Wednesday , May 29 2024

Philadelphia Union hand teenage wonderkid Cavan Sullivan a contract!

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Union officially revealed that the 14-year-old wunderkind born and raised in Philadelphia had agreed to a professional contract with the club, signing onto the largest Homegrown deal Major League Soccer has ever seen. He’ll proudly sport Philadelphia Union’s crest as he begins his pro career with his hometown team, and he’s agreed to do so through 2028.

Cavan will sport the number six, donning the same blue and gold he has since he was 10 years old.

He joined the Philadelphia Union Academy just four years ago, and he’s taken the fast track through the organization’s renowned Pathway to the Pros since, contributing to the Union Academy’s U-15s, U-17s, and the club’s MLS NEXT Pro affiliate Union II.

His signing is a culmination of an entire childhood spent in and around the Union. While his parents have been guiding him through the negotiating process since last fall, Cavan began forging a path toward becoming a Union first-team player long before then.

Brendan and Heike noticed their son’s competitive spirit very early on — he started kicking a ball before he could string together a full sentence. They say he’s always been eager to test his mettle against anyone, starting with and especially his three older brothers.

“Playing up my whole life has made me who I am,” Cavan said. “I think it’s really special to have a family of all soccer players, not just immediate, my cousins play too. So just constantly being in and around the game is something not many people have.”

The Sullivans embody Philadelphia soccer culture to it’s core. Cavan’s grandfather, Larry Sullivan, was at the helm at Villanova when current Union Head Coach Jim Curtin played there, and both Heike and Brendan played soccer at University of Pennsylvania. Brendan played professionally for a spell too, as did Cavan’s uncle, Chris Albright, who was a Union player for two seasons before serving as the club’s technical director for seven years. The most influential, though, is likely Cavan’s eldest brother, Quinn, who has been a first team player since 2021.

“I remember coming into training with my uncle and I just looked up to all those guys. I was on the sideline of the training field and I was inspired immediately,” Cavan said. “Then when Quinn finally signed, it just felt like a dream. It didn’t feel real that he did it, and now I have.”

First time with the first team
The first time Cavan stepped onto the pitch in front of a full Subaru Park crowd was when the team won the 2022 Eastern Conference Championship against New York City FC. After the team punched their ticket to the MLS Cup Final, he and his family found Quinn, joining him to take in the victory.

“That was the first time I ever went on the field and looked up at the fans in the stadium. Celebrating with all of my family there, and seeing Quinn in his hat and lifting up the trophy was really cool,” Cavan said.

Two years later, he’s started participating in training sessions with the first team, playing with and against players who were there on the stage alongside his brother that night celebrating the historic win. Quinn isn’t the only teammate from that lot who’s offered him guidance in recent weeks; Cavan cited team leaders like Jack Elliott and Ale Bedoya as friendly faces on the pitch and in the facility so far.

“It’s great being surrounded by amazing players, and I find it really cool that they’re way older than me and they’ve still taken me under their wings to help me get integrated. They’re actually sharing the ball, and I’ve had a few nice plays where they complimented me and gave me a hug,” Cavan said.

“It was a little bit nerve wracking at first, I’m not gonna lie. The culture is pretty cool though. Everyone high fives each other in the morning and says hi. I’ve watched these guys so many times, and now I’m in a locker room with them. It’s pretty surreal.”

Brotherly Love

Cavan’s been following in the footsteps of his 20-year-old older brother for as long as he can remember; Quinn started with the club’s junior academy at 12 years old, similarly advancing up through the ranks playing for academy teams and the club’s reserves before signing his first team deal.

Like Quinn once did, Cavan’s starting his pro career on the Union’s first team, and adjusting to it’s high level of play won’t be a walk in the park. It’s a welcome challenge, and it’s one he won’t be taking on alone.

“I remember one time, I was in Austria, and Quinn was back home and he was going through sort of a low. He called me at two in the morning because we were six hours ahead, and he asked what I thought he could do better in his next game,” Cavan said.

“I gave him some info then he asked how I was doing. I wasn’t having the best time either, so he gave me some advice. It’s just always great to have someone you can rely on, and someone who has factual information who knows what they’re talking about. I’ve been on his sidelines for years. I still am to this day. I always support him, and we always lean on each other for advice.”

Should Head Coach Jim Curtin and his staff deem Cavan ready to contribute to a match as a first team player this season, both Sullivans could be on the pitch together for the first time, becoming the second pair of brothers to share the field as Union players in club history. That moment of Brotherly Love, which could take place in the upcoming months, is something they’ve imagined for a long time.

“It’s nice having someone that’s direct towards you, he’s going to be truthful. He’s going to tell me what I did wrong. But I think finally sharing the field with him…we’ve talked about it for years now and we’re always the best 2v2 two team. We’re a good duo,” Cavan said.

“It’s been a dream of mine to play with him, so hopefully I can make it a reality soon.”

Off the field, Quinn drives Cavan and their 16-year-old twin brothers, Declan and Ronan, to the Union’s campus for school, dropping them off for class before first-team training begins. Despite being the youngest, Quinn even lets Cavan take over aux for their morning trek from Norristown.

For their parents, watching all four sons pile into the car each day together is priceless.

“To keep our family intact for longer, for me, as a mom, it is perfect,” Heike said. “Who wants your little kid to go off? You hope to have your kids longer, and to have the boys playing together is great.”

“At some point, they have to fly the coop, leave the nest, but it’s definitely cool to have the brothers be able to drive in together, play together… it’s something they’ve been doing their whole lives,” Brendan added.

Parental Perspective

The three youngest brothers all attend Quinn’s alma mater, YSC Academy. Brendan teaches there, too. The school structure is ideal for a student-athlete like Cavan, as it allows him to balance the demands of being both a professional soccer player and a highschooler. It’s also been integral in his progression, allowing flexibility to train and travel with his respective teams between classes.

“The academy’s impact on Cavan’s development goes without saying. He’s been there since he was a baby and Quinn since he was 12. Obviously, we are a soccer family and Dad does a lot of coaching which is always a contributor, but I think the academy has been great for Cavan. He’s always had the opportunity to play up, even two ages up when appropriate and it’s helped him,” Heike said.

“It’s also the brave coaches and Academy Directors, who said ‘we’re going to let him sink or swim’,” Brendan echoed. “It’s really just giving them a place to play their trade. They do a lot of learning outside of the academy but the academy definitely gives them a place to learn more and test it against the best players around.”

Cavan’s a 14-year-old playing up two ages in the academy for the U17s, facing even older players in Union II, and now practicing with players more than double his age. But it’s not at all out of the ordinary. He’s competed against bigger, stronger, and faster players since for his entire life, and he’s all the better for it.

“It’s been from birth. He’s the youngest of four, he was like eighteen months, two years old when he started kicking a ball. It was a ridiculous age. You watch with his brothers, with Quinn, he’s always been right in there,” Heike said.

His most recent experience playing against more experienced opponents has been with Union II under the leadership of Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc. He joined them in Clearwater for preseason training, making his first-ever appearance in their friendly against Florida Premier.

“It’s great to have Marlon there. He’s a great coach, super organized. Cav’s communication with Marlon has been top notch. Truly amazing,” Brendan said. “Peter McDonnell the U-17s coach over at the Academy has been the same, and when I say top notch it’s been literally top notch, even with [Director of Player Safeguarding and Welfare] Sheldon,” Brendan said.

Academy Success

As a Philadelphia Union Academy athlete, Cavan has impressed on youth soccer’s biggest stages garnering attention from scouts, soccer fans, and clubs from across the globe. ​​In the 2023 Generation Adidas Cup, Sullivan, who was just 13 years old at the time, helped the Union U15 squad reach the finals, beating academy powerhouses such as Valencia, Arsenal, and Real Madrid, scoring just one minute into the match against Arsenal. He earned tournament honors for his play, appearing on their Best XI.

Most recently, Sullivan joined the U17 squad where he contributed to the team winning their second-consecutive GA Cup championship.

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