Morrell Park soccer star playing for the Union

A Christ the King eighth-grader is vying for a spot on the U.S. National Soccer Team playing in Croatia.

Before playing for the Union, Brandan Craig starred at Lighthouse soccer and alter with Fishtown and Philly Soccer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Soccer has taken Brandan Craig all over.

The hope is it continues to take him even further.

Craig is an eighth-grade student at Christ the King, and he’s an elite defender on the Philadelphia Union U-14 team. In playing for the team, which is associated with Philadelphia Union professional team, he’s taken trips all over the world.

Among the places he’s gone to: Holland, Belgium, San Diego, Dallas, Atlanta and Qatar. And every trip he takes, he enjoys, because he’s doing what he loves to do.

“I love playing soccer, I have my whole life,” said Craig, who joined the elite Union team three years ago. “I’ve traveled a good distance, and all of the places have been great. Qatar was probably the best. We stayed in a five-star hotel and we get to play soccer. It was a great experience.”

He could be on the verge of another out-of-this-world experience.

Craig is vying for a spot on the U.S. National Team that is playing in Croatia in May. He should find out shortly if he made the team.

“I would love to play for them,” Craig said. “I just want to play soccer at the highest levels I can. It gives me a chance to play with so many great players.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise soccer is such a huge part of Craig’s life.

His father, Andrew, a Father Judge High School grad, went on to play midfield and defense for the Temple University soccer team. His mom, who attended Council Rock, also played defender at Temple.

And while his parents never pushed him in the direction of soccer, whenever he was around the game, he loved it. And as soon as he was old enough to play, he not only excelled at the game, but he loved playing.

“He has his mother’s attitude out there in that he’s always smiling and he’s just a really nice kid,” said his father. “I’m very intense. He isn’t that way. He takes it serious, and he’s a very good player, but he’s just always having fun out there.”

It’s safe to say he has his parents’ admiration as well. And it’s not just because he’s one of the best young soccer players in the country.

“Words can’t describe how proud we are of him because of how he approaches the game and just how he is as a person,” his father said. “He started playing for Lighthouse when he was 5 years old and he’s played great ever since. He’s played all over, and the best part is no matter where he goes, he makes friends. He’s a great kid who just happens to be a very good soccer player.”

His dad also recognizes that there are many people who helped groom his son into the player he’s become.

He credits Jack and Anthony O’Neill with Lighthouse soccer, Bobby Mulvenna and Joe Reteneller from Fishtown and Philly Soccer and all of his coaches from the Philadelphia Union, including Kevin Coleman and Chris Brewer. He also says players, including Connor Wetzel, Asher Laackman and Quinn Sullivan, who played with his son at Lighthouse, Fishtown and the Union Academy, have been big helpers.

“You make a lot of great relationships in soccer and he’s had help from so many great people,” Andrew said. “He’s been lucky that he’s played for great organizations and has been helped by great players and coaches.”

Next year, while he could star for any local high school team in the area, Craig will attend the Philadelphia Union Academy. The academy, which is based out of Wayne, is where select athletes go to school and train for soccer under the tutelage of the professional soccer team. Academics is stressed, but it’s also a great place for students to play soccer at the highest competitive level possible, putting them on the path to play for national or professional teams in the future.

“My goal is to make the men’s national team and someday play for a top five team in Europe’s Top Five League,” Brandan said. “I would love to play for an MLS team. The best would be to someday play for the Union.”

That’s the dream, but in order to make that a reality, he knows that there’s a lot of work to be done.

Brandan practices with his team every weekday and spends his weekend traveling around the area to compete in the best soccer tournaments out there. It’s an ambitious schedule, but one he loves because it lets him get better and play soccer.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a lot better than everyone, I just love playing and I put in a lot of work,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I love it. I do it because I want to do it. And the more I play, the more fun I have. I’m lucky to play with a lot of great players and have great coaches. I just love everything about it.” ••