The Philadelphia Union has been a top team in the MLS for a little while now but there’s always been something that separates them from everyone else in the league and that’s their top academy setup.
If you take just 5 minutes to investigate Union’s strategy and philosophy, you can tell they love to develop young talent and grow the game across the nation. From the senior team constantly adding young talent with unlimited potential from small nations to the incredible academy system the team has that’s dominating US youth soccer at all age groups, Union has put itself at the forefront of taking US soccer to the next level.
The next stars of the Philadelphia Union
As I just said, the Philadelphia Union Academy is absolutely stacked with some of the best young talent in the country, and in some cases, the world, and I’m here with a series of articles to showcase just some of the names that Union, and US, fans should note down and remember for the future.
Before I start, I will just say, that I won’t be showcasing the likes of Brandan Craig, Nelson Pierre, and Quinn Sullivan because every Union fan already knows about them. I also won’t be mentioning CJ Olney or David Vazquez as I’ve already highlighted them in previous articles.
Neil Pierre, CB, 2007:
While Union fans will be familiar with the name Pierre, they’ll be a lot more familiar with Nelson Pierre rather than Neil Pierre. Neil is the younger brother of Nelson and is a prospect that’s been on a meteoric rise over the past 12 months or so.
Standing at 6 foot 6, Pierre has been a standout performer for Union’s academy for a little while now. He’s obviously a massive threat from set pieces due to his height and desire to win the ball in the air, but he’s also very useful when defending them.
Neil is one of the best one-on-one defenders I’ve seen at youth level, his football intelligence is extremely high and his composure to stay on his feet and wait for the best chance of dispossessing his opponent is next level. He’s also managed to work on his passing a lot, given it was a major concern for a while, and it now looks like he’ll really suit playing out of the back system.
Neil had offers from overseas but decided to sign his professional contract with Philly in August 2023. He made his debut for UII near the end of last season in the MLS Next Pro league and even scored 2 goals in the 6 games he appeared in.
Neil is set to play a huge role for UII next season and after his standout performance at the most recent MLS Next Fest, which had everyone at the event raving about him, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be touted as the next big star out of Union’s development system.
Jamir Johnson, Winger, 2008:
Jamir Johnson is one of the highest-rated youngsters in the US in his age group and it’s easy to see why when you get to watch him play. Johnson is the perfect representation of a modern winger, has all the athleticism in the world at his disposal, is extremely quick and agile, just one of those players who breezes past his opponents and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Two major things always stick out to me when I’ve watched Jamir play. One of them is his ability to always make something happen when he has the ball. He’s one of those players that you watch and just get excited when he gets the ball at his feet, you know something is about to happen and it always does, just a dynamic playmaker.
The other thing that’s always stuck out to me when I’ve watched him play, and it’s a very rare trait to have, and that’s the fact he doesn’t have a weak foot. Whether on his right or left foot, Jamir doesn’t need to shift onto a specific foot or cut inside so he can use his favored foot like a lot of modern wingers do.
Jamir has adapted to Philly’s heavy pressing system well too and he’s extremely active and disruptive in the press. You’ll always see him engaged when off the ball and pressing players, he’s a player who is always doing something. Jamir is a player who has a lot of people talking about him, and with the way he’s been consistently performing at a high level, I can see him being a name that should be involved with UII soon enough.
Anisse Saidi, Striker, 2008
Anisse Saidi is another member of the incredibly talented and stacked age group in Philly’s academy system. Saidi is considered to be the best striker in the US and one of the top prospects overall in the US at his age group and he has been for a while now.
Surprisingly, Saidi was snubbed by the USYNT setup for a while and Tunisia jumped at the chance and gave him some game time at their U17 level, so that’s something to watch for the future. Just like Neil Pierre too, he was a star player at the most recent MLS Next Fest and people were seriously impressed by his performances.
Saidi is a very versatile forward prospect in the fact that he has the perfect skillset of a winger, but he’s used much more as a support striker in the academy setup, which hasn’t hurt him or his development at all.
Three things stood out to me when watching Saidi. His ball control is great and will only get better with time, he has the composure of a seasoned pro already, doesn’t rush anything when the ball is at his feet, and makes brilliant decisions under pressure.
The main thing that impressed me when watching Saidi was his natural goal-scoring ability, something that will put you levels ahead of others in the game. Saidi can finish from all angles and distances in a variety of situations, and I think that’s why the academy staff has decided to play him in a more central striker role rather than out wide. Saidi is destined for great things, and it feels almost certain that he’ll be playing at a very high level when the time is right.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union