Union coach Jim Curtin didn't mince words when speaking Wednesday at his weekly news conference about the path his club's newest addition, Derrick Jones, took to earn the Union badge.
Jones, 19, who was born in Bantama, Ghana, became the first player to sign with the first team after starting in 2013 at the Union Academy in Wayne. He followed his time there by his signing last December with Bethlehem Steel FC, the United Soccer League expansion team.
Jones, who moved to Philadelphia in 2012 and has dual citizenship with the United States and Ghana, signed Wednesday as a homegrown player, the fourth such player in Union history and first since 2012.
"When you think of soccer in this country - I won't pull any punches - it's a privileged sport," Curtin said. "There's no question about it. It tends to be, in the country, [not just] the Philly area, very structured, expensive in a lot of ways. Derrick represents an urban part of the city that's tough. Derrick grew up tough. There's no two ways about it. He has a great family, a tremendous family that's incredibly happy for him. But . . . he didn't come from the Main Line. He wasn't born with . . . [or] handed things. He's earned everything he's gotten. I think in that way he plays to the city of Philadelphia. He's an underdog story, a fighter. He's a guy who didn't have it easy."
Curtin said he expected the midfielder, who through 20 games at Steel FC this season led the team with four goals and three assists, to fortify the future.
"For me, he's a No. 8 [midfielder]," Curtin said. "A guy who can go box to box and get you a goal, can play a final pass on a through ball. He has the ability to break up a lot of plays defensively."
Jones may not be an immediate impact player for the Union, now in third place in the Eastern Conference behind the No. 2 New York Red Bulls and top-dog New York City FC. But Curtin said he made positive plays during Wednesday's training session and expects the newcomer to compete for playing time.
Curtin also compared the 6-foot-3 and physical Jones to Tony Tchani, a 6-foot-4 midfielder from Cameroon who plays for the ninth-place Columbus Crew.
As for possible roster moves, Curtin said that the team was still "actively looking," but that Union sporting director Earnie Stewart has been adamant about not making a move for "the sake of making a move."
Last week, the Union lost in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup in a shootout against the New England Revolution. A 5-1 loss to the Montreal Impact followed three days later.
On Sunday night, the Union will host the Western Conference's fifth-ranked Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium.
"We're moving on," Curtin said. "We see [the Montreal loss] as a one-off. It wasn't a good representation of us, the Philadelphia Union, or the work that the guys have done all year, but we move on. We look forward to a new challenge. I know my guys will bounce back against Salt Lake in this building."