Why two top Philadelphia Union prospects left the team's academy this year

The Union’s pride in its youth academy is understandable. The club has long held the goal of developing championship-caliber players from within, and its investments have been validated by the successes of players like Derrick Jones.

So it was surprising to see two of the academy’s top teenage prospects, forward Chad Letts and defender Rayshaun McGann, leave the team this summer. And when both landed at MLS expansion team Atlanta United, close observers of the youth soccer scene took notice.

Union fans sounded alarms of their own, fearing that Atlanta was using the glamor of its flashy first season in MLS to poach the players from Philadelphia.

The truth of the matter, however, is quite different. Though the players’ departures from the Union occurred in close proximity to each other, the circumstances for each were distinct.

Start with Letts, a 16-year-old who has played internationally for Jamaica’s under-17 team. He was one of the top players at this year’s Generation Adidas Cup, a prestigious youth soccer tournament with many MLS academy teams.

He also grew up in the Atlanta region, and only moved to the Philadelphia area in 2015. He was homesick, and wanted to be closer to his family. A source with direct knowledge said the Union allowed him to go, and parted with Letts on good terms.

McGann’s story is more complicated. Multiple sources told the Inquirer and Daily News that 17-year-old south Florida native’s talents on the field have been accompanied by a series of disciplinary issues off it, much to the frustration of Union coaches.

Some of those incidents, including matters at the team-run high school in Wayne, are being kept private. Two played out in the public domain, though.

One came early this year, when McGann was asked to leave a U.S. under-17 national team training camp — overseen, coincidentally, by former Union manager John Hackworth — due to disciplinary matters. Another came in July, when McGann joined a California-based youth team for a tournament in Northern Ireland without the Union’s consent.

After a series of warnings, the Union decided to ask McGann to leave the academy. He went to seek another club, and landed in Atlanta.

“He’s a kid with a lot of potential, a lot of promise,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, who brought McGann in to train with the senior team a few times. “A decision was made based on those disciplinary issues. … It takes the total package on the field and off the field, doing the right things.”

At the same time as the summer departures, the Union academy also brought in a crop of new prospects, including a pair of notable forwards. Tonny Temple, a Millville, Pa., native, returned to the Union after a spell at the U.S. national team’s residency program in Bradenton, Fla.; and Shanyder Borgelin arrived after turning down a professional contract offer from German second-division club MSV Duisburg. Borgelin also spent some time this summer training with German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.