Analysis

Breaking down the Union 2’s preseason

Photos Marjorie Elzey

Philadelphia Union 2, a team without a league, is nonetheless having a preseason.

Capsule highlights
  • No reliable new information exists about the rest of the 2021 season, or Union 2’s future beyond it.
  • Knowledgeable sources identify two trialists (Anthony Mwembia, GK, and Ryan Kingsford, S,) but they remain officially unacknowledged by the club.
  • Ben Ofeimu signed with Birmingham Legion FC of the USL Championship.
  • Attacking central midfielder Anthony Ramirez continues to get quality Union 2 game minutes.
  • Movement between the first team and the second team occurs faster than it did last season.

Defining the Union 2’s preseason as over and its regular season as beginning is arbitrary, since the team will continue to play ad hoc exhibition “friendlies” indefinitely into the future. All other MLS2 sides (except Portland Timbers 2 and Orlando City B) have begun their regular league seasons. Peer-group behavior says Union 2’s preseason is over.

Exact definition of Philadelphia Union 2 is more arbitrary than usual. They no longer belong to any league with rules governing rosters and competition, so they are defining and regulating themselves.

Previous incarnations were certainly highly fluid coming as they did from three sources – the first team, USLC, and the academy U19s and U17s – and changing unpredictably from game to game. But there was always a USL core. That core is gone, as the transaction details of two of the final three USL contracted players illustrate further down.

Fresh news might emerge in August when graduated academy seniors everywhere move on to their NCAA schools and MLS2 teams in the two professional USL leagues must pay up for the 2022 season. In the interim Union 2 will play “friendlies,” against high quality, geographically accessible, amateur-cum-former-professional sides and other appropriate ad hoc ones.

Faster safe movement

There is increased mobility between the organization’s two highest-level teams. Already this year has seen more more such movement than last did. Preseason Union 2 matches have already and will continue to condition first-team deep reserves. Virus testing can now occur daily for up to 14 days in response to potential exposure, and preventive quarantine for players who are exposed but asymptomatic now endures only five days if testing remains negative.

To illustrate concretely, on Wednesday, April 21 first-team homegrown Quinn Sullivan started away in Hartford, Conn. for Union 2. The match finished after 2 pm, and he returned to Chester. Four days later, late Sunday afternoon, he probably boarded the first team’s charter to fly to Atlanta for Tuesday’s CCL quarterfinal first leg. Two days after that on Tuesday it is certain he was on the bench for the match.

The Atlanta match tapped off six days and eight hours after Hartford ceased. Sullivan probably completed the transition in four days. He certainly did so in six. Last season he would have had to quarantine for 14 before boarding a first-team plane.

The squad

The squad list below mirrors the one now on the club’s portion of the official website, except for the additional two trialists who both have survived much more than the customary two weeks. One first appeared on March 6 (more than nine weeks), while the second did so on March 27 (more than six).

“TBD” means the individual is eligible to talk with college coaches, while “n/a” means he is still too young. June 15 starts the next talking cycle. Lineups and substitutions have not been available consistently enough to compile player statistics. Ages are calculated from May 9th. Trialist striker Kingsford’s age is only the roughest of estimates.

Pos Name Plans Grad Age
GK Budler, Mitch TBD 2021 18.4
GK Martino, Ben VA Tech 2021 18.7
LB Sorenson, Anton TBD 2022 18.3
RB Gilman, Jackson Pittsburgh 2022 17.0
RCB Diop, Mani TBD 2021 18.0
S/M Jasinski, Jack Princeton 2022 17.4
DCM Huckaby, Dante © Louisville 2021 18.1
LCM Bettenhausen, Sean Penn State 2021 18.1
ACM Ramirez, Anthony n/a 2023 16.5
S Stafford, Caden Maryland 2021 17.6
S Darboe, Bajung n/a 2024 14.5
ACM Abbey, Ian Rutgers 2022 17.1
M/S Spadafora, Jake Mich  State 2022 16.9
CB Jones, Sam Wake Forest 2022 17.2
DCM Lopez, Diego n/a 2023 16.1
S Mazzola, Marcello n/a 2023 16.4
RB Oliver, Logan n/a 2023 16.1
GK Trialist (Mwenbia) Professional Pro 25.1
S Trialist (Kingsford) Harcum JC 2019?  c. 20
S Borgelin, Shanyder Professional 2019 19.6
S Zambrano, Marcos n/a 2025 16.3

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds identified the goalkeeper trialist as Frenchman Anthony Mwembia who played with them in 2020. Blaise Santangelo’s West Chester United SC Predators identified the striker trialist as Ryan Kingsford, an Englishman who has been at Harcum Junior College and appeared briefly with the Predators in early March. They also mentioned him from the March 27 Union 2 match versus Richmond Kickers (see Fixtures below).

Former Union 2 players
Name Grad Age Comments
Miscic, Selmir 2021 18.2 Loaned to North Carolina FC
Ofeimu, Ben 2019 20.5 Signed by Birmingham Legion FC

Union 2 no longer belongs to the United Soccer League. Probably that means Ofeimu was de facto an unattached free agent when he signed with Birmingham.  The Union has never announced the deal. Most likely, the only continued meaning of Ofeimu’s old USL contract is the loss of his amateur status.

Exact readings of the language of various loan announcements and subsequent player descriptions suggest that Miscic remains legally attached to the organization for now, unlike Ofeimu.

Estimated developmental tracks
NCAA-bound graduating seniors Possible first-team candidates 
Name Age Pos Name Age Pos
Huckaby © 18.1 LCB/DCM Ramirez 16.5 ACM
Bettenhausen 18.1 LCM Trialist Kingsford c. 20 S/ACM
Budler 18.4 GK
Martino 187 GK
Diop 18.0 RCB
Continuing with Union 2 thru 2021 Discovery youngsters
Name Age Pos Name Age Pos
Sorensen 18.3 LB Lopez 16.1 DCM
Stafford 17.6 S Darboe 14.5 S
Jasinski 17.4 RCM Zambrano 16.3 S
Gilman 17.0 RB/LB Oliver 16.1 RB
Abbey 17.1 S/M Mazzola 16.4  S
Spadafora 16.9 S/M
Jones 17.2 CB
Borgelin 19.6 S
The fixtures
Date Day Opponent Location Structure Result
3/6 Sa West Chester United YSC Academy 30:30:30 W 3-1
3/14 Su FC Motown Power Complex 30:30:30 W 2-0
3/21 Su Vereinigung Erzgebirge Power Complex 30:30:30 W 5-1
3/27 Sa Richmond Kickers Power Complex 45:45 L 0-4
Apr 3 Sa @ Loudoun United Segra Field See 5/8 below
4/9 Fr @ N Y Red Bulls II away ?45:45? L 0-1
4/21 We @ Hartford Athletic Dillon Stadium 45:45 D 3:3
4/25 Su Loudoun United Power Complex 45:45 W 4-2
5/1 Sa Pittsburgh Riverhounds Highmark Stadium 45:45 L 2-4
5/8 Sa @ Loudoun United Segra Field 45:45 L 0-2

Only the Hartford match was available visually.

Observations

A smile by coach, Marlon LeBlanc, after the Union II’s first home victory of the season.

Marlon LeBlanc

  • Coach LeBlanc is the real deal. For the first time in any fixture against Pittsburgh since Bob Lilley became their coach, on May 1 the Union’s second team took a 2-0 lead by halftime, even though they lost the second half 4-0. And they did so with only three first-team homegrowns on the pitch. (Former Bethlehem coach Brendan Burke only ever managed two 1-0 leads against Lilley’s Rochester teams, and he too never won a regular season or a preseason game against Lilley. His playoff win, against Lilley’s Pittsburgh, came 8-7 on penalty kicks, after a late-game comeback and extra time.)

Anthony Ramirez and Diego Lopez

  • Ramirez continues to be a possible first-team prospect. When Jim Curtin kept some of his first-year homegrown midfielders for NYC FC, he played 90 minutes against Pittsburgh, and made appearances almost always during the more challenging second part of preseason.
  • Lopez has not appeared against those tougher more recent opponents. He has had one or sometimes two first-team homegrowns queued ahead of him for the game minutes, and has probably been playing for the U-17s.

Marcus Zambrano

  • Zambrano appeared in a post-season friendly once last fall. By so doing he may be eligible to be a Homegrown International should he sign with the first team at some point in the future because he meets the requirement for being 15 years old at the time of first appearance. As such he is technically eligible to be a candidate to become an Under 22 Initiative player. There is as yet no evidence the young man is that good.

Selmir Miscic, Ben Ofeimu, & Shanyder Borgelin

  • Ofeimu signed with the Birmingham Legion of the USL Championship on April 30 and started against Louisville Saturday May 8 in a 1-1 draw.
  • Borgelin continues to appear in Union 2 matches.
  • North Carolina FC opened versus Greenville, also on Saturday, May 8, and Miscic scored their only goal in a 2-1 loss. (In the clip old Bethlehem Steel FC fans will recognize former Steel keeper Jake McGuire as NCFC’s goalkeeper and captain.)

Dante Huckaby, Jack Jasinski, & Sean Bettenhausen

  • Captain Huckaby and Swiss Army knife Jasinski continue to play.
  • Bettenhausen does not. Anthony Ramirez, first-team homegrowns, or Ian Abbey and Jake Spadafora are taking the minutes that used to be his.

Trialists

  • 25-year-old GK Anthony Mwembia does not seem to be a first-team prospect.  He seems an extra keeper for matches when the Academy and the first team need all their keepers. Extra depth is also virus insurance at the game’s most highly differentiated and specialized position.
  • Striker Ryan Kingsford seems the most productive scorer among the Union 2’s group. He has appeared with some consistency since the Richmond Kickers match. Whether he is a good Union 2 finisher only, or an actual first-team prospect is impossible to judge remotely. He has not forfeited his last two years of NCAA eligibility so at the very least he is showcasing himself as a JuCo candidate for four-year programs.
P. S. for old Bethlehem fans
  • Drew Skundrich  signed yesterday with D. C. United.

4 Comments

  1. Great stuff as always! Always love me some U2 talk, it is interesting to see who is next in line for HG contracts.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Hopefully if they are able to get further matches in they’ll be able to have some with fans at PPL/Talen Energy/Subaru Park

    • Tim Jones says:

      I am fully confident there will be matches of some sort.
      .
      Whether we will ever hear about them in advance is more problematic.
      .
      Jim Curtin’s last presser mentioned there is one Sunday May 16, perhaps away, against NYC FC for MLSers in need of minutes.
      .
      Historically under Tanner they played this sort of game at least once before, because in 2019 Santi Moar and Michee Ngalina got to have their pictures taken with David Villa. For Moar, also a Spaniard, it was a personal highlight.
      .
      Finding out about these events will be the challenge, since they are not officially scheduled and publicized by any league.
      .

      • Tim Jones says:

        And because they are not announced, they may end up being cancelled at the last minute, too.
        .
        Uncertainty thy name is 2021 Union 2 soccer.

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