As a 17-year-old, Jack de Vries has already had a lot of options for his soccer career. There was a college commitment to the University of Virginia. There were offers from European clubs including Dutch power PSV Eindhoven — home of elite American prospects Richie Ledezma and Chris Gloster — and Denmark’s FC Copenhagen.
There was also an offer from the Union, the club whose academy de Vries has called home for four years, and where he developed into a potential U.S. national team player for this autumn’s under-17 World Cup.
It ended up not being a difficult decision.
“At the end of the day, it came down to where I was going to be happy, and where I think I could excel the most,” de Vries said Wednesday, a day after turning pro with a pre-contract to reach MLS next year. “That was here, just because of the support system I have around me and the people that believe in me. I just feel like they really want to see me excel.”
Union sporting director Ernst Tanner acknowledged that the foreign interest was a factor in the Union’s making an offer now.
“When the market is demanding somebody, then you need to react in an appropriate way,” he said.
Although de Vries isn’t a Philadelphia native, he clearly calls the city home now. So does his family: his father, Raimo, works in banking here, and his sister played field hockey at Conestoga High. Raimo also has known Union academy under-15 coach Chris Brewer since they were college teammates at Wake Forest in the early ’90s.
“I’ve been here for a long time, so I know what to expect,” Jack de Vries said. “I know that people believe in me, and I’ve literally dreamed about playing for the first team the past four years since I moved here. So it was easy.”
The de Vries family has lived in a lot of places over the years, including Brussels, Belgium. While there, Jack played in the youth academy of Anderlecht, the nation’s biggest club. He watched a then-17-year-old Romelu Lukaku make his senior debut before moving on to stardom at Everton, Manchester United and Inter Milan.
“It really made me think that I could actually make it in this sport,” de Vries said. “It really made my dream a lot bigger to become a professional soccer player. ... It really changed my mindset from playing soccer for fun — it’s still fun, but it turned kind of into a job then as well.”
Tactically, de Vries’ natural position is as a wide forward on the left flank. But with the Union not using traditional wingers, he has been cast in central midfield and at striker. The latter might be de Vries’ long-term place, since he’s already 6 feet tall.
He has room left to grow, both physically and soccer-wise, and the Union are happy to give it to him.