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Craig shines during Liverpool trip

Brandan Craig proved he could hang with the best in the world during a tryout with Liverpool. CONTRIBUTED

Imagine a 15-year-old baseball player getting a tryout with the Yankees.

Or a high school sophomore basketball prodigy getting to work out for the Golden State Warriors.

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Or a strong-armed quarterback getting a look from the New England Patriots three years before his 18th birthday.

That’s exactly what happened for Brandan Craig, a 15-year-old soccer star from Morrell Park.

Craig, an elite defender on the Philadelphia Union Academy, accepted an invitation to try out for Liverpool in England.

Craig has long been considered one of the top soccer players in the country, but this gave him a chance to see where he stands against some of the best players in the world.

If the tryout is any indication, he’s right there with the best of them.

“It was a lot of fun, I had a great time out there,” said Craig, who made the trip with his dad, Andrew. “The first thing I noticed was the speed of the game. Everything was so much faster. I liked it, I like playing fast, but the players were really good. It was good to get out there against players like that.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play over there. This was such a great privilege and honor to be given a chance to play here. It was great.”

Craig always wanted to play soccer in England because it’s where the best players in the world are. He’s been playing against the best in the United States with the Union, and he couldn’t be happier representing his Philly team, especially as soccer continues to grow in this country.

“It’s getting more and more popular,” Craig said. “The Union are a reason for that around here. I’m proud to tell people I play for them.”

And while the Union are his hometown team, he does have a connection to the British Premier League, or at least his father does.

Andrew, a Father Judge High School graduate who went on to play soccer at Temple University, was born in England. Because of that, his son has a dual citizenship and has a British passport.

The father-son duo spent two extra days in Great Britain to visit family, and that made the business trip even better.

“It was great to see them, they know how big it is to get an opportunity to play for Liverpool, so they were over the moon about him getting the tryout,” Andrew said. “Liverpool was great about letting us see them, and then we took the train to Liverpool, where he got a chance to play and practice.”

His dad knows soccer, and he went home proud.

Not only did he impress his biggest fan, he impressed the club he was playing with.

“The thing I was most proud of is Liverpool said he came in confident, but he was humble,” Andrew said. “They get a lot of great players and they said some are arrogant. That’s not him. He just went out, he’s very confident in his ability, but he’s not cocky. He fits in well and he played very well. He looked really good out there.”

Trying out for a British club isn’t an easy thing to do. And it’s not just the level of talent. The weather is much different and so is the playing surface.

“It rained most of the time out there,” Andrew said. “And you’re not playing on turf, you’re on grass. Most of his games over here, or a lot of them, are on turf. It was a whole new experience for him, but he loved it. We are very proud of him.”

Brandan had a great time doing what he loves, but he also enjoyed playing with new teammates. And seeing family was just the cherry on the sundae.

“I got to see my dad’s aunt and uncle, I haven’t seen them for a long time, so that was fun,” he said. “I would love to play over there. I liked all the people we played with. It’s a dream of mine. If I did sign there, I would live with a host family. Our family is about three hours away from Liverpool, so it’s good that they’re there, too. I don’t mind traveling, we do a lot of traveling with the Union.

“Playing for the Union is going great. They really help me a lot. It’s great for school and soccer.”

They also played a big role in helping Brandan take part in the tryout.

“The Union were so great about this,” Andrew said. “A lot of teams don’t like their players do a tryout because they make a huge investment in their players, and they were great. It was very good of them to allow him to go. They’ve always treated him great, I can’t say enough good things about them.”

Brandan now plays the waiting game.

He can’t sign with the club until April because players have to be 16 before the league will sign them. He’s now preparing for the school year, which begins in a few weeks. Until then, he’ll enjoy a little rest.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do, maybe go down the shore and spend time with family,” said Brandan, whose younger brother Andrew also plays for the Union. “It was beyond anything I expected. It was so much fun. It’s definitely a dream of mine to go over there, and this was a good start. I’m happy playing here, too.”

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