Jack McGlynn (right) has shown no fear playing for the Philadelphia Union at 19. (Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
LOS ANGELES – When his Philadelphia Union teammates take on Los Angeles FC in MLS Cup on Saturday, there is a pretty decent chance that Jack McGlynn will see action at the Banc of California Stadium.
It isn’t every day or year that a 19-year-old with all of 1,773 minutes of Major League Soccer experience under his belt will start or play in the first division championship game in this country.
But then again, Jack McGlynn isn’t your ordinary teenager.
A product of the storied Blau-Weiss Gottschee soccer club in New York City, McGlynn has proven his worth, usually as a central or defensive midfielder with the Eastern Conference champions.
“Obviously being a young guy, it’s going to be a great experience for me,” McGlynn said prior to training at the stadium on Friday. “But I don’t think being young changed anything. I think if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, so my dad always tells me. Just showing up tomorrow is going be a big step for me.”
Yes, it will be a big step, but Union head coach Jim Curtin has plenty of confidence in the 6-foot, 171-lb. second-year pro.
“Look, with all the young players, and I say this quite a bit, there’s no such thing as too young or too old. There’s only good and bad in this game,” he said. “I really believe that Jack is a really, really talented player. If we decide to go with him from the start, we have full confidence that he can do the job. He’s an incredible soccer player and can play a final pass, as you guys have seen. He has played in some big-pressure games already for a young kid, has taken a penalty in a big playoff game and scored it. I don’t worry about his confidence. I don’t worry about his nerves.”
When McGlynn will make an appearance will depend on the health of the ailing hamstring of Union captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. He played the opening half in Philly’s 3-1 victory over New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday before McGlynn came on at halftime and acquitted himself well.
Bedoya probably will be a game-time decision on if he starts or how long he can play. Regardless of what transpires, Bedoya has been impressed with his teenage understudy.
“Jack McGlynn is somebody who I believe in a lot with his talent,” he said. “I think we can all agree that he’s got one of the best young left foots in the game. He’s got great vision. The game has slowed down a bit for him now, as well. So even last game you saw when he was able to have time and space and lift his head up and pick a pass out that leads to a goal-scoring chance. I think his talent, he has a bright future. That’s all I can say. A lot of the young guys, they already have good head on their shoulders.
“Jack is somebody who, the moment he stepped on the field with us, you already knew that he was something special. He continues to work hard, get better and better every day. I think what he may lack defensively perhaps, the tactical part of the game, I think he makes up for it being able to pick passes like he did last game. He’s playing with no fear, and you’ve got to love that.”
Since making his Union debut in 2021, McGlynn has been like a sponge, listening to his teammates, especially like someone such as the 35-year-old Bedoya, who has 13 years of professional experience and 66 international appearances and a World Cup (Brazil 2014) under his belt.
So, not surprisingly, when Bedoya talks, there is a good chance that McGlynn will listen. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the teenager has a locker right next to the veteran.
“He’s been a huge role model for me,” McGlynn said. “He sits next to me in the locker room. We always talk and he’s always trying to help the young guys. Just to have him to be a leader in in our locker room … It’s a great thing for all young guys.”
GROWING UP WITH GOTTSCHEE
McGlynn grew up in a perfect soccer environment in Queens, N.Y. He and his older brother, Hartford Athletic midfielder Conor, who at 23 is four years Jack’s senior – played for Gottschee, a well-known and well-respected youth club. To appreciate Gottschee’s influence on soccer on the club and national level in the USA, future professionals and national team players competed for the club.
The list included Mike Windischmann, who captained the U.S. men’s national team at the 1990 World Cup, current USMNT winger Tim Weah, Joe Fink, one-time Cosmos and indoor standout, Milton Espinoza, who played for the Puerto national team during 1994 World Cup qualifying, former USMNT goalkeeper Arnie Mausser, Edson Nascimento, Pele’s son, who was a goalkeeper, ex-Cosmos midfielder Erhardt Kapp, Danny Kelly, who coached the Baltimore Blast to several indoor soccer championships, goalkeeper Dragan Radovich, who backstopped the Brooklyn Italians to the 1991 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, and former Rochester Lancers goalkeeper John Grasser.
And that’s just the short list.
Jack McGlynn certainly appreciated his time with the club.
“I just want to give a huge shout out to them. They developed me as a player,” he said. “I was there for 10 years. It’s just a really special organization. They always find a way to create great talent in New York. So it’s just a really special place.”
The brothers started playing at Gottschee at the age of five. The club has an intramural program called Zone One. While the team has won countless New York Youth Soccer Association State Cups and four national titles, winning isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal of the club. It is developing players to their fullest. Legendary Gottschee coach and official Ben Boehm has espoused the theory of being “one with the ball,” to hone their skills to the highest level possible.
“We start the kids at four and five and hoping that they come through the pathway all the way up to when they hit the Academy,” said former Gottschee director of coaching Paul McGlynn, the father of the Jack and Conor and who is still a board member. “We work from the ground up, as opposed to the top down.”
Not surprisingly, Jack worked on his skills and other parts of his game at Gottschee.
“To me, the most important attribute a kid can have as a soccer player and other people agree with this is decision making,” Paul McGlynn said. “They are looking for something else, but what I think is unique about someone like Jack is that he’s not athletic. He’s not going to run you down. He’s not going beat you 1 v 1.
“His biggest strength is that he can make more good decisions than poor ones. I think the average American player struggles with this and they don’t focus on it enough. There’s lots of good players in this country. We all know that, and they’ll pass the ball to keep possession. What I think Jack can do is he can move the ball that will give your team an advantage. I think that’s a unique trait that you don’t see in a lot of players. Jack’s never going to be Tyler Adams, chase and players down. To me, Tyler can’t pass the ball like Jack. So, where’s the balance?”
TAKING DIFFERENT PATHS
The brothers took different pathways to the pros.
Conor wanted to attend college and while he was recruited by several top soccer schools, he wanted to play. So, he chose Siena College, coached by Cesar Markovic, who has strong ties to New York City and coached at Gottschee.
“Conor’s the type of kid that wants to play,” Paul said. “It was his decision really, that he was going to go in and get an opportunity to play right away in Siena. He played all the way through.”
During his final semester as a senior at Siena, Conor started training with Hartford Athletic and has competed with the USL Championship club for three seasons.
“It’s one of those stories that just there’s a different pathway for everybody,” Paul said. “I’m not a massive fan of soccer in college, but I really appreciate the pathway for all our players. It depends which way you want to think about it. I think we should definitely appreciate it because it’s available. It’s not available anywhere else in the world. But at the end of the day, it’s unlikely that players go through that system and come out a professional at the end of the four years. So, it’s a unique experience that he went through.”
Jack took a different path. He was a standout play at Gottschee, making several U.S. youth national teams. Academies were interested in his services, included the Red Bulls and New York City FC.
As it turned out, Paul took the Academy directors course and one of the projects was for the directors to visit an International academy and a domestic one as well. He went to the Union’s Academy for five days.
He walked away impressed.
“They were just way ahead of everybody with what they did with regards to resources, resources to school, the infrastructure for the kids, all that type of stuff,” Paul said. “It always stuck in my mind. The staff there was great.”
When Jack turned 15, Paul said he, his wife, Kim, and son discussed about the teenager joining the Philadelphia residential program.
“Now, was he going there to be a professional or to college? That depended on him,” his father said. “It wasn’t the intention of boys are going to become professional soccer players. That’s the pathway that has worked so far, even though it’s still young in their in their young careers.”
So, Jack joined the Union Academy at the tender age of 15.
“It was just the setup they had at their affiliate was just there was a very clear pathway to the first team,” he said. “They had the development plan for me setup before I even got here.”
Jack noted that Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie went through the Union Academy and they are playing for Leeds United (England) and Genk (Belgium), respectively. He said he liked their pathway just to get to the first team and get good minutes there. So, I think that was a really big step for me to come here.”
You have to be a mature person to take on that type of responsibility. Jack lived with some players when he first got there. Today, he has an apartment.
“That’s one thing that is also a strength of Jack his mentality is very strong. I’d say his older brother is a big influence on them on and off the field. You know how it goes. They want to kill each other, that sort of thing but anywhere Conor went, Jack was.”
Paul figured Jack was not that far away from home.
“The only thing is he had an injury, but he was only two hours away from New York,” Paul said. “So, it wasn’t as if like if he had a went to England or something like that. It becomes a different.”
A UNIQUE MEETING ON THE FIELD
And yes, they have met on the field, but it wasn’t a pleasant meeting. In 2020, Jack was with Union II, Conor with Hartford.
On one play, Conor did not show much brotherly love to Jack, who fouled him after his younger sibling won the ball.
Paul said Conor “clocked him. There was a little bit of a snicker at the end of it when he [Connor] got a yellow card.”
City of Brotherly…..not quite! Philadelphia midfielder Jack McGlynn is on the wrong end of a heavy challenge from his own brother, Hartford midfielder Conor McGlynn who picks up a yellow card for the foul. pic.twitter.com/CruO7RKzSK
— Modern Football Analysis (@analysismodern) July 30, 2020
For the most part, though, the brothers have gotten along.
Kim and Paul McGlynn are proud of what their sons have accomplished, but their father has seen plenty of soccer over the years and he knows how fleeting an athletic career can be.
“They didn’t set out to become professional players,” he said. “They’ve worked their tails off to get where they are. They know I’ve always been telling them that this can be taken away from you in a heartbeat. So don’t get too high about it. Don’t get too low about it but extremely proud.
“Jack is really just starting off. He has a lot to prove. I’m sure he’s got big goals for himself.”
Conor is finishing off a second degree at Siena and during the offseason, Jack will attend college online.
“As you know, this game is popular one minute and all of a sudden that can be taken away,” Paul said. “As long as we keep ingraining a perspective into them, they’ll understand. Of course for the situation that they’re in right now, who wouldn’t be proud especially with the different pathways that they’ve taken. But perspective is everything as well.”
The McGlynn family will be here on Saturday to watch the final.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Paul said. “I would prefer for it to be in Philly. It should be interesting with really contrasting styles. I think if Union can pull them off in the early period of the game, they have a good shot.”
Jack said that Conor sent him a text Friday.
“He’s just saying just to play confident and play my game,” he added. “I’m going to go see him after training. He’s in our hotel, so I’m sure going to have dinner with him. It’s going to be nice. I haven’t seen him.”
The McGlynn family is hoping they will get an opportunity to watch Jack play in the biggest stage of American soccer. They just don’t know when the young midfielder will get his opportunity.
If Bedoya can’t play or can only perform for a certain number of minutes, Jack is ready.
“I would just say just focus on the game,” he said. “I’m not focused on anything outside. Just winning. That’s all I care about.
“MLS Cup is probably a once in a lifetime thing. So you just got to take in every moment. That’s what that’s what Jim has been telling us all the time.”
Don’t be surprised if McGlynn gets an opportunity to show how focused he is to win a medal on Saturday afternoon.