After nearly three years of commuting between his parents’ Harford County home and the Philadelphia suburbs, something had to give.

Logan Oliver’s personal drive to become one of the top young soccer players in the country had never wavered, but the actual drive — often almost two hours each way, five days per week — was taking a toll.

As Logan, whose family originated from the Dundalk area, rose through the ranks of Baltimore-area youth soccer programs as a pre-teen, he sought out opportunities to test his skills in increasingly competitive settings. That meant traveling further afield and joining several workouts with a renowned junior program run by the Philadelphia Union — a Major League Soccer club — where he found other young, talented players with similar dreams of playing professional soccer.

“That was eye-opening for me,” says Logan. “Just to be around all these guys doing the same thing, who had the same goals and ambitions as me. It helped push me to get much better, much faster at the sport I love. I wanted to be in that environment.”

Logan began making the trip up to the Union’s state-of-the-art youth training facility in Wayne, PA one or two times each week. When he received a rare invite to join one of the Union Academy’s official teams, the commitment increased significantly.

“That was a huge honor,” says Logan’s father, Brandon. “To be selected at age 11 to play a year up with the [Union Academy’s U12 team]. But it also came with some big sacrifices for Logan.”

Brandon and his wife, Carlye, would take turns picking up their son when the school day ended and race up Route 1 to arrive in time for daily training sessions. Eventually they made arrangements for Logan to stay overnight with friends in Philadelphia on Thursday. His school, St. James Academy in Monkton, allowed Logan to learn remotely on Friday, enabling him to be present for full team preparations in advance of weekend games.

It was an arrangement that sped up Logan’s development on the pitch — he quickly became a mainstay in the lineup and a team leader — but didn’t leave time for much else.

“It was nerve-wracking constantly coordinating with friends, teammates, coaches, teachers, my parents — the rides, trying to study for tests and quizzes and doing my homework in the car,” says Logan. “I was getting made fun of for missing school on Friday or leaving early. I said to my parents ‘look, we don’t have to do this drive anymore. I can live with a host family or I’ll go to Calvert Hall.”

But Brandon saw his son’s dedication as inspiration to “go all-in.” In 2019, the Olivers made the unusual decision to follow their son north and put down new roots on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

“Seeing that commitment from him as a sixth and seventh grader and not hitting the eject button — for someone at his age to make that commitment and sacrifice, we felt we’ve got to make that commitment to him,” says Brandon. “It was pretty clear that the pathway to the pros was through the MLS academies and that became Logan’s dream. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but as a family we said ‘let’s do it.’”

Not only would Logan be closer to his Union Academy teammates, he’d now attend school with them at YSC Academy — a Union-affiliated prep school designed to support the club’s most talented youth in their academic and athletic endeavors. Most importantly, he would be part of a community that embraced his passion.

“I went from feeling kind of like an outlier at home to being in a supportive environment with people who are doing the same thing as me every day. Not only do I play with and get coached by the best, I train and go to school with them.”

For Logan’s parents, the move was a definite adjustment. It helped that Brandon had a wealth management practice that allowed for geographic flexibility and for Carlye to remain a full-time mom. But the couple — who attended Towson University together and whose families have lived in the Dundalk area for several generations — would be outside the Baltimore region for the first time in their lives.

The same was true for Logan and his younger sister, Natalie — a highly-competitive and ranked junior tennis player, who Logan claims has been the real star of the whole process.

“My sister was quite spectacular,” says Logan. “She was very optimistic about the move. She started the home school process for tennis and found friends to train with as soon as she got here. I’m thankful for how she handled it.”

Carlye admits that she was “scared to start over.” But, she says, “The Philadelphia area was really welcoming. We were together as a family. And I saw just total relief in Logan. I saw the joy and happiness in his face, and that made me know we made the right decision.”

Lately, Logan has been making a lot of the right decisions on the field. As captain and starting defensive midfielder for the Union U17s, Logan has led his squad to a 8-1-1 start, highlighted by recent victories over defending MLS Next champions Orlando City and regional rivals The New York Red Bulls. He has played nearly every minute of every contest, delivering a brand of smart, skilled, relentless soccer that’s made him a blueprint for the Union Academy’s success.

“I think our club is synonymous with development and Logan has embodied that and has embraced it,” says Union Director of Academy and Professional Development Tommy Wilson.

“He’s captain of the team that is at the top of our academy program, the team players play in before they either go to college or become professionals. He’s one of these lads that’s first in and last to leave, always doing a little extra. If you look at what we want out of our players, Logan is an excellent role model.”

Wilson says Logan is making the most of a holistic training environment that’s focused on preparing players to get to the highest level they can, while ensuring their academic success and emotional well-being. The Union has found a winning formula: recently ranked the Union Academy as the nation’s top boys soccer club.

“It’s an environment now that’s compatible with top clubs in Europe and South America,” says Wilson. “A lot of people have acknowledged the work that we do — our investment, time, and energy — and we have as good a staff as I can ever remember.”

A typical day for Logan includes a training session in the morning, school from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then another training session in the afternoon. Games are held on weekends, often requiring travel to cities around the country and Canada.

School classes are small and personalized, with course offerings and a social-emotional approach that cater to the unique needs of a school of 60 boys who are friends, teammates, and competitors.

“The question that gets asked the most when you walk in on a Monday after a game on Saturday is ‘how was the game?’. If you played great, you want to talk about it, but it can be difficult to escape soccer,” explains Logan. “We have a class called ‘Health and Wellness’ which is helpful because it’s focused on understanding the mental health side of sports and what we’re going through.”

“And our teachers are amazing,” he continues. “They do a great job of adapting to your soccer schedule. They accommodate everything because they know you want to be something special. And they know you’ll get it done if you’ve had a game and a late day.”

It’s a supportive environment, but it’s not for everyone. While no one pays to be part of the Union Academy — it’s fully-funded, allowing the club to pick the best talent regardless of financial status — on-field talent is just one prerequisite. The ability to thrive in a professional sports setting is the ultimate test. The Academy is a pathway to the professional ranks and an important part of the Union business model. The success of Union players like Brenden Aaronson (now with Red Bull Salzburg), whose $6M transfer fee was the highest-ever for an American homegrown player from MLS, has a direct impact on the bottom line: Players must perform. If they do, doors open. If they don’t, they won’t last.

While that makes the Olivers’ move seem even more like a leap of faith, in retrospect Logan’s resilience and drive and his family’s tolerance for risk positioned them better than most for a successful transition.

“What Logan and his family did was understand the scenario,” explains former US Men’s National Team member and Dundalk native Santino Quaranta, who coached Logan in the Pipeline youth soccer program. “The MLS organizations are clearly producing the best young players and the Union is one of the best in the country, but you have to go in knowing you’re going to be in a really uncomfortable situation, away from home, it’s cut-throat, and if they’re not good enough they’re out of there.”

Most players and families, says Quaranta, aren’t prepared for the adversity and expectations or hearing when their son “isn’t good enough.”

“The Philly Union, they hold the cards,” Quaranta explains. “It’s black and white and that’s a good thing, because that’s what it is everywhere else in the world.”

Quaranta recently watched Logan play for the first time in several years and noted a natural progression in his game, rooted in qualities that have been present in Logan from day one.

“When [I had Logan], he wasn’t necessarily the best player but he had the intangibles — the work ethic, good attitude, a great family backing him. Those are important pieces of the puzzle,” says Quaranta. “Now he’s grown, he’s playing a deeper position, he’s technically sound. His work rate, his skills and his physical abilities aligned as he grew — and that has to happen year in and year out when you go through puberty and mature. That’s why he’s continued to be successful.”

Logan’s experiences since transitioning full-time to the Academy have shaped his personal definitions of success and his expectations for the path ahead. While he’s in an enviable position with one of the top clubs in the US, Logan believes he has a lot left to prove. Recently, several of his U17 teammates made the jump to the pro level Philadelphia Union II, putting them. a step ahead of him on the path to his pro dreams.

“The drive has changed recently. Before this year, I’d see a guy like Brenden Aaronson playing in the Champions League and was more like ‘it would be so cool to be professional,’” explains Logan. “It was all sunshine and rainbows, I was moving up, I was captain every year, it was coming kind of easy with no hard times. But recently it’s been more to prove something to myself and others. I have to prove I deserve to play at the highest level. I’m kind of glad it happened this way, it’s motivating me even more.”

With so much of his time focused on achieving his soccer goals, Logan has often been asked whether he misses out on having a “normal” childhood.

He’s quick to point out that soccer is just one aspect of his life. Nothing is more important than family, and he has an especially close relationship with his grandfather, Richard Oliver (a Patapsco High School grad), who makes the trip up from Baltimore to watch him play almost every weekend.

Logan is a lifelong, die-hard Ravens and Orioles fan and cites pitcher John Means and NFL legend Tom Brady as his two favorite athletes. He loves playing golf (“a definite stress reliever”) and feels lucky to have “a great girlfriend” who he enjoys spending time with — something that “all the guys at the academy don’t get to experience very often.”

“People make it sound really difficult, like I am sacrificing all these things,” says Logan. “But they don’t realize that this life is normal for me. Moving was normal for me. Sacrificing is something I’ve been doing my entire life. I’ve never been more happy because I am in love with the process.”