Commentary

Mid-summer player development report

Photo Marjorie Elzey

July’s arrival means a report on younger , homegrown, other, and academy players developing underneath the first-team’s starters and “first substitutes.”

All first team homegrowns are listed. Other professionals not on the first-team’s active roster but training with the two professional teams are likewise included. Academy players are enumerated only if they have appeared with Union 2 after 2021’s graduation from YSC Academy’s schoolhouse. All but one of 2021’s graduated seniors have disappeared in the transition from high school to college. 


Three anomalies


Different usages develop goalkeepers. Matt Freese – as did his predecessors as Andre Blake’s backup — comes down to the developmental team to “sharpen up” with game minutes, especially before impending first-team starts. 

First-team “first substitute” field players tune up during first-team matches, since the quality of play is higher.

Midfielder Jack de Vries,  19.3 years old, remains in concussion protocol as of the Nashville match. He has been in it since the last day of March. He has lost the last three months.

Mark McKenzie’s concussion experiences teach us that teenagers are more vulnerable to concussions than adults. YSC Academy head of school Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee has said that state-of-the-art brain science asserts adolescent brain development continues until individuals are 21. Caution with de Vries is a justified but currently frustrating investment in his future.

Fellow midfielders Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan have gotten opportunities that might otherwise have been given to de Vries.

Two-year first team member Slovakian defensive central midfielder Matej Oravec is now 23.2 years old and has yet to debut with either of Keystone Sports’ professional teams in a regular season game. He has appeared in first-team preseason scrimmages both years he has been with the organization.

He was announced as loaned-out on April 18. When asked at the time, Jim Curtin declined to name the team saying it was not yet official. There were subsequent reports that the loan was to Union 2, the team without a league or a league’s roster rules. He is now listed as “unavailable,” not “loaned out.”

The MLS Players’ Association released his salary ($270 K) and total compensation ($284.5 K) data, implying that he is an MLS player. He was practicing with the first team on April 21, as a picture taken by Matt Ralph of Brotherly Game proves.

Whether Ernst Tanner’s $200 K GAM purchase of an international roster slot from Sporting KC on the picture’s date is connected to Oravec is unconfirmed speculation.


Homegrown field players who now appear only with the first team


Two of these three have been with the organization a long time, raising the question of their future tenure. The third has not.

ANTHONY FONTANA: 21.7-years-old, 5 years a professional
MATT REAL: 22-years-old in four days, 4 years
JACK MCGLYNN: 18 years old tomorrow, 1/2 a year


Homegrown field players who now may shuttle between Union and Union 2 as opportunities and needs indicate


QUINN SULLIVAN: 17.3-y/o, 1/2 a year
PAXTEN AARONSON: 17.8-y/o, 1/2 a year


In descending order of regular predictability, homegrowns who consistently appear with Union 2


Brandan Craig: Every game Union 2 have played since mid-summer 2020 has seen 17.3-year-old Craig start somewhere along its central spine.

Most frequently he has been a center back. Now he is on the right side since he is right-footed and Gino Portella is left. When his partner was right-footed Mani Diop, Craig played on the left.

He has also started more than once at defensive center midfield. And once he was the attacking central midfielder. He serves every Union 2 offensive restart, both free kicks and corners. He has scored on a free kick at least once.

While precise details about his first-team roster status remain uncertain, he seems a possible candidate to be shifted away from its active roster, should more open slots be needed, because his physique and speed need to mature and improve before first-team soccer is realistic.

When they do, Craig could easily become a defensive central midfielder able to play the position without a partner. He reads the game excellently, dominates when playing among his true peers, and has a decisive, confident, positive personality. If all goes as it easily might, he could become a “sell-on” after he proves himself in MLS.

Nate Harriel: Jim Curtin said in the context of the Alvas Powell signing that right now the 20.2-year-old Floridian right back is not yet ready for the first team. After the Jamaicans are away, watch the first team bench to confirm that.

Ernst Tanne signed Powell apparently to be Cameroonian international Olivier Mbaizo’s backup, although call-ups to Jamaica’s national team could complicate that role later this fall. Powell’s one- year, partial-season, minimum-salary signing does not mean Harriel will not be Mbaizo’s successor after this year. Like Mbaizo, Harriel is an excellent athlete.

Two points inform judgments about Harriel.

  • The Union have sufficient depth at the position to bring him along slowly, as Curtin did with Mbaizo himself.
  • Midfielders have four defenders behind them to salvage rookie mistakes, whereas defenders have only a goalie, even if in the Union’s case it happens to be a superb one.

Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie both had dozens of USL games under their belts when they were handed their opportunities as starters. The Union’s head coach seems to bring his defenders along slowly, which is not a surprise since everything Jim Curtin does starts from defensive reliability and he wants to be certain.

Cole Turner: When two years ago on July 17, 2019 Ernst Tanner persuaded 20.2-year-old Turner to forego the Naval Academy for professional soccer,  the young midfielder was a rudimentary offensive player, at best.

He seemed better suited to central defense, a position at which he had substituted that preseason  with success.

Nowadays, Turner is a competent offensive threat. He does not have twinkle toes. But he reads, intercepts, and passes competently and effectively. And he has begun to score from the occasional well-timed run into the attacking third.

Turner’s change is a credit to three people.

  • Tanner’s eye for “picking them”.
  • Marvin LeBlanc’s ability to teach, through both direct instruction and a formation that forces Turner to make the necessary reads and take the necessary actions.
  • The greatest credit should go to Turner himself for doing the physical and mental work.

He now bosses Union 2’s midfield against an equally able or slightly superior side (Ocean City).

He does not yet appear as a lone defensive central mid.  But whether that lacuna reflects Turner himself, the developmental and evaluative needs of the player with whom he partners (Dante Huckaby), or an organizational decision that teaching the first-team’s 4-1-2-1-2 diamond is better served  by playing the 4-2-2-2 “empty bucket” across the youth development board is not obvious.

Turner seems on the cusp of being ready for meaningful first-team minutes in the midfield, not just a cameo debut. That might happen sometime later this summer.


Other professionals


Shanyder Borgelin: The 19.7-year-old Haitian striker from Florida lost all of 2020 to injury, a broken bone in his foot suffered in the first half of the opening game. He signed with Bethlehem Steel FC April5, 2019.

He began this season on the bench as the first Union 2 striker substitute . More recently he started but did not go 90. Only in the most recent match (Ocean City) did he stay on the pitch for 90, and he struggled a lot for the last 20 or 25 minutes.

He still tends to wait for  vertical passes from his own defenders to come to him, rather than “showing back” to receive them.

But Coach LeBlanc plays a formation that encourages and induces him to do so, the so-called “empty bucket” of a 4-2-2-2. Borgelin must show back into that empty space if he wants to receive balls on the ground. He is not blessed with the pace necessary to outrace opponents to passes into the green grass behind them.

Borgelin has been working hard in the weight room. He seems more lithe and quicker than last year. He is not yet a deadly ball hunter on defense on par with Cory Burke, Kacper Przybylko, or C. J. Sapong. But he is trying to get there.

His headed goal on a service from Nate Harriel against Ocean City was beautiful. The Union must like what they see since he is still here when all the rest of last year’s USLC professionals are gone.

Gino Portella: The 6’4” left-footed German-Italian center back appeared on the public’s radar only when the MLS player’s association released its roster-compliance-day salary data last May 13. Transfermarkt says he signed January 1, 2021. There has been no announcement of him at all from the Union front office.

The salary data release – and the number 35 he wore against Ocean City – suggests that he is connected to the first team. But he has never been listed on the first-team roster on either the club’s official website or MLS’s.

Nor is he listed on the on the club website’s Union 2 roster, but that document currently predates YSC Academy graduation and probably has an update pending. Now that MLS Next Cup is over perhaps a new roster will appear. 

Portella was an effective left center back against a tough Ocean City side that had pacey and athletic attackers. He was forced into several one-on-one tackles at the back, all of which he made cleanly and successfully. While Brandan Craig may be the defensive line’s passer of choice, Portella is effective  starting attacks with his left foot.

He fit in against Ocean City. The team with which he usually practices  is uncertain, but probably it is with the Union 2 for now. 2021 could be an acclimation year as much as it is an evaluation one.


Academy players playing with Union 2 since January


JAKE SPADAFORA, striker/midfielder, 17.0, (Michigan State)
IAN ABBEY, central midfielder, 17.2, (Rutgers)
JACK JASINSKI, Swiss Army knife, 17.6, (Princeton)
DANTE HUCKABY, defensive central midfielder, 18.3 (graduated Senior), (Louisville)
ANTON SORENSON, left back, 18.4, TBD

(Writer’s note: For the following two groups, players have been eligible to talk with college coaches only if old enough. No decision equals TBD. No listing means not yet eligible.)

Younger Academy players playing with Union 2 since June


NELSON PIERRE, striker, 16.3
BAJUNG DARBOE, striker/midfielder, 14.6


Academy players rostered to Union 2 with some game experience against lesser opposition:


JACKSON GILMAN, right back, 17.2. TBD
SAMUEL JONES, center back, 17.4, TBD
ANTHONY RAMIREZ, attacking central mid, 16.7
DIEGO LOPEZ, defensive center mid, 16.2
MARCELLO MAZZOLA, striker, 16.5
LOGAN OLIVER, right back, 16.2
MARCUS ZAMBRANO, striker, 16.4


Possibilities for late July and early August


While actual new homegrown contracts take effect only the next New Year’s Day, for the last several years homegrown pre-contracts  usually have been announced in late July and early August.

Only one graduated senior remained with Union 2 for the Ocean City game, left-footed center back and defensive center midfielder Dante Huckaby. He may be a candidate for such a pre-contract. Or he maybe getting get every word of development advice Marvin LeBlanc can give before he goes off to the University of Louisville. His left-footedness enhances his value.

With no Union 2 matches currently listed for July, we will not know whether Huckaby continues to appear with Union 2. The end of the month will tell whether he is NCAA bound or turning pro.

None of the other remaining players must yet choose between playing in college and playing for Union 2, since as academy enrollees they remain eligible to do both. 

Tangentially, we do not know whether Ernst Tanner would sign a player significantly younger than age 17. (Selmir Miscic was signed by Earnie Stewart.) Bajung Darboe’s recent successes will have made other organizations even more aware of him than they already were. The reinforced awareness may present the Sporting Director with an early decision about the 14.6-year-old.

10 Comments

  1. Larry Guengerich says:

    Very helpful updates. Thanks!

  2. soccerdad720 says:

    ok – i guess i’m interested — i just read all this — however – now I cannot find any info on union II – how to watch themplay specifically…union website is woefully inadequate. help

    • Tim Jones says:

      Dear SoccerDad720, You cannot find the information you seek because it is not known. I cannot find it either.
      .
      Everything stems from Union 2 not belonging to an organized league for the 2021 season.

      There is no comprehensive TV deal, there is nothing for TV to sign a deal with.
      .
      There is not a league to guarantee a set number of away and home games. Each match is a separate specific negotiation. I know that a specific individual in the totality of the organization’s front office has that task. What other tasks the person may have I do not know.
      .
      I think I know that everyone with whom they are trying to schedule a friendly has league obligations — at least in one case the obligations are to three separate leagues — that take priority over friendlies.
      .
      Then both sides have to make all the ancillary arrangements that go with conducting a match, transportation, venue, game officials, and in this day and age testing.
      .
      Since it is a friendly either side can opt out at any time for any reason.
      .
      Reportedly such opt outs have happened this season at least once.
      .
      To illustrate from another competition entirely, Cuba just forfeited to French Guyana in the first preliminary round of Concacaf’s Gold Cup. Concacaf’s statement on the matter mentioned Covid and visas.
      .
      Hope these details help.

      • soccerdad720 says:

        Thank you sir! first for the article and for the reply…. – so…how and where did YOU get all this information to write this article?

      • Forgive me soccerdad, but that’s kind of like asking a magician to show you how they do their tricks. I’ll give you my best guess in hopes it might be accurate enough that Tim might feel comfortable enough in not answering.
        .
        Tim has been around for a good while. He spends time around the teams, or did at least when Covid wasn’t a thing. He’s had the dog and pony show at the academy school. He’s asked questions, intelligently I might add which should be obvious from this piece alone. The Union have also hired from PSP’s ranks, and the Union know we are here.
        .
        All that was too say, even if Tim doesn’t have “press” credentials from doing his work for PSP, he has been seen by the organization for doing the work he does. I’m sure he has developed relationships with members of the organization and those in it’s orbit. He’s shown he can be judicial in what he puts pen too, i.e. not stating a youth players name until he comes of age or turns professional. And I’m sure the club wants to give the fans something. The last thing they want is the death of interest. Obviously this is all conjecture and wild deduction. The one thing I am sure of is that Tim put the work in to get the information.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        +1

  3. Tim Jones says:

    Soccer Dad asks an important question. I appreciate ALL4U’s contribution. He is not wrong.
    .
    But I should expand on it a little.
    .
    I am not about to violate the canons of journalism as I understand them and reveal sources. If I did they would no longer talk to me.
    .
    Mostly what I have done is to listen carefully for people who should know to articulate the underlying principles. Then, I watch carefully over time as those principles are applied, put into practice. And I make the same assumption that underlies most predictions in any field, that past behavior will continue barring a new factor intruding into the situation.
    .
    A very important point is that by academic training I am an historian, not a scientist. That matters because historians collect all the detail they can find and then draw conclusions, with the reminder to readers that new details previously unknown will change those conclusions. Scientists have to wait until they have statistically valid quantities of data before they can draw conclusions.
    .
    A scientist could not have written any of my various player development reports over the years.
    .
    To illustrate the difference, Samuel Eliot Morison, an extremely prominent US historian in the 30s and 40s, supervised the writing of a bookshelf-long , multivolume history of United States Naval Operations in WW2. His staffers wrote long before Allied possession of Germany’s Enigma coding machine and Alan Turing’s invention of the first photo-computer that could read its codes in real time was declassified. The Enigma story renders many of their inclusions about submarine warfare in the North Atlantic incomplete and suspect. If you ever use Morison, you have to remember that he knew nothing of Enigma.
    .
    Returning to my training, when an undergrad back in the earliest 1970s, I had an underlying interest in the Cold War and the Soviet Union. My major professor had previously worked for the CIA vary briefly before turning to academia, but was highly trained in the techniques necessary to do current history — when crucial government documents remain unavailable in other words — in general, and as regards Soviet history in particular.
    .
    So I have a background in teasing out tentative theories from the sparsest of data.
    .
    As All4U says, I have been watching Union player development at the professional level since June of 2016. Crucial in that observation was the weekly “media availability” aka conference call with Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke. 20 minutes of coach’s time added to never more than three writers on the call, often only me, meant the opportunity to ask 10 to 15 questions, not just the single one that writers get to ask when talking to Jim Curtin or Ernst Tanner.
    .
    Coach is an intelligent, honest man. He was a loyal organization member. He never told me anything he should not have. I respected his intelligence and the importance of the teaching he was doing by trying not to waste his time with my questions. Ten substantive questions a week within his ground rules over the course of three and a half seasons taught me a great deal.
    .
    but, a good deal of what I write about individual players is intelligent guessing, not official confirmed fact. I try to make that highly important point clear every time. I worry that readers may forget the point.
    .
    Last, being retired means I can spend a lot of time on the internet trying to track down this or that detail. And the internet is an amazing research tool.
    .
    A piece with which I remain quietly pleased I did in 2017 on travel times for all the sides then in USL. Plug the two destinations into Google Maps and you learn whether there are direct flights or not — there are not to Edinburgh, TX where Rio Grande Valley Toros live — and how long the shortest travel times may be. (RGV Toros have to fly to San Antonio or Dallas or Houston to connect to flights for all their away games.) Travel time is practice minutes lost.
    .
    And of course eyeballing players in person on the pitch is highly important. Videotape is better than not, but direct eye contact is superb. Both Nick Fishman and I knew within 30 seconds of watching him live for the first time that Olivier Mbaizo was unlikely to remain with Bethlehem, if all the other factors involved in promotion worked out.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Either that or you make things up as you go along and you have the magical ability to make what you suggest come true. If that’s the case, please say the Union will win CCL and MLS Cup. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Tim Jones says:

        LOL! I do not have either Harry Potter’s wand or his underlying powers. 😉
        .
        If I did, the Union would have more than two actual strikers for tonight’s match, to say nothing of an experienced right back and two experienced midfielders on the bench for tonight and the September and October international windows.
        .
        Oh, and Jack de Vries would be out of concussion protocol, as would Fontana!

    • Thanks for expanding with tact grace and a tad bit of guile Tim. As I hope it came across, my only intention was to help in what struck me as an awkward situation. Quite easily you proved that help was unnecessary, lol.
      .
      Tim I find what you do is a valuable resource to this site and the Union fandom community as a whole. Others may get the flashier assignments, but the nitty gritty of the “Union system” and the next player in the pipeline, is what I love most. Please know the hard work you put in is certainly appreciated by me. Thanks, can’t wait for the next one.

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