Philadelphia Union II / Roster News

Philadelphia Union II: The facts and what may become the facts

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The USL Championship has voted to resume home-market play, the league and the players association formally agreed to do so, and the league approved full-contact training on June 24 pending local permissions.

All are actively working toward a July 11 restart, and the restart’s competitive format has been announced. Although the new game schedule has not yet been released, the old one disappeared from the USLC website early this week.

Generalities: Facts and inferences 

Union II began medically isolated individual training seven weeks ago on May 18, followed by socially distanced small groups on June 7. Full team training with full contact awaits the go-ahead from the latest test results as of lunchtime this past Monday. Training began in Delaware, and returned to Chester only last Friday.

U2 are in the Eastern Conference’s Group F with New York Red Bulls II, Loudon United, Hartford Athletic, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Since they have already played Loudon, they have 11 group games remaining and will play four other geographically proximate sides to total 15 matches. The four closest teams who are not in Group F are North Carolina, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Louisville. Five of their eight probable opponents made the 2019 Eastern Conference playoffs. 

The roster that will play these 15 games is not the same as it was in early March. Some players are no longer available. 

  • The Union Academy’s 2019-2020 soccer season and academic year have ended.  
  • NCAA-bound players matriculate to their schools on or about August 1st, and dates may be earlier due to virus health procedures.
  • USL has lifted the five-player limit on Academy player game participation for the rest of 2020 for both its professional leagues.

Union II’s 15 games will be played in 12 weeks. That pace is roughly the same as the original schedule so academies should not have to provide roster depth above and beyond normal levels. Coach Sven Gartung expects to be working with 25 to 26 players, plus as many as three on loan from the first team. 

MLS’s as-yet-unannounced new schedule may well accelerate its match rhythm, since it wants to maximize games played. Instead of 32 in six months, I calculate the first-team could squeeze in as many as 23 in as few as 11 1/2 weeks, plus the three group-stage games in Florida.  Matches could occur every third or fourth day, the apparent norm for adult professional soccer’s most intense sustainable pace. Such a pace combine with a lean first-team roster would minimize the availability of first-team reserves to Union II. 

Keystone Sports and Entertainment’s professional developmental team draws its game-day rosters from three sources: Academy players on zero-dollar amateur contracts that preserve eligibility for college soccer, first-team reserves loaned down a match at a time, and signed USLC professionals.  Only the USLC-signed pros should continue as they were March 7 in the opener against Loudon.

Two key details
Union II preseason squad in Florida 2020, 2nd Clearwater camp.

L-R. Front Row: Issa Rayyan, Nate Harriel, Zach Zandi, Shanyder Borgelin, Axel Picazo, Kyle Gee, Patrick Bohui, Cole Sotack. Back Row: Saed Diaz, Todd Morton, Yomi Scintu, Tyger Evans, Steve Kingue, Jami Topey, Selmir Miscic, Aboubacar Camara, Dante Huckaby, Danny Flores, Jack McGlynn, Ben Ofeimu, Lukas Burns, Adam Lenges

First: The status of the three outside backs and the midfielder who captained against Loudon are not all yet known officially.

2019-2020 PGs Nate Harriel (RB), and Axel Picazo (RCM), have not yet committed to specific colleges, and officially their future remain uncertain.  This past Monday Gartung said that 2020 diploma recipients Cole Sotack (reserve OB), and Tyger Evans (LB) are gone. At graduation they were committed to Rutgers and Penn State respectively, and Gartung directly confirmed that Evans is already at Penn State.

MLS is expected to open a 48-hour transfer window before the Florida tourney starts. Our crystal ball suggests Picazo and Harriel may officially sign with the organization at that time.

With Evans and Sotack gone, left back is as uncertain as it was last winter. 

Second:  No more than three first-team reserves seem likely to get U2 game minutes (developmentally, as opposed to injury and quarantine rehabs), and that will happen only after MLS is Back is over.

  • The first team has 24 men listed on its active roster .
  • Cory Burke and Jack de Vries are not currently active. de Vries’s status may simply reflect that he was loaned to USLC for U2’s March opener, but Burke is playing in Austria for first division St. Polten through its final game on July 4th at the very least. (7/2 update: Burke will not play in the Florida Tournament.) (7/6 update: de Vries is present in Florida.)
  • Game-day roster size during MLS’s tournament will be 23, not 18, and quarantines will join injuries in impacting the numbers available.
  • Home market play might resume as early as the weekend of August 14-16, three-to-five days after the tournament ends.

An accelerated MLS schedule pace would make fitness an issue.  For Florida, players are not at peak match readiness, and summers are humid and hot no matter the time of day. A follow-on schedule of two games a week sustained for two-and-a-half months would not ease the pressure.

After Florida, GK Matt Freese and DCM Cole Turner should get Union II minutes since there are three first-team keepers and four defensive center mids. de Vries’ availability is less certain because, even when including him, the Union’s central and attacking midfield depth is only two deep. He seems quite likely to earn a trip to Florida, so his availability after that would happen only with no first-team injuries or quarantines, no delays in Cory Burke’s return stateside, and no evidence that he is ready to contribute regularly at the MLS level.

Union 2’s actual roster

Outside backs are problematic. 

  • In U2’s opener Tyger Evans started at left back and played well for 90 minutes, but he has left for Penn State. Gartung said Monday he has to come up with a new plan at that spot.
  • Right back Nate Harriel started and played the first half of that match.  He has finished both his PG year and his Academy playing eligibility. To remain he must be signed as a professional.
  • Former reserve outside back Cole Sotack has graduated and left for Rutgers.
  • In preseason Adam Lenges, now graduated but enrolled as a PG for next year, seemed to be a utility defender / defensive midfielder.
  • According to March’s appreciative Gartung comment, Issa Rayyan is a jack-of-all-trades for attack, midfield, and defense. He came on for right back Harriel at halftime of the opener. Although right-footed, he played on the left for Bethlehem in 2018 and 2019, although not frequently. Monday, Gartung implied he might become the new left back. 

Center backs are covered. Jamoi Topey and academy underclassman Dante Huckaby are on the left with Ben Ofeimu and Steve Kingue on the right. All are adequate or better at the USLC level. Huckaby and Ofeimu helped keep March’s clean sheet against Loudon. Topey was hurt and did not dress, but is now recovered. Kingue stayed on the bench because when Gartung subbed — back in March he only had three — he tried for the win.

Union II should have two defensive center midfielders, barring first-team injuries and quarantines, once the Florida tournament is done. Cole Turner started against Loudon as the left center mid but with a clear brief to be defensive-minded. Danny Flores, who returns for a PG year also, started behind Turner as the outright DCM. That changed in the 62nd minute when Flores came off and Turner dropped back to protect the back line.

Turner’s absence during the MLS Florida tourney will be felt. Union 2’s midfield may play more defensively as a trapezoid with strikers flashing back through a vacant ACM slot. Adam Lenges and Zach Zandi might be candidates for the DCM opportunity.

 In March the three other midfield spots were strongly populated. 

  • Against Loudon Picazo played 90 minutes in the central midfield, mostly on the right. He has completed his PG year and his Academy soccer eligibility. To remain he also must be signed as a professional.
  • de Vries started as a center mid. He had a clear defensive brief as he circulated between the left center mid and the attacking mid while the club was settling in and Gartung was evaluating. As per Gartung’s principled policy of substituting early enough for players to have a developmentally-meaningful playing opportunity, he came off after 70 minutes for Zach Zandi. (Gartung indicated Monday he intends to use all five substitutions that way and intends to have at least 16 players on his bench.)
  • Jack McGlynn made his professional debut against Loudon in the 62nd minute and boosted the offense. He connected some good passes, was a presence in the attacking third, and was perfectly placed to have taken the shot for the 90th minute’s almost-game-winner had Yomi Scintu not preempted him.
  • Zach Zandi did not start, but added key passes in the offensive third when he came on for de Vries in the 70th. He made a perfect feed at the death from the endline towards Scintu and McGlynn for the unfortunately-missed game-winner. 
  • Neither Selmir Miscic nor Kyle Gee dressed for Loudon. Each could replace de Vries in case he is absent. Depth behind them has to come from unnamed Academy players.
  • David Rabadan’s paperwork had not yet completed by the Loudon match, so he was not eligible. He has been in greater Philadelphia during the hiatus, as have all the internationals. Last Monday Gartung said he was in excellent shape, is a midfielder, and has an excellent left foot. (Reaching out to the stranded internationals to make sure they were not alone created an excellent team-building project for the at-home U. S. domestics and all the staff.  Rabadan and Yomi Scintu both celebrated birthdays while isolated and over here, with their teammates and coaches substituting for their families.)

U2 has four strikers. Both Shanyder Borgelin and Yomi Scintu started and played the full 90 against Loudon. Scintu had far and away his best ever showing for the organization. He created, he defended, and he played the full 90. Unfortunately, his potential game winner bounced off the post in the 90th minute. Borgelin worked hard on defense but had limited offensive effect, perhaps a credit to Loudon’s marking plan since he was the better known player from 2019.  Saed Diaz and academy player Patrick Bohui did not dress.

Like center back, goalkeeper is covered. Matt Freese should start once the first-team returns from Florida. He kept his side in the game against Loudon with three solid saves, competent direction, and good distribution. Capable backup Todd Morton will plug the Florida hole. And there are academy keepers a plenty as reserves behind him.

A speculative starting lineup

Starters (L-R) Tanner’s 4-4-2: Todd Morton; Issa Rayyan, Jamoi Topey, Ben Ofeimu, Nate Harriel; Danny Flores, Zach Zandi, Axel Picazo, Jack McGlynn; Yomi Scintu, Shanyder Borgelin. SubstitutesUnnamed Academy goalkeeper; Dante Huckaby, Steve Kingue, Adam Lenges; Kyle Gee, Jack McGlynn, Saed Diaz.

One Comment

  1. Good stuff as always, Tim. I’ll be very interesting to see what moves are made to get a full roster for U2.

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