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SSFC Spotlight: Quinn Sullivan scoring in bunches at CONCACAF U-20 Championship

The Philadelphia Union attacker is turning heads in Honduras.

MLS: US Open Cup-Philadelphia Union at Orlando City FC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The United States advanced to the semifinal round of the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, qualifying for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and on the cusp of reaching the 2024 Summer Olympics. There have been a few strong individual performances, with Quinn Sullivan challenging for the Golden Boot award. The 18-year-old is a highly-rated midfielder with the Philadelphia Union, steadily developing at one of Major League Soccer’s top talent factories. As the competition draws to a close, his scoring touch may be required to secure a place at the Paris Games.

Born in Philadelphia to a family with deep roots in the city’s soccer scene, Sullivan began playing with Fishtown Athletic Club before joining the fruitful Philadelphia Union Academy at the U-12 level, while also attending the YSC Academy. The prospect contributed 32 goals in 90 total appearances, including scoring 19 times and adding six assists during the 2018-19 season. He was promoted to the club’s reserve team as an amateur in 2020, making nine total appearances during the abbreviated USL Championship schedule.

The club signed Sullivan to a first-team contract in advance of the 2021 season. “[He is a] young, promising player who has fit in well with our system at every level of [his] development,” said Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. “[He] excelled at our academy, which is one of the most challenging environments for young talents. [His] work ethic is evident by [his] quick ascension and success with Union II where [he was] able to make early, immediate impacts… Quinn is strong in the tackle, covers and incredible amount of ground, and has the precise type of tenacious attitude we want in our squad.”

Enjoying a “fairly smooth transition,” Sullivan made 24 total appearances during his first season, contributing two goals and one assist. After “getting better and better in training,” his first finish came during his first start, a 3-3 draw against the Chicago Fire. The “world-class” bicycle kick – which he doesn’t practice “very often” – earned the league’s Goal of the Week honor.

Sullivan repeated the feat, scoring a “thunderous strike” to draw with CF Montréal. He drilled a shot from the top of the box, earning the then-17-year-old another MLS Goal of the Week accolade. “Quinn to score such a special goal on his first start, it gets no better,” said manager Jim Curtin after the initial finish. “For him to do it in his first professional start, I think is something he’ll never forget obviously… It was a great goal, a great moment for him. But Quinn would probably want three points over scoring a great goal. That’s how competitive and how good a player he is.”

His debut MLS season, featuring sporadic playing time, marked him as a “strong and upcoming” talent. Despite looking ready for an expanded role, Sullivan has split time between the first-team and reserves in 2022. With his club career still waiting for consistent opportunities, the international game has provided the chance to raise his profile.

Sullivan is potentially eligible for Germany, Bangladesh, and the United States, competing with the latter program. Mikey Varas named him to the roster for the ongoing 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. He thrived during a pre-tournament training camp in Argentina, establishing himself as a multi-faceted attacker and signaling his importance to the upcoming campaign.

In the first group-stage match against Saint Kitts and Nevis, he registered two assists. Sullivan followed that performance with a hat-trick against Cuba. In the Round of 16, the midfielder added a brace to claim a 5-0 victory over Nicaragua. Soccer By Ives praised his “clever running and clinical abilities,” a varied array of finishes from steering crosses into the back of the net or latching onto through balls.

“Same mentality as we’ve had,” said Sullivan following his performing against Cuba. “We’ve got to end teams early, try and get off on the right foot like we did tonight... Every game’s a must-win to this point, with the goal to lift the trophy and qualify for both the World Cup and the Olympics. It’s vital.”

An attacking midfielder with “athletic tools and a high soccer IQ,” Sullivan puts pressure on the opponent and works to block shots. He has been compared to Giovanni Reyna as an “elite playmaker” and “roaming 10/winger drifting between being out wide and cutting in and creating danger.” His primary position is “operating in the advanced and wide” areas, serving as an “auxiliary striker/winger.” His club manager praised him for the ability to “read the game, solve problems on the field on his own, and adapt to any situation.”

“He is probably the most highly regarded 2004 player in the US player pool,” wrote Marcus Chairez for Chasing a Cup. “Quinn is one of the most likely candidates to move to Europe this year or next. Quinn can really strike the soccer ball with his right foot. He is a deadly shooter from all ranges. He also has a fierce, highly competitive mentality. I’d like to see [him] improve his off the ball movement so he can get in more positions to use said deadly right foot.”

Youth tournaments can be hype machines, allowing observers to catch a glimpse of the next generation. Sullivan has been one of the standouts for the United States and garnered much of the attention, as to be expected for a player scoring in bunches. If he can become a regular member of the rotation and replicate the torrid form upon returning to Philadelphia, his dream of moving to Europe may be closer to being realized than previously believed.