The status of the Homegrown pipeline

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

In a normal year PSP’s managing editor(s) suggest to the writer(s) who had been covering the second team that they review that roster and identify who might be ready to move up.

The 2021 Philadelphia Union II season has not been normal for several reasons. They have not been in a recognized league with a video streaming contract and official statistics. Instead they played an entirely ad hoc “friendly” schedule. And towards season’s end they seemed to be under an apparent news blackout, judging by the absence of new information about them on the club’s website.

We will try to provide the customary roster analysis anyway based on the limited, unofficial data we think we have.

Five names, plus one

When we discussed the roster build for 2022 a few weeks ago, we first presented the information below but in less concentrated, specific fashion.

Brandan Craig is already a signed Homegrown. He is 17.7 years old. We suspect he was signed last year to pre-empt interested clubs elsewhere from intervening. He started every Union II game in 2021, and practiced everyday with the first team. He was Union II’s captain and their free kick specialist, taking all corners and other kicked restarts. In person he seemed physically more mature as of Halloween than he had been earlier this summer when seen on the pitch by the Delaware in Chester. although the December 8 roster announcement still calls him a midfielder, Jim Curtin has commented publicly that he is a center back, a modern one with the commensurate offensive skills required by the latest trends in the game. We expect him to be fifth on the center back depth chart next February, but fourth by next September, in the same fashion that Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, and Nathan Harriel have moved up the charts this season. The criticism we have of his game is that he has the foot speed of an antelope (like Jack Elliott) but not that of a cheetah (like Mark McKenzie).

Anton Sorenson is also an already signed Homegrown, but unlike Craig the young left back has not yet been officially announced. All the unofficial indicators suggest he was signed in the middle of last summer, including his extreme hardship call-up to the first-team’s roster for the playoff Conference Final against NYC FC. He is 18.9 years old. He played almost every Union II game this season, having missed only against weak teams when head coach Marlon LeBlanc chose to given the opportunity to others. He is physically small for an Ernst Tanner prospect, but has done well against opponents of greater stature. He is a cheetah not an antelope. The two or three times PSP has seen him play he has been aggressive offensively, so his pace has helped his recovery into the defense. If one or the other of Alvas Powell and Matt Real returns to the first team, Sorenson will be the fifth outside back on the roster next February, as Harriel was at the beginning of  2021.

The next three players are not the certainties to make the first team that the two above already are.

Nelson Pierre is a 16.7-year-old Academy striker. After the annual mid-summer transition to the Union II’s roster, he started consistently as one of LeBlanc’s two strikers. He has spent several years playing for the Academy so knows a striker’s defensive responsibilities well. That is a prerequisite for playing for Jim Curtin. We have never seen ankle-breaking individual technical skill from him, but have seen intelligent runs and a knack for poaching. Whether he can learn to execute the rest of a striker’s offensive attributes at the first team level will only be discovered by trying, and for strikers we have already seen that Ernst Tanner is willing to try.

Marcus Zambrano is also an Academy striker, 16.9-year old in his case. He is from Ecuador, but has been in the union’s academy for well more than a year. He might qualify as an international homegrown since he mad an appearance in 2020 for Union II when he was 15. He has been third on coach LeBlanc’s striker depth chart behind Shanyder Borgelin and Pierre, but stepped in impressively in Colombia in the U19 tournament when Borgelin was ineligible. Our suspicion is that he may be more advanced offensively than Pierre, but has less experience with the defensive demands of the systems Union II uses. Since mid-summer he has been consistently substituted into matches and has accumulated four goals, third on the team.

Anthony Ramirez is a 17.1-year-old Academy attacking center midfielder. His chances at a homegrown opportunity in 2022 will depend on how much turnover Ernst Tanner creates in the first-team’s midfield and how often Jim Curtin intends to use the Christmas tree formation. If Jamiro Monteiro and Anthony Fontana leave, there will be no clear attacking center midfield depth behind Daníel Gazdag and Aaronson in the Christmas tree. Both McGlynn and Craig could probably play there in an emergency, but neither is a true ACM. Ramirez has started often for coach LeBlanc, but not with the same frequency as the others on this list. We are handicapped by having no Union II player availability reports this season. He scored against Deportivo Cali in Colombia with a cannon shot from wide, distinctly outside the area, not a usual Union II goal recently.

Shanyder Borgelin is the additional player indicated in the heading to this section, and his advanced age when compared to the five players listed above is the reason he is categorized differently. He is 20.1 and a striker. He signed with Bethlehem Steel FC during 2019, but spent almost the entire 2020 season injured with broken foot suffered in the first half of the season opener. He has worked hard to improve his athleticism. But he is not a threat to expose open space behind a defense. He has become more effective in executing a striker’s defensive responsibilities this season. And of the goal scorers and goals we know about, he leads Union II with eight.  He is closer to Cory Burke and Kacper Przybylko as a player than he is to Sergio Santos.

Judging by past behavior with other players (and his recent comments to Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer about pursuing another striker), if Ernst Tanner had seen a first-team striker in Borgelin, he would have already signed him as a homegrown. He seems more like a player the Sporting Director wants to sell to recoup some value rather than a serious Union prospect. But the position’s depth chart is thin, and only twelve players can be protected  against Charlotte in the expansion draft.

Appendix: The developmental pipeline

We classify the two professional rosters into four categories: “has dressed but not appeared,” “has substituted but never started,” “has sometimes started,” and “has usually or always started.”

For Union II there is no official statistical data beyond names, dates of birth (and therefore ages), positions, and roster status. so populating those four categories  is a “seat-of-the-pants” judgment based on the unofficial data we have published earlier. Our best judgment of primary position is indicated by the superscript initials immediately following the player’s family name.

In addition to the 17 players listed on Union II’s roster on the website, we list 20.7-year-old professional Gino Portella , 15.9-year-old academy amateur Daniel Krueger, and 15.2-year-old academy amateur Gavin Wetzel all of whom are center backs. We omit Selmir Miscic who has been on loan to North Carolina FC of USL League One all season and add Brandan Craig who has played every Union II game,  always as captain (except for the first half of one early match when it was Aurelien Collin to encourage Staurt Findlay and Alvas Powell to take the second-team game seriously, which they did).

Union II, recently

Dresses Has substituted Some starts Usually starts
Daniel KruegerCB, Gael MedranoS, Jackson GilmanRB Brandan CraigRCB
Gavin WetzelCB Samuel JonesRCB Anton SorensonLB
Ian TurnbullGK, Anthony RamirezACM Shanyder BorgelinS,
Owen GallagherGK Andrew RickGK Gino PortellaLCB,
Francis WestfieldRB Nelson PierreS,
Marcus ZambranoS, Jack JasinskiRCM,
Diego LopezDCM, Ian AbbeyACM,
Bajung DarboeLCM,
Damian AlgueraGK



Never played Substitutes Some starts Usually starts
Aurelien CollinCB Jesus BuenoM Nathan HarrielRB, Daniel GazdagACM
[Greg RanjitsinghGK] Matheus DavoS Paxten AaronsonACM Leon FlachLCM
IlsinhoRAM Stuart FindlayLCB Jack ElliottRCB
Matt FreeseGK Alejandro BedoyaRCM
Joe BendikGK Jakob GlesnesRB
Anthony FontanaM Kai WagnerLB
Matt RealLB Kacper PrzybylkoS
Quinn SullivanRCM Sergio SantosS
Jack McGlynnLCM Cory BurkeS
Alvas PowellRB Olivier MbaizoRB
Andre BlakeGK
Jose MartinezDCM
Jameiro MonteiroLCM

General errata

Greg Ranjitsingh is currently not rostered with the Union, he is now an MLS pool reserve goalkeeper. He was still training with the Union, has returned to them after having been borrowed by Orlando, and was in the team photo that was given to every fan at the final home game of the season Halloween night. That the Union exercised an option for Joe Bendik December 8 indicates Ranjitsingh is firmly in fourth position on the depth chart.

Brandan Craig is rostered to the Union but the club all season has behaved as though he were on an unrecallable loan to Union II.

The club continued to honor Shanyder Borgelin’s old contract with Union II even though legally it is probably no longer valid since the Union II did not belong to a recognized professional league in 2021.

Gino Portella and the club behaved as though he were signed to Union II as a professional this season, despite the legal uncertainties inherent in Union II’s lack of membership in a professional league.

Jack de Vries, Matej Oravec are currently loaned out away from the club and so are no longer included above.

Cole Turner returned after El Paso made the playoffs, since he was not eligible to play, and dressed for the conference final against NYC FC as a depth piece. His option has been exercised for 2022, probably to prevent other clubs from waiting till January 1, 2022 to sign him for free.

As a final note another developmental team was was added to the Union’s array late in the summer. The Developmental Squad allows academy upperclassmen to keep playing soccer within the academy structure while maintaining the group’s social cohesiveness as they complete high school. They were coached by Fred da Silva and did not play within MLS Next. They played an ad hoc schedule of friendlies, and provided depth for the fire-shortened trip to Colombia to play in the U-19 level of the Torneo las Americas.


  1. If you are enough of a Union fan to have read the article above that was written a few days ago, you will be interested in Jonathan Tannenwald’s summary of Tanner’s and Curtin’s joint end-of-season press conference.
    The comments at the end about the youth academy bear on what I wrote above.
    Since there is a 5 player limit on the number of academy amateur’s that may be on the field at any one time in MLS NEXT Pro next season, and since every club must have 13 signed professionals (first-team + second team) some of the players I discussed above could be signed to professional contracts with the second team. That’s how Matt Real and Olivier Mbaizo began, with Bethlehem Steel FC before moving up the Union.
    here’s the URL.
    there are ;links on twitter via @thegoalkeeper.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Yeah thanks for the article, saw a summary of the press conference and didn’t really hear any bad news of any kind. Things certainly looking up for next year.

  2. I still want Union management to explain to season ticket holders how COVID protocols were so lax, 11 players got sick all at once… at the most important time in our Club’s history.

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