Philadelphia Union have signed NCE Soccer graduate Luke Zielinski to the Academy.

The Zielinski family have little doubt that Luke’s soccer pathway would not have been possible without the guidance of NCE Soccer founder John Curtis.

Rather than celebrate – and it is quite a coup to be scouted by Philadelphia Union – the family instead wanted to pay it back, and give thanks to John so that other families might benefit from his tutorship.

Drew Zielinski, said: “Luke and our family remain very grateful to John Curtis for the influence he’s had on Luke’s footballing journey.


“We’ve stayed in touch with John over the years to keep him up to date on Luke’s path because he wouldn’t be where he is currently without John’s experience and guidance.

“As such, we would prefer that any piece you put together to be less about Luke as a U15 footballer and more about how John and his program can assist young, aspiring players in a positive way.”

Luke’s soccer journey began long before NCE Soccer, in fact almost as soon as he could walk.  Aged just two, Luke, joined a local sports program in Connecticut before joining their town’s recreational soccer program before Kindergarten.

NCE Soccer

He was introduced to coach Curtis aged just six, when John was formerly the Director of Everton America and trained with him for about 18 months, before following John to the PDP, the precursor to NCE Soccer.

Drew added: “We stayed in touch with John because we thought very highly of his professional background, experience and his vision for building a top flight supplemental training program for aspiring young footballers.

“The PDP was essentially a precursor to the NCE and was geared toward players who sought additional competitive training and friendlies beyond what a player’s current club offered, in a non-conflicting fashion.

“Luke participated in John’s PDP for a few years in addition to playing on a local travel and premier team in Connecticut.

John’s PDP was an excellent challenge for Luke as he was able to train and play with and against strong players from a wider region, and on occasion Luke had the opportunity to play against some of the older players as well in order to see how he could compete.

“John has excellent relationships in the football industry on all levels.  When Luke was 10 years old, John believed he was ready to trial for the New York City FC Academy.

“NYCFC is an MLS club and their Academy trains in Queens, NY.  At the time (early 2017), NYCFC was in the process of creating a U12 team to participate in the US Development Academy (USDA).


“Luke was selected for the U12 team at NYCFC and he played for their Academy for three seasons while attending our local school.”

In November 2020, the Zielinski family moved to the Philadelphia area and Luke was invited to join the Union Academy.

Drew, added: “Philadelphia Union is an MLS club and their Academy is a full immersion program.  Academy players attend school at YSC Academy which is the school affiliated with the Union and is located directly next to the training ground.

“There are approximately 70 students at YSC Academy and they are all primarily Union players.

“A typical day for Luke as a U15 is being dropped off for training in the morning, attending school and then training again in the late afternoon/early evening.

“Looking back, John’s program provides a challenging, objective and positive environment for players to test themselves against players that will help them improve.

“The fact that the PDP didn’t conflict with the players’ current club was a key factor in Luke’s participation.  John truly cares about helping players who want to put in the work and improve and he’ll tell it to you like it is, which we always appreciated.”

John Curtis, said: “I was lucky enough to work with Luke when I first came to America at the club level.  Even then his passion and ability stood out and it’s great to see him progressing so well.

“Luke was first picked up by NYCFC after being selected for NCE in a showcase game vs. the MLS club back in 2017.

“He rose to the challenge of the MLS academy and it’s great to see him commit to the next step with the academy at Philadelphia Union.  I really hope that living and breathing soccer 24 hours-a-day in the Union Academy will continue to help him progress.”

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