Philadelphia Union II / USL

An unorthodox week for Union II

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Additional reporting by Tim Jones

During any other year, the period of August 5 through 7 would most likely be described as a chaotic three days for Philadelphia Union II.

For the year 2020, it almost feels like par for the course. Almost.

Entering the week, Union II had a relatively standard schedule ahead of them; two fixtures, against two familiar clubs, and two opportunities to earn points and turn around their underwhelming restart to the USL Championship campaign.

Any sense of normalcy was quickly thrown out the window on Wednesday afternoon.

At around 4 p.m. on August 5, roughly an hour before the club was set to kickoff against New York Red Bulls II at Subaru Park, Union II announced that the club and head coach Sven Gartung had agreed to part ways and that Philadelphia Union U-17 coach Marlon LeBlanc would take over as interim head coach. The club’s statement did not cite any specific reason for the change, and as of this writing, there’s been no additional insight provided regarding the switch. A surface explanation lies with the club’s performance under Gartung: four losses, one draw and 18 goals conceded.

Prior to joining the Union organization in July, Marlon LeBlanc had served as the men’s soccer coach at West Virginia University from 2006 until his resignation at the end of 2019.

Having been made aware of the change on Monday, LeBlanc had only two days to plan for his first game at the helm. “The message came down on Monday. I was at training Monday evening and coached my first pro game on Wednesday night so it has been a whirlwind, but it has been fun for sure,” LeBlanc said following the match. With a starting lineup average age of just 18.1, the team responded well to LeBlanc’s lineup changes, finding the back of the net three times and holding on against a strong Red Bulls II attack to finish the match 3-2, earning their first victory of the season.

With the whirlwind seemingly behind them, LeBlanc and the team could look ahead to a Sunday evening clash with Hartford Athletic, presenting an opportunity for their first winning streak of the season.

Cue second whirlwind. On Friday morning, Union II announced that a member of the club had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, Sunday’s match against Hartford Athletic, set to kick-off at 7:30 p.m. at Subaru Park, had been postponed. The club advised that “the individual has been immediately isolated at home and is in good spirits under the care of team physicians.” The club has not identified the individual who tested positive, nor specified if it was a player, staff or an individual in close contact with the club.

The announcement capped off a roller-coaster ride of a week for Union II; experiencing the spectrum of a coaching change, first victory and the reality of a global health pandemic. Quite the trifecta.

Given the success the USL Championship has had in restarting the 2020 campaign, as well as the smoothness with which the MLS is Back tournament has been carried out, soccer in the U.S seems to be maneuvering through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as possible. Friday’s announcement was a grounding reminder of the very real challenges that exist.

Looking ahead, Union II have two remaining August fixtures: Wednesday, August 19 vs. Hartford Athletic and Sunday, August 23 at New York Red Bulls II.  It remains unclear whether the positive COVID-19 test will affect any additional fixtures. The club stated in an email to PSP that “both games are to be played as scheduled pending further testing.” The side is also yet to resume full training, as all asymptomatic individuals must go through a “re-initiation phase” — which includes two confirmatory PCR tests, antibody tests, and cardiovascular workups — before team training can begin again.


  1. the best thing i can say about rebranded U2 is they exist. the decision-making within the organization has been suspect almost from the beginning of the USL team. you can argue it’s a development team but it has no identity, no foundation to build upon to generate any interest. the closest things i can relate how this should work are the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL and the Phils minor league clubs. you hear about the first team calling up talent in both, usually due to injury and performance. Jim has 14 guys he uses, anyone on the bench might as well not exist, and, because of the bubble disjoint, they don’t get minutes with U2. maybe that will change now, but the covid tests throw anything out the window.

  2. The thing with Gartung is so SO SO weird because oyu would think it would be 1000% obvious coming into this job that you would be playing the kdis only. So communication failed somewhere, either on his side or the Union side.

    • we have had no hints whatsoever about why the change occurred to LeBlanc away from Gartung.
      we know very little. LeBlanc started working with the group the Monday after the second Pittsburgh loss, which would have been the first day of “normal” practice.
      the club made no statement wishing him good luck in his future endeavors.
      Those are the data. They can be interpreted a number of ways.
      The covid test has really restricted contact with the club so within the organization there seems to be little information.
      Anything else is rankest speculation, and the range of possibilities has no apparent limits.
      To me the announcement’s tone is a mutual agreement to make neither side loom bad, but I have no idea.

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