An inside look at the Union's YSC Academy


An inside look at the Union's YSC Academy

WAYNE, Pa. -- If you listen to anyone associated with the Union, what happened on Tuesday morning was one of the biggest things to ever happen for their franchise -- and even for American soccer in general.

Many soccer fans seem to be equally optimistic about YSC Academy, the Union-affiliated private high school for soccer players that opened its doors on Tuesday to much fanfare and hope (see story).

Still, for those on the periphery, it’s probably hard to envision what this school is like or why it’s so important. Here, then, are some answers to some frequently asked questions for anyone that wants to understand more about the project that has people so excited.

Why is this such a big deal?
Well, there’s really nothing else like it in this country. The IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is probably the closest example but that’s not associated with a specific team. And while a couple of other MLS squads have partnered with local high schools, the Union are believed to be the first professional sports team in North America to essentially create their own school from the ground up. And some people believe schools like these can help the United States close the soccer gap with Europe, where team-sponsored youth academies are plentiful and the source of so much talent.

Why are the Union doing this?
From the start, Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz has valued youth development (some might argue at the expense of making big-name player acquisitions). In his perfect world, the Union will one day field a starting lineup that consists entirely of players from the Philadelphia region. That’s something Major League Soccer encourages (homegrown signings don’t count against the salary cap) and it’s something they believe this academy can help them achieve.

How will the school benefit the student-athletes?
For starters, it’s less than 100 yards away from YSC Sports, the training ground for the Union’s academy teams. So the kids now train in the morning, go right next door for a day of classes and then return to the field to train some more in the afternoon, all while getting four nutritional meals per day. And for the Union, they will now be able to mold the best soccer players in the Philly area, while driving through the cultural identity of their franchise.

Who are the kids that are attending?
There are 32 boys in the school and all are already a part of the Union’s youth development programs -- 21 are in the full-time Union academy (U-14, U-16, U-18) squads and 11 are in the Union Juniors program. These kids are not only very good soccer players but were also admitted based on their character and their academics. “It’s not a school for every kid,” said Richie Graham, the owner of YSC Sports, a partial owner of the Union and the brainchild for the school.

How old are these kids?
The school is grades 8 through 12 but in an attempt to grow it from the ground up, there will be no 12th-graders in the inaugural year. The grade breakdown is as follows: five in 8th grade, 13 in 9th grade, seven in 10th grade and seven in 11th grade.

Can kids from out of the region attend?
The Union are focusing on finding and recruiting the best players from the vast Philadelphia catchment area. But they will also include a few student-athletes from outside the region and would provide those players with host families to stay with.

Why didn’t they set up a residency program?
Graham and Sakiewicz said they looked into a dorm structure and studied some European models, before concluding that high school-aged kids are at their best when they have a home life.

What about the players in the academy who don’t attend the school?
The players that are part of the school might have a clearer path to soccer success, which could lead to some resentment for the other kids in the Union’s youth system. But the coaches and teachers will try to be mindful of that. “Inclusiveness is a cornerstone word for us,” Sakiewicz said.

Will girls be included?
Speaking of inclusiveness, Sakiewicz made it sound like it’s only a matter of when and not if girls will one day be admitted to YSC Academy. “For girls aspiring to go to college, play in a professional league or play for the US national team, it would be a great opportunity and it’s absolutely in our plans,” Sakiewicz said. “But it’s too early.”

Does it cost money?
Yes, the tuition for the school is $15,000, but 20 of the 32 kids will get financial aid, as provided on an in-need basis. “It’s pretty inexpensive for a high-level education like this,” Sakiewicz said. “For those students that don’t have means, and are really good players, they will be put through a process where they will get the opportunity to get a scholarship.”

What’s the school like?
Reporters got a glimpse inside the renovated office building Graham has transformed. The glass-windowed classrooms are small and instead of desks the students sit around a conference table. As Graham has said, they tried to design something more like a Silicon Valley startup than a traditional school.

Who works there?
Most of the teachers looked young and ambitious, and the head of the school -- Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee -- is an educator with 26 years of experience who doesn’t have a background in sports.

But will athletics come before academics?
While physical education will be integrated into the school day, the academic workload will be consistent with other private schools. Dr. Ahmed-Lee believes that the training in the morning is actually beneficial to learning because research has shown it wakes up the brain.

What’s the end game?
Within the next decade or so, the Union will hope to sign at least a handful of the best players to come out of the program. But for the majority that don’t make it as professionals, they should be in good shape to secure a college scholarship and otherwise succeed in life. “If I was a college coach, I’d be spending a lot of time around here,” Sakiewicz said.

Will other teams start something similar?
It certainly seems like a strong possibility, as there are many people that believe this model could be the wave of the future for scholastic athletics.

Now for one last question: What do you think?

Union's Kacper Przybylko shares Covid-19 diagnosis, asks Philly to 'follow the rules'

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Union's Kacper Przybylko shares Covid-19 diagnosis, asks Philly to 'follow the rules'

Philadelphia Union striker Kacper Przybylko announced late Wednesday night that he was the team member who tested positive for Covid-19 in early April.

The team announced back on April 1 that an unidentified player had tested positive for the virus, saying the player - who we now know is Przybylko - had mild symptoms and was feeling well.

In a video posted to his personal Instagram account on Wednesday night, Przybylko echoed those sentiments, explaining what sounds like a brief battle with the virus.

Here's how Przybylko described his experience:

I just want to share with you all that I was the one who was tested positive by Covid-19. I immediately alerted the proper team officials about my symptoms, and went straight to self-isolating. My goal was not to risk anyone else. I received my test. I also went into quarantine for 14 days.

First of all, I would like to thank everybody for respecting my privacy at this time. I just needed some time for myself, before I wanted to share with everybody. Especially my teammates, my close friends, my family. Thanks for that. And also thanks for all the support I got from my fiancee, my family, my Union family, my teammates, the medical staff, everyone else, thanks for that.

I received mild symptoms, with a little bit of fever, but I feel great right now. I feel fully recovered right now. I'm looking forward to the magical moment, to be back at the practice with you guys. So, let's follow the rules. Philly is a big family, we all have to stay together, fight for each other, so let's follow the rules by the government. Hope you guys are staying safe. Your friendly striker. Be safe, I love you guys.

It is believed that Przybylko was the first Major League Soccer player to test positive for Covid-19.

Przybylko, 27, joined the Union in 2018, and made his debut with the club during the 2019 season, scoring 15 goals.

The team said in a release last month that it communicated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local medical officials, after Przybylko notified them of his symptoms.

The MLS, and all major professional sports leagues in the U.S., are still on hold amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

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Philadelphia Union player tests positive for COVID-19

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Philadelphia Union player tests positive for COVID-19

A Philadelphia Union player has tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

The team did not specify which player tested positive.

The player experienced "mild symptoms", according to the team, and is currently feeling well and is in good spirits. The player has been isolated, according to the team, and no other players have cases or symptoms as of Wednesday.

The Union said the team's medical staff has been in consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as local medical officials:

Based upon guidance from Crozer-Keystone Health System medical officials, infectious disease specialists and Major League Soccer health officials, this case does not present a risk to our fans, our most recent opponent, LAFC, or any of the other Union players, staff, or personnel do not need to be tested as the team is outside of the 14-day window where anyone with team related interactions with the player would have reported symptoms. 

The announcement is believed to be the first confirmed case of COVID-19 from a Major League Soccer player. A member of the Seattle Sounders support staff tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March.

The Union said it will provide more information as it becomes available.

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