Philadelphia Union: Academy Members and Alumni Prepare for NCAA Tournament

Oct 1, 2016; Harrison, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin reacts during first half against New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Harrison, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin reacts during first half against New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

With the NCAA releasing the bracket yesterday for the Division I soccer tournament, there are plenty of Philadelphia Union academy members and alumni gearing up for a championship run with their schools.

The NCAA garnered much excitement around the college soccer community yesterday as they announced the 48-team bracket for the NCAA tournament. With this announcement, eight Philadelphia Union academy members/alumni learned their path to a championship with their school. A closer look will be taken at these eight players and their prospective chances at winning it all. Credit and thanks to fellow writer Paul Catrino for some of the insight provided.

1) Sebastien Elney, Sophomore Forward, University of Maryland

One of the most touted prospects in the academy, Elney’s impressive combination speed, frame, and striking ability separate him from many players at his level. After a decent return of 3 goals and 4 assists this season in 19 games, Elney will look to lead the top-ranked Terrapins to the title. With his recent appearance at the U.S. U20 July training camp, Elney will want to keep himself on the national team radar with an impressive tournament.

2) Raheem Taylor-Parkes, Freshman Forward/Midfielder, University of Virginia

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While Taylor-Parkes didn’t start any games for the 12th ranked Cavaliers, he was an impact player. In 14 appearances off the bench, the freshman racked up 3 assists. Playing mostly on the right wing, Taylor-Parkes has the blistering speed and control needed to unlock defenses. At 5’7″, he’s not the biggest man on the pitch, but he is certainly someone to keep an eye on in terms of senior level soccer in the near future.

3) Jerren Nixon Jr., Freshman Forward, University of Virginia

Nixon Jr. is very much one for the future for the Philadelphia Union and the University of Virginia. With only 8 games played this season, it’s unlikely Nixon plays in the tournament for the Cavaliers, who have a first-round bye. A strong striker who’s a menace in the air, Nixon Jr. has been a big piece for the Trinidad and Tobago youth setup. Strikers who are 6’5′” and still posses fluid movement don’t grow on trees, however, so look for him to flirt with the Union first team in the future.

4) Joey DeZart, Freshman Midfielder, Wake Forest University

Another promising player with only 3 games played during his freshman campaign, DeZart isn’t likely to see action during the tournament. A recent participant in the Jamaica U-20 Summer Camp, DeZart has many members of the Union youth staff excited. Primarily a defensive midfielder, DeZart possesses excellent mobility and vision. He’s very good at filling passing lanes defensively, while also having that eye for a creative pass down the wing. Look for his second-ranked Demon Deacons to make a deep run in the tournament.

5) Shane Bradley, Freshman Defender, Villanova University

Another freshman, except with a much more impressive freshman year in progress. Bradley has started every game for the Wildcats and figures to slot into the back four in their first-round tie with Akron. Comfortable playing out of the back, making challenges, and breaking up plays, Bradley has been extremely solid in his first collegiate campaign. He will have to be big if Nova wants to knock off the favored Zips.

6)  Conor Bradley, Freshman Midfielder/Defender, Villanova University

Twin brother of Shane, Conor has also had a very good freshman year so far. More of a versatile midfielder than a defender, Bradley has racked up 11 starts and 20 games played. With a goal and two assists in those games, he and his brother have helped Nova soccer immensely. Look for Conor, along with Shane, to be key in their upcoming tilt with Akron.

7) Zach Zandi, Sophomore Midfielder, Villanova University

Another Union academy player making a huge impact for the Wildcats, Zandi is coming off a fantastic regular season. With fifteen starts and eighteen games played, Zandi has registered three goals and four assists. Zandi is mainly an attacking midfielder with a small stature, standing at just 5’6″. However, his creative eye for a pass and impressive shooting ability make him a hassle for opposing defenders. Undoubtedly another starlet for Jim Curtin to keep an eye on.

8) John Schroeder, Sophomore Defender, University of Delaware

To round out the Union participants in the tournament, we add an eighth underclassman. Schroeder is an attack-minded outside back, and started every game he played this season (19 of team’s 20 games). Registering 2 assists this season, Schroeder is known for bombing down the flank and delivering crosses for his forwards with impressive accuracy and quickness. Delaware opens with Providence, and a win would see them play top-seeded Maryland in the next round. The Blue Hens will need solid performances from Schroeder if they want any chances in the tournament.

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While not all of these players are promised tournament playing time, they are all integral pieces of the Philadelphia Union’s and their school’s plans. Players like Elney, the Bradley twins, Schroeder, and Zandi will be promised key roles down the stretch for their schools. With Sebastien Elney’s Maryland the most likely to win it all, all eight of these players will look to represent the Union with pride and excellence during this prestigious tournament.