An MLS Next Golden Ball winner, two highly touted prospects from San Diego and several local players at the younger age groups are among the new players who have joined the Philadelphia Union Academy ahead of the 2021-2022 season.
CJ Olney, a 2006 midfielder from Hillsborough, N.J. recently won the Golden Ball at the MLS Next Cup playing up with the U17s for Players Development Academy. He’s No. 8 on TopDrawerSoccer’s top 150 players for the class of 2025.
“He was highly recruited by the two New York clubs and then we came into the fold and he visited us, met with all the senior leadership of our club and then committed to us, then went to Dallas and it wasn’t too much of a surprise to us that he had a strong showing,” said Jon Scheer, who is the academy’s director of talent identification. “He’s a box-to-box player, really good engine, can get up and down and physically has a lot of the capabilities we look for for interior players but has a really sharp understanding of the game with the ball and even against the ball.”
Another 2006-born player who has joined the academy is right back Gabriel Oksanen from San Diego Surf. Gabriel was with the U15s for friendlies they played down in Atlanta against other MLS academies last season. His dad, a former professional snowboarder, is from Finland and his mom is from England.
“He’s just really steady, has a really good engine, can get up and down and fits the physical requirements of what we look for, has good feet and is very technically sophisticated,” Scheer said.
Another addition from San Diego is the 2007-born Diego Rocio, who has joined from San Diego SC. He’s a Mexican-American forward who was highly recruited by a lot of MLS clubs and also had interest from Mexico.
“He’s one of the top attacking ‘07s in the country,” Scheer said. “We see him starting with our ‘07s but he’s someone we could quickly see training and playing with our U17s in the spring.”
Another 2007-born addition is Zach Mastrodimos, who is joining from MLS Next club Cedar Stars Bergen.
“He’ll be another defensive option and he really fits the mold of what we’re really looking for in a six and we’re intrigued by his potential for the future,” Scheer said.
Six other players have joined at the younger age groups from NJ Premier, FC Bucks and Penn Fusion.
They include 2008-born Harvey Smith from NJ Premier, four 2009-born players from FC Bucks — Jason Hunt, Will Swartzendruber, Hayes Cooney and Aaron Weseh — and 2009-born goalkeeper Colin Stolnis from Penn Fusion.
“We’re getting players from a lot of different platforms,” Scheer said of this year’s class. “Sometimes the out of area kids get all of the focus and attention but we still do have a pretty good territory that’s in the top 10 of MLS.”
One notable departure from the academy during the offseason was 2005-born midfielder Dylan Lacey. Tommy Wilson, director of academy and professional development, confirmed the departure of Lacey, a top attacking talent who was recruited outside the area to the academy in 2016.
Wilson said the recruitment process continues to be critical for the academy as they strive to building on their success of developing players for the next level.
“Jon (Scheer) and Roberto Jimenez have done a great job with recruitment, it’s extremely professional,” Wilson said. “We have a really good process. Everyone at the club from the ownership to Jim Curtin, Chris Albright right through to the academy staff plays a role in recruitment.”
The MLS Next season will kick off in early September with a full slate of games for the Union at the U13, U14, U15 and U17 levels. There will also be a developmental team between the U17 and Union 2 level that will compete outside of the MLS Next structure.