Is a 14-year-old ready for Major League Soccer? | The Triangle

Is a 14-year-old ready for Major League Soccer?

Photo by Raphael Bartell | The Triangle

Hair bleached, a shiny chain around the neck and a big smile on his face: He became the face of the Philadelphia Union when the club announced the signing of the mega soccer talent almost three weeks ago. Fans cannot wait to see him on the pitch and are demanding coach Jim Curton play him, but is 14-year-old Cavan Sullivan ready to play in MLS? 

Sullivan has made Philadelphia Union club history as the youngest player to sign a professional contract. “It is really dreams turning into reality,” said Sullivan, who has been part of the Union academy since 2020. The 14-year-old follows the steps of his brother Quinn Sullivan, older by six years, who is also playing for the Union MLS team.

Philadelphia is home for Sullivan and the Union seems to be the perfect place for talented players to develop. Andrew Rick, David Vazquez, Nathan Harriel, Jake McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan are all homegrown players who have made the step from the academy to the MLS squad of the Union.

Sullivan might be different. Though he is only 14 years old,  he could be the most promising player the Union and MLS have ever seen. Sullivan’s strengths are his dribbling skills and his ability to finish in front of goal. 

When playing for the Union Academy barely anyone can stop him. He has earned call-ups for the US youth national team and clubs around the world have Sullivan on the radar. It was a smart decision from the Union to sign Sullivan, who most likely would have received a professional contract somewhere else if not with them.

Curton, head coach of the Philadelphia Union is pleased with the move to sign Sullivan.  “Cavan is 14 and his job here will be to be a kid. Our job is to create an environment where he can thrive in,” said Curton, who is impressed by what Sullivan is capable of. “When a practice starts and guys give you the ball, that’s the ultimate sign of respect, and within ten seconds into the first training session they gave him the ball,” said Curton. 

Supposedly the youngster will sign with Premiere League Club Manchester City when turning 18. On social media, fans are demanding Curton bring in the 14-year-old. If the Union would decide to do so, Sullivan could soon break another record. If he receives playing time before July 29, he would be the youngest MLS player of all time — a record that could look good for the Philadelphia Union, who already have the reputation of being one of the best soccer academies in the United States.

But is a 14-year-old ready to play in MLS? There is no doubt about the talent of Cavan Sullivan. He is one of the most promising young players in the country, but playing MLS is a different beast. Sullivan is noticeably small. His game focuses on 1vs1 dribbling. When playing against players of similar ages, Sullivan is almost unstoppable. MLS players, though, might be twice his height, weight and age.

When playing for Philadelphia Union II in the MLS Next Pro, Sullivan shows what he is capable of, but he is not the player that stands out the most. In fact, in some games, he caused poor turnovers by simply running into defenders who were already predicting his next moves.

So far, Curton has not given out any information on when fans can expect to see Sullivan play in the MLS. Sullivan might physically not be ready for the MLS yet, but there is still a chance for him to make his debut before July 29 and to be the youngest MLS player of all time.

At this point, being 14 years old, it seems unlikely that Sullivan would get a starting spot any time soon. The Union and head coach Curton still might consider bringing the youngster from the bench and breaking another MLS record. If there is an opportunity where the team is up by a few goals, it would not be surprising if the Union would bring him in just for the record. 

Cavan Sullivan is ready, and he seems to have the ability to blend out all the pressure from fans, media and the club. “Despite all the noise whether it’s positive or negative, I’m sort of just focused on my game and development,” said Sullivan. When Philadelphia Union fans can expect to see Cavan Sullivan making his MLS debut for the Union is not clear. It might take weeks, months, or even years. It is safe to say, though, that it is only a matter of time for Cavan Sullivan to play for his hometown team.