Commentary / USL - Philadelphia Union II

A look at Union II’s roster: Part one

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

It is time to assess the player development side’s roster. This season the roster demonstrates two stories — not the usual one — because of the changes in elite youth player development, “MLS Next,” that are occurring this year. In today’s post I present quantitative generalities illustrating the Academy’s changing roles and a table of the current Academy amateurs playing on amateur-status-preserving “zero-dollar” contracts. 

The customary discussion of which individuals are ready for promotion or departure will come at the end of the season after I have had a chance to see more games.

The Academy’s changing roles 

In the past, the focus of this piece has been the individuals who may be ready for the first team. But in 2020 there is a more important one: changes to the soccer operations of the Philadelphia Union’s Academy.

Producing players for the first team remains the Academy’s goal, but:

  • In general the age at which professional potential is being judged is now seventeen — juniors, as well as younger seniors.
  • The organization is expanding its reliance on the Academy as a primary producer of players.
  • And those players will be primarily Americans.

Eighteen-year-olds and older still playing for the organization are now professionals, with one mysterious and two understandable exceptions.

Taking a closer look

The USL Championship professional side, Philadelphia Union II, has replaced the Academy’s defunct USSDA amateur U18/19 team. The Union’s announcement of its MLS Next schedule omits entirely any U19 side.

Also, Keystone Sports now relies even more on its Academy to produce its players. The organization says that as of 9/08/20, 74% of the total minutes played in Union II uniforms have been played by Academy student-athletes who first dressed for a USLC match before playing in college. So Matt Freese’s minutes count since he dressed once before Harvard, but Zach Zandi’s do not since he did not before Villanova.

And for pragmatic legal reasons, explained below, the focus of recruitment is within the United States.

  • Twelve of Union II’s current 26 total players, 46%, are signed USLC professionals. USLC requires 12 as the minimum.
  • The remaining 14, 54%, are student-athletes playing on amateur contracts.
  • Of the 14 amateurs, 11 are not yet 18 years-old, so 42 percent of the entire squad are 16 or 17.
  • Of the 14, nine are from outside Greater Philadelphia living in the Academy’s residency program.
  • Of the full 26, seven are Academy Schoolhouse graduates and 12 are current diploma candidates, so slightly less than three-quarters of the whole team, 73%, are Academy products.
  • And of the seven others, two played / are playing for the academy’s teams while attending local high schools. Including them raises the Academy connection to 81% of the side, or four out of every five.

Yesterday’s surprising first-team loaned-player, Matt Freese, is not included in my 26 players.

United States law asserts that individuals under 18 are not legally competent to sign contracts. Parents must be present and consenting for underage signings to be binding. As a practical matter, the requirement means Keystone does not sign 16 and 17-year-old foreign nationals.

Here is a table, created before 9/9’s ninth match at Red Bulls II, of 2020’s amateurs ranked by age.

Name Pos Age Grad GP GS Min Hgt Wgt Hometown
Axel Picazo CM 19.4 2019 8 7 530 5’10” 150 Austin, TX
Danny Flores DCM 18.4 2020 8 6 606 5’11” 168 Half Moon Bay, CA
Lukas Burns GK 18.3 2020 6’5” 187 Cinnaminson, NJ
Ben Martino GK 18.0 2021 2 2 180 6’6” 194 Pittsburgh, PA
Mitch Budler GK 17.6 2021 5 5 450 6’1” 199 Lincoln, NE
Anton Sorenson LB 17.6 2022 4 3 300 5’7” 135 Ann Arbor, MI
Dante Huckaby LCB 17.4 2021 8 8 720 5’11” 161 Morgantown, WV
Sean Bettenhausen M 17.4 2021 2 1 53 6’0” 150 Wayne, PA
Paxton Aaronson AM 17.0 2022 6 2 288 5’6” 131 Medford, NJ
Caden Stafford S 16.9 2022 1 0 8 6’0” 160 Cincinnatus, NY
Patrick Bohui S 16.7 2022 4 3 216 5’9” 150 Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Jack Jasinski RB 16.7 2022 5 1 243 6’0” 160 Charlotte, NC
Brandan Craig CB 16.4 2022 6 4 390 6’0” 158 Moreland Park, PA
Quinn Sullivan AM 16.4 2022* 5 1 156 5’9” 148 Philadelphia, PA

N.B., Sean Bettenhausen attends Malvern Prep. (Good catch and thanks, Matt Ralph.)

Parenthetically, the pace of the recently released game schedule that re-incorporates the virus postponements means all 21 available field players — subtract 3 keepers + 2 long-term injury recoveries — should see significant game minutes, since teenagers do not yet have adult stamina. They are learning it, not demonstrating it, as former Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke used to emphasize.

They are playing nine games in the last 29 days of September. The tenth and last is on October 3. They have been playing a professional match every third day and will continue to do so all the way to the end, getting an extra fourth day only three times. Burke used to consider five or six days adequate for full recovery from a USLC match.

3 Comments

  1. They play 2 games a week for the rest of the season including every Wednesday and either Saturday or Sunday every weekend. Unfortunately, given that most of their opponents are older, bigger, and not playing as intense a schedule, I have the feeling we’re going to see more results like yesterday’s 6-0 defeat. It would not surprise me in the least to see Union II end up with just one win. Their best chance for another win is in the next 2 games against Loudon.

    • While I am prepared for losing I still hope to see some quality moments from some players. For example, I did watch the 6-0 loss last night, and result aside, I was not impressed by Ofeimu. He does not seem to be progressing and it seems obvious why they are chasing that Argentine CB.

      Alternatively, results aside, Harriel has looked steady the last two games and McGlynn looks good.

  2. Brendan Gomes says:

    The last game had 4 goals were scored after Ofeimu left injured. He isn’t the only one making mistakes. They are all learning. His stats are pretty good. You can’t judge a defender by these games when he doesn’t have much help on the field.

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