The International Champions Cup's summer soccer spectacle is adding a tournament for youth teams this year, and the Union's under-14 team will be one of the participants.
Charlie Stillitano, the ICC's top executive, told the Inquirer and Daily News that the event will include 24 squads: eight from MLS, eight from foreign teams in the ICC's exhibitions, and eight that are essentially state all-star teams of players not in MLS academies.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California, all rich with youth soccer talent, will be among the state teams. European powers in the field include England's Liverpool and Chelsea, and Germany's Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
The tournament will be held at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando from July 16-22. There will be eight groups of three teams each, with one team from each pot. The eight group winners will advance to quarterfinals and play knockout games from there. The knockout games will be televised on ESPN channels.
"It's a great opportunity for American kids," Stillitano said. "We have some of the best and brightest kids in MLS now, and we'll also have these state teams picked by coaches that have been around each state for a while. We're hoping we're going to discover some players."
Union academy director Tommy Wilson is thrilled that his players will test themselves against some of the world's top prospects.
"I think our reputation is growing, and we've found that in order to test our best young players, we need to play against the best that there is," he said. "These types of tournaments are invaluable for us."
It will obviously be a shop window for those teams from abroad to scout the Union's prospects and potentially file away names to buy down the road. FIFA bars minors from moving abroad until age 18 unless the player has a passport to allow a move to where he's going. But the club is already aware of foreign interest in homegrown players on the senior squad, including Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty.
At the same time, the Union can pitch its academy to prospects on those state all-star teams that are outside MLS' territorial restrictions on homegrown rights. Wilson said his staff won't hesitate to do it.
"Absolutely," Wilson said. "They're at a good age where we can bring them in, put them in our residency and in our school."
Stillitano said he plans to expand the tournament to 32 teams next year, with state teams entering via a preliminary knockout competition. There will also be a tournament for under-16 girls' teams.
The moves come on the heels of the ICC launching a tournament for professional women's club teams this summer. The schedule of men's team games includes a marquee-game in Philadelphia: Italian champion Juventus vs. German champion Bayern Munich at Lincoln Financial Field on July 25.
Major League Soccer teams: D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders
European teams: Arsenal (England), Atlético Madrid (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Celtic (Scotland), Chelsea (England), Bayern Munich (Germany), Liverpool (England), Tottenham Hotspur (England)
State all-star teams: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia