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MLS NEXT Apr 08, 2024

Philadelphia Union Academy U-17 squad captures 2nd straight Generation adidas Cup title

(Photo Credit: Philadelphia Union)

Philadelphia Union made history on Sunday afternoon as the U-17s defeated LA Galaxy in a penalty kick shootout to win their second-consecutive Generation adidas Cup championship.

70 minutes and the traditional five rounds of penalty kicks weren’t enough for this massive contest that ended in a 2-2 draw as Gavin Atkinson forced sudden death with a save in round two. That set the stage for defender Neil Pierre in round six as he converted from the spot and LA Galaxy missed on their following attempt for the Union to win 5-4 in the shootout round.

With the title, the Union become the first MLS side to win back-to-back GA Cup Championships at the U-17 level. The victory marks the third GA Cup title overall for the U-17 squad, joining the 2012 team led by current Union manager Jim Curtin and the 2023 team that produced five Union signed professionals.

Forward Diego Rocio continued his tremendous run in the knockout stages, jumping on a Galaxy clearance in the box and firing a shot that snuck under the keeper from close range in the 31st minute. After the Galaxy scored twice early in the second half, the Union responded with great playmaking run from Jamir Johnson to set up Cavan Sullivan for the game-tying goal in the 48th minute.

Philadelphia Union came out firing from the opening whistle with its high pressure defense seeking to disrupt the Galaxy’s building from the back attack. Three minutes into the match, Philly had the first shot of the contest with Rocio putting in a strong hold up play on the left side of the attack before hitting a pass to captain Anisse Saidi for a one timer that went wide.

The Union continued to press with the hopes of causing a mistake and the first major one came in the 13th minute the front three forced a poor goal kick clearance and quickly were into the box. Philly almost had a shot on goal however a player fell in the box before getting an attempt. LA quickly used the moment to string a counter attack for the first time past the center stripe however the Union defense aced the test with Neil Pierre and Gavin DeHart with key blocks centrally.

Three minutes later Philly continued its surge for an early lead with Cavan Sullivan hitting a cross to the back post as Henry Bernstein made a run. Both teams quickly fought the cross with the defensive pressure forcing a soft shot to the opposite post that was stopped.

Both keepers made big plays midway through the first 35-minute period with the U17s goalkeeper Gavin Atkinson timing his run off the line to limit a 1v1 counter attack with a stop at his near post. LA Galaxy got its own stop off a corner kick chance as the Union went with a play off the training grounds with Bernstein and Johnson combining for a play that was ultimately punched of the air before it made its way to Pierre for a smashing header.

Philly finally broke through in the 31st minute with its high pressure leading to the opening goal. After forcing a turnover in LA Galaxy’s defensive third of the pitch, Sullivan hit a cross into the box that saw a half clearance from a defender. Rocio hustled quickly to intercept the ball and hit a blast that snuck under the keeper for the 1-0 lead. Two minutes later the Boys in Blue nearly doubled its lead as a bouncing ball fell to Bernstein inside the box for a huge shot that the keeper was able to keep out of the back of the net.

The momentum turned in the Galaxy’s favor to start the second half as scored twice in three minutes to grab a 2-1 lead. LA tied the match up in the 38th minute with a cutback pass on the right side of their attacking set up a shot from the edge of the 18-yard-box that snuck under the Union keeper. A few minutes later the California side needed three attempts inside the box before breaking through in the 40th minute.

Like the city they represented on the badge, the Union U-17s battled back and got the equalizer in the 44th minute with a tremendous play from Johnson. After the Union earned a free kick near the center stripe, Saidi went with a quick restart to Johnson 40 yards from goal. The play maker went to work with a quick drive into the box before patiently cutting through a trio of defenders to get set up a soft cross into the box. With the defense focused on Johnson, he picked out Cavan Sullivan for the equalizing tap in finish.

Four minutes were added to the final period as both teams looked to find the goal that would live in either side Academy’s history. In the second minute of stoppage time, LA had its chance with a big shot at the edge of the box that Atkinson read the whole way to make the clutch stop.

During the 10-minute extra time period, both sides battled fatigue in the high-intensity final but neither could find a winner and went to the penalty shootout. Both captains stepped up to take the opening shots from the PK slot with Anisse Saidi scoring. Philly fell behind in round two after seeing their shot saved but Atkinson responded in round three with a diving stop to his right. The two teams traded clutch finishes in round 4 and five before the ultimate finish arose with Pierre scoring followed up by a miss from LA Galaxy.

The match concludes another strong performance at the Generation adidas Cup for Peter McDonnell’s side that had arguably the most difficult journey to a GA Cup final in recent memory. After advancing to the Championship Bracket via a second-place finish in Group A, Philly faced an international trio to reach the final. In the Round of 16, the Baby Snakes knocked off South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, 1-0, behind a goal from Jamir Johnson. The Union then turned on the offense with a 4-2 win in the Quarterfinals against Croatian side HNK Hajduk Split led by Rocio’s brace. 24 hours later the Union advanced to their second-straight U-17 final after Rocio scored twice against Brazilian side, CF Flamengo.