In a further endorsement of the strength of the Union's academy, three of its products now in MLS have been called up to the U.S. under-20 men's national team for next month's Concacaf World Cup qualifying tournament.
Defenders Mark McKenzie and Matthew Real, and midfielder Anthony Fontana are among 20 players on the squad for the tournament, which will start Nov. 1. But they won't all be there right away. McKenzie has been allowed to stay with the Union for as long as their playoff run goes. Real and Fontana, however, have left Bethlehem Steel even though they're in the midst of the USL playoffs.
Real and Fontana both played in Bethlehem's dramatic 3-2 win on penalty kicks over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the first round of the playoffs Saturday. It was the Steel's first-ever playoff win. Bethlehem came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to force overtime, then won the shootout, 8-7. Real and fellow Union reserve outside back Olivier Mbaizo scored the last two penalties as the Steel went 8-for-8 from the spot. Fontana played the game's first 62 minutes, and Brenden Aaronson played the first 100.
Bethlehem, the No. 6 seed, will visit No. 2 seed Louisville in the quarterfinals Saturday (7:30 p.m., ESPN+). Each round is one game.
Concacaf's tournament will run from Nov. 1-21 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It will take so long because there are 34 teams involved, and two group stages: the first with five or six teams per group, and the second with three teams per group. The first- and second-place teams in each second-round group will qualify for next year's World Cup. The first-place teams will also play a championship game for bragging rights.
Games will be streamed via Concacaf's new streaming platform ConcacafGo.com.
Former Union academy goalkeeper CJ dos Santos, a Philadelphia native now at Portuguese club Benfica, is also on the squad. Other notable names include Sporting Kansas City defender Jaylin Lindsey, FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal, and Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola.
The 2019 under-20 World Cup will be played in Poland from May 23 to June 15. Expect all three Union players on the qualifying squad to be in contention to play in the tournament, and Aaronson, too.
The U.S. women's soccer team will travel to Europe next month to play friendlies at Portugal and Scotland. It will be the program's first games in Europe since June 2017, and likely the first of two trips abroad before next year's World Cup in France.
"We've played a competitive domestic schedule, but adapting to being on the road is an important part of preparations for next year," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said in a statement.
The opponents aren't world powers: They're ranked No. 33 and 19, respectively, in FIFA's global standings. But the choices weren't entirely deliberate. Plans had been in place for the U.S. to visit reigning European champion Netherlands, ranked No. 10, and No. 18 Switzerland. Those countries failed to win their World Cup qualifying groups, though, and ended up in UEFA's qualifying playoffs. They are set to play each other in November in a two-game series, with the winner getting Europe's last World Cup berth.
The U.S. will go to Portugal first, with the game set for Nov. 8 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in Estoril, outside Lisbon. It will be the nations' seventh all-time meeting, and first since 2001. The U.S. won all six past matchups by shutouts, including four at the annual Algarve Cup tournament dating to 1994.
Portugal did not qualify for next year's World Cup but finished third at this year's Algarve Cup with a 2-1 upset of world No. 6-ranked Australia.
Scotland will be a more interesting opponent. That game is scheduled for Nov. 13 (2 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1 and Univision Deportes) in Paisley, near Glasgow, at the home of Scottish Premier League team St. Mirren. Scotland has qualified for the women's World Cup for the first time, and its squad includes Rachel Corsie of the NWSL's Utah Royals. Its biggest star is Kim Little, a former Seattle Reign stalwart who now plays for English power Arsenal. But she won't play in this game, as she suffered a broken fibula earlier this month.
The U.S. won all three past games against Scotland, including a two-game series in 2013 that was their last meeting.
There will be a notable absence from the U.S. squad: Defender Kelley O'Hara had surgery Tuesday to clean up some issues with her right ankle. She's out 8-12 weeks.
"It's all good," O'Hara said in a statement. "This is just the best time to get the procedure done so I'm 100 percent heading into 2019, and physically ready to perform at the level I want to and need to. It's a bummer that I won't get to Europe, but the most important thing is to be healthy for next year."
Dan Flynn, the U.S. Soccer Federation's CEO for the last 18 years, will retire at the end of the year, according to the Washington Post.
The news wasn't surprising. Late last year, Sports Illustrated reported that Flynn was considering retiring at the start of this year but decided to stay in the job to help the federation transition through this past February's presidential election.
He has had vast influence in the governing body's affairs, from collective bargaining agreements with the national teams to sponsorship, media rights, and marketing deals. His impact on the organization's bank account was just as vast: There was a deficit when he arrived, and now there's a surplus of nearly $150 million.