In a small-sided possession drill, eight players quickly executed one or two-touch combinations against four pressing players. Philadelphia Union’s U17 squad requires a fast tempo, high intensity and quality. The atmosphere on the field is noticeably coherent amongst the team too. When one of the players defends the ball with a sliding tackle, four of his team members are immediately there to cheer him up for the big block. The positive mood among players and coaches isn’t a surprise.
Philadelphia’s U17 soccer team is the best of their kind. Last year they topped off their successful season by winning the U17 MLS Next Cup, the biggest and most important youth soccer tournament in the United States.
In an intense final, the Union defeated Columbus Crew 3-2. This year, the successful journey of Philadelphia Union’s U17 continued as the ‘06 and ‘07 born players were able to pull off their next huge achievement. In April, Philadelphia’s U17 celebrated the win of the prestigious Generation Adidas Cup after eliminating LA Galaxy in the semifinal 2-1 and defeating FC Dallas in the final 1-0. The Generation Adidas Cup in Florida is one of the biggest international tournaments and is well known for its high-quality competition.
This year the tournament hosted the best American academy teams as well as big international names like Real Madrid, FC Arsenal and Manchester United. In nine days, Philly’s soccer team achieved wins in all seven of their matches, making the triumph even sweeter.
The man behind Philadelphia Union’s success is Tobias Nubbemeyer. The 30-year-old German took over as head coach in 2019 and progressively guided Philadelphia Union’s U17 team to the top of America’s academy soccer. Nubbemeyer’s commitment had a lot to do with the involvement of Union sports director Ernst Tanner, who is also from Germany. Being aware of Nubbemeyer’s coaching potential, he tried his best to convince the 30-year-old to come to the city of brotherly love. It is clear that for Nubbemeyer, Philadelphia was a great fit.
“Four years ago, Ernst Tanner needed someone in the youth to build up a fast, intense, and direct playing style,” said Nubbemeyer, who immediately showed interest in the plan Tanner had for him.
From 2017 to 2019 Nubbemeyer worked in the U19 and U17 teams of Bundesliga academy club RB Leipzig. In Leipzig, Nubbemeyer coached a similar high-intensity playing style that Tanner wanted to see in Philadelphia. The 30-year-old, therefore, was the man Tanner was looking for. Compared to what Nubbemeyer experienced in Leipzig, the major difference in Philadelphia is that the Union Academy currently doesn’t have its own facilities.
The U17 practices at the YSC sports complex where the players also go to a private school. In Chester, the Union is currently working on expanding its facilities. The project that promises to benefit the Union’s academy immensely is estimated to cost the club approximately $55 million.
Another big difference is the homegrown player rule that doesn’t allow the Union to transfer youth players from different cities. “We have to rely on local talents in and around Philadelphia and that’s an advantage for us because the pool of players here is really good,” explained Nubbemeyer.
This weekend, the team will compete in the MLS Next Flex tournament in Maryland. To qualify for the MLS Next playoffs in Dallas they have to win within their group, which includes Solar FC, Sacramento Republic and FC Golden State.
The goal for the rest of the season is simple. “We won the playoffs last year. Our ambition is to defend our title,” said Nubbemeyer. The U17 of the Philadelphia Union is clearly hungry to bring another title back to Philly.