It’s been almost 2 months since Union II’s 2nd MLS Next Pro season ended and it was, once again, a pretty good year for the team. After getting deep into the playoffs in their inaugural season, Marlon LeBlanc’s side managed to make the playoffs once again. Unfortunately, they couldn’t go all the way to the trophy as they were beaten by New England in early October.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to be crowned champions, Union II came out of the season with a lot of positives that will benefit them in the long term. After some not-so-impressive signings for their inaugural season, Union II really upped their game with the new signings they made this season, many of which greatly impacted the team and their playoff qualification.
Another aspect Union II managed to really improve on last year was the academy callups. Philly has, arguably, the best academy setup in the entirety of America, it’s constantly producing talent at every level and age group, and it’s also gaining a major reputation over in Europe. While David Vazquez (someone I suggest you remember the name of for the near future), Frank Westfield, and Luciano Sanchez all had solid to great years with UII, and I’m sure they’ll be permanent additions to the squad shortly, there was one real standout for me and that was attacking midfielder, CJ Olney.
CJ Olney is a rising star for Philly Union
CJ Olney was rewarded for his star performances throughout the entirety of last season, with a MLS Next Pro contract to become a full-time member of the UII last week. Olney is someone who caught my eye earlier this year, when he was a crucial part of Philadelphia Union U17’s Generation Adidas Cup win back in April.
He then went on to make 23 appearances for UII this season, scoring in 4 games and leading the team with 8 assists. Olney also led the team in key passes with 39.
In my opinion, CJ is a star in the making, when you watch him play, he catches the eye and gets your attention quickly. I always say when you watch players play, especially at the youth level, that you can notice in a select few, that they have that special something, you get that feeling when you watch them and that’s what I get when I watch CJ.
It’s the same feeling I had a few years ago when watching Jack McGlynn, and it was a similar feeling that led me to predict Chris Donovan to break into the senior team quickly, and that Jesus Bueno would have a breakout year for the senior team this season.
CJ is a creative genius, his vision and ability to read the game are incredible, he’s constantly picking out teammates with passes from all ranges, his awareness is also up there with the best and he can just predict things 2 or 3 steps ahead of everyone else on the field.
He has an eye for goal too and I’m sure those numbers will grow with the consistent game time he’ll have with UII moving forward. He’s just a naturally gifted attacking midfielder with the technical ability to excel above others in his position.
What can Union fans expect?
UII signing him this early after the season, especially given he’s only 16 years old, shows how much the youth coaching in Philly values him and sees how beneficial it is for him to play at this level at such an early age. CJ will be in the senior team at some point over the next 2 years and he could fill a variety of roles. While predominately playing as a number 10, he can come in and provide a rotation option for Daniel Gazdag.
I also believe he has the ability and play style to thrive in a number 8 role like Bedoya and McGlynn currently do for the senior team. With Bedoya on the way out of the team once the season is over, and the departure of McGlynn to Europe being a very likely outcome over the next 2 years, Olney would be a prime candidate to come into the senior team and be the next Aaronson, McGlynn, etc.
He has the passing ability and vision to give the likes of Uhre and Carranza balls to run in behind to, but he also has the ball control and dribbling ability to move the ball forward on his own and make things happen by himself.
I don’t usually put my star stamp on many players, I’ve only done it 2 times in just over 3 years so far (McGlynn and Bueno) so I don’t say this next part lightly, I am very happy to put my star stamp on CJ Olney and predict that Union fans will quickly fall in love with him in 2-3 years when he’s consistently balling out for the senior team. There’s also one other player I’d put that stamp on right now, but I’ll save that for another time (there’s a hint to who earlier in this article…)
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