How’d you guess?

U15s- First Half

After a kickoff delayed two hours by lightning in the area, the Union began the final as they have every other game of this tournament, attacking from the first whistle. Despite Austin shutting down the middle of the field well, the Union were able to generate chances out on the wings but found themselves unable to beat Austin’s keeper, and were often foiled by Austin’s impressive center back Gavin Wolff.

Then, in the 21st minute, disaster struck.

An innocuous back pass fell victim to a field in a state of disrepair after hosting so many games in such a short amount of time, bouncing over Union keeper Alex Smith’s attempted clearance and rolling slowly, painfully, tauntingly over the goal line to give Austin the 1-0 lead.

To their credit, the Union, particularly Smith, didn’t let their heads drop after the calamity. Instead, they put their heads down with purpose and continued to drive forward, searching for the equalizer. Considering it was the first time all tournament the team had trailed, such a positive response was anything but guaranteed, and the Union showed their character.

After several more chances, including a 33rd-minute header off a corner that sailed just over the crossbar, the halftime whistle blew, consigning the Union to a halftime deficit.

U15s- Second Half + Extra Time

Once again, the Union made a halftime adjustment to push left-back Jordan Griffin higher up the field while in possession. And once again, the move paid quick dividends. Cavan Sullivan found Griffin with a ball behind the Austin defense, and the Union left back in turn played the ball across the box, where Jamir Johnson hammered it home at the far post.

Both teams continued to create chances throughout the second half. Perhaps the best fell to Austin, with Wolff seeing his powerful header saved acrobatically by Smith, who tipped it over the crossbar. The Union then generated a chance of their own with the high press, forcing a turnover from Austin’s keeper, but after an initial shot from Sullivan was blocked, the rebound was hit just wide off a volley from Nehan Hasan.

After the would-be final whistle blew with the teams still tied at 1, 10 minutes of extra time saw both teams remain deadlocked, despite a great chance for the Union going right to Austin’s keeper, and another for Austin going wide.

U15s- Penalties

Those who say perfection is impossible to have never watched Austin FC’s U15s take penalties. The Union matched them most of the way, but in the end, all it took was one mistake, as a soft hit penalty straight down the middle fell nicely into the Austin keeper’s arms and handed Austin their first Generation Adidas Cup trophy, and Union fans a hearty helping of all-too-familiar trauma. 

The Union player who took the penalty fell to his knees, physically mirroring the agony of the Philadelphia fans who were watching. I hope, in time, he is able to look back at this tournament and feel the pride he deserves to, as he and the rest of the team played spectacularly throughout, and get all the credit in the world from me, and hopefully anyone else lucky enough to watch them play.

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” On a day when both teams were very, very good, Lefty Gomez had it right about what made the difference.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

U17s- First Half

CJ Olney proved himself to be one of the shining lights of the Union U17 squad once again, playing a lofted ball over the top, reminiscent of his assist in the semifinal, which created the first chance of the match when Sal Olivas headed it on frame, but right at the FC Dallas keeper. The next chance it was Olney on the end of a header, which was blocked by a Dallas defender, but in a controversial decision (if you’re a Dallas fan) was ruled a penalty for handball.

Devon DeCorte scored the resulting penalty to put the Union on top 1-0, which it would remain through the first half, with Dallas’ best opportunity coming from a free kick just outside the box. Fortunately, the wall did well and Union keeper Andrew Rick was able to easily collect the shot.

U17s- Second Half

A back-and-forth second half saw both teams pushing for a goal, the Union for insurance and Dallas for an equalizer. A 57th-minute second yellow for Dallas made things decidedly unequal, giving the Union a man advantage for the final 13 minutes plus stoppage time. 

Fortunately, the U17 squad proved themselves better at playing with an extra player than the first team often has. They perhaps conceded more possession than they might have liked, and as a result had to endure regular attacks, much like in the semifinal. But the defense held firm, making key blocks and seeing things out even through an agonizing 7 minutes of stoppage time.

With essentially the last kick of the match, Dallas played a dangerous through ball to the back post that a stretching attacker narrowly missed connecting with. The final whistle blew, confirming the Union U17s as Generation Adidas Cup champions, following up their 2022 MLS NEXT Cup win in style. This was the second GA Cup win for the U17s, who also won in 2012 with a side featuring US Men’s National Team keeper Zach Steffen and the Union’s first-ever homegrown signing, Zach Pfeffer. It was also coached by some guy named Jim Curtin. I wonder what he’s up to these days.

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” On a day when both teams were evenly matched but at times struggled to find a rhythm, Lefty Gomez had it right about what made the difference.

CHESTER, PA – DECEMBER 05: A Philadelphia Union Fan holds up a “Believe” sign during the first half of the Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs match between New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union on December 5, 2021, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Looking Ahead

Both teams have ample reason to be proud of what they accomplished in this tournament. But beyond that, both the fans and the Philadelphia Union organization have ample reason to be excited for the future. This was a glimpse, all too brief, of players who may go on to become future stars; some with the Union, some with the US Men’s National Team (or other national teams), and some in areas outside of the soccer world. So please don’t be sad that it’s over; smile because we’ll be seeing these names up in lights again before you know it.

Enjoy the Generation Adidas championship, U17s. See you soon, when you’re doing it with the first team.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire, Philadelphia Union, Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire.