Commentary

A summary of Union II’s 2021 season

Photo tweeted by @MarlonLeBlanc4 10/10/21

Below we encapsulate what we know about Philadelphia Union II’s 2021 season in two parts. Our evidence that the season is over is a tweet from Marlon LeBlanc Saturday afternoon November 13. LeBlanc also tweeted video of the Jack Jasinski golazo that closed out the season with the win.

Part I: Conventional journalism

Two critical background facts governed Union II’s year. The first is unique to 2021. The second is annual, inherent in being connected to both the academic year and the soccer player development-and-evaluation process.

  • In 2021 Philadelphia Union II was NOT a member of a league of any kind, so each match had to be arranged on an ad hoc basis and the validity of second-team professional contracts was problematic.
  • A cycle of player departure and replacement occurs in late July when graduated Academy seniors leave and underclassmen rise up, and there are scheduled evaluative cameos throughout the season for many Academy players. Assuming the existence of conventional fixed rosters throughout a season would be inaccurate.
No League

Major League Soccer has announced that there will be an MLS “second-team” league for the 2022 season. Keystone Sports and Entertainment is counting on it as a primary player development tool to bridge the developmental gap between the Academy’s amateurs and the first-team’s professionals.

The new league was officially announced June 21, 2021. Further details were made official in November. PSP presented what it thinks it knew and guessed earlier during its season wrap-up activities.

A new “Development Squad”

The Union organization added a new team between Union II and the Academy U17s called the developmental squad. The developmental squad does not compete in MLS NEXT.

As Ernst Tanner articulated some years ago, the primary principle of development remains to find the serious professional prospects by age 17, but the cutoff is no longer absolute. Late bloomers now have a chance to flower, and Academy seniors will remain within the Academy’s social milieu while they continue to play soccer, even if it is not with the second team. The schoolhouse’s social structure will not fracture prematurely.

Given the powerful bonds of friendship the Academy develops, not being cast out allows it to remain an integrated, closely knit community. Creating brotherhood has always been a deliberate, primary characteristic of the school. That atmosphere matters because it is an attractive selling point to recruits.

2021

Here is everything PSP has gleaned about 2021’s Philadelphia Union II games, preseason and “regular season” friendlies. We apologize for not figuring out against whom the squad played on March 30 even though we think we know the score, and for not knowing who scored for Union II in the July 23 draw at Orlando and the May 18  4-0 shellacking of Real Central New Jersey. We did not think to record who scored during what we thought was going to be preseason, either.

All 24 match results

Day Date Opponent Score Goal Scorers
    Preseason “W” 3  “L” 2  
Tu 3/9 v West Chester United Scrim W 3-1
Su 3/14 v FC MotownScrim W 2-0
Su 3/21 v VE W 5-1
Sa 3/27 v Richmond Kickers L 0-4
Tu 3/30 ???? L 0-1
Friendlies W 12 L 5  D2
We 4/21 @ Hartford Athletic D 3-3 Jasinski, Stafford*, Sullivan
Su 4/25 v Loudon United W 4-2 Craig, Turner, Ramirez, trialist (Kingsford)*
Sa 5/1 @ Pittsburgh Riverhounds L 2-4 Jasinski, trialist (Kingsford)*
Sa 5/8 @ Loudon United L 2-0
Tu 5/18 v Real Central NJ W 4-0 ???? (4)
Fr 6/4 @ D. C. United W 2-0 Turner, McGlynn
Sa 6/19 v Ocean City Nor’easters L 2-1 Borgelin
Fr 7/9 @ Richmond Kickers W 3-0 McGlynn, Borgelin, Abbey
[Fr?] [7/23?] [@ Orlando City] [D 1-1] ????
[Mo] [8/2] [@ Chicago] [W 3-1] [Aaronson, Aaronson, Pierre]
Sa 8/14 v West Chester United W 3-1 Borgelin, Borgelin, Pierre
Th 9/9 @ FC Baltimore Christos W 2-1? Turner, Borgelin
Sa 9/25 @ Ft. Lauderdale FC L 4-3 Craig, Harriel, Harriel
[Su] [10/3] [v Columbus Crew] [W 6-0] [Jasinski (2), Zambrano (2), Medrano, Borgelin]
[Sa] [10/9] [@ Chicago] [W 3-1] [Borgelin (2), Darboe]
Mo 10/18 @ Academia Alemena W 3-1 Zambrano (2), Gilman
Tu 10/19 @ Deportivo Cali W 2-1 Jones, Ramirez
[Mo] [11/8] [v New York Red Bull 2] [L 2-1] [Jones]
[Sa] [11/13] [@ NYC FC 2] [W 1-0] [Jasinski]

Asterisked players* are no longer playing with the organization as of November 8, 2021. (Cole Turner returned from loan in November since he was ineligible for El Paso’s USLC playoff match having joined the squad too late to have played five times.)

The six matches that are italicized, “struck through” and [bracketed] are in no way officially acknowledged to have occurred but have been referenced conclusively on social media by trustworthy sources and also reported in various media by other observers.

Individual goal totals, “regular season friendlies”

Player #s Player #s Player #s
Ian Abbey 1 Nathan Harriel 2 Nelson Pierre 2
Paxten Aaronsen 2 Jack Jasinski 5 Anthony Ramirez 2
Shanyder Borgelin 8 Sam Jones 2 Caden Stafford 1
Brandan Craig 2 Trialist (Kingsford) 2 Quinn Sullivan 1
Bajung Darboe 1 Jack McGlynn 2 Cole Turner 3
Jackson Gilman 1 Gael Medrano 1 Marcos Zambrano 4
???? 5
A black hole

The three most fundamental statistics for player development discussion are total minutes played, appearances, and starts, and they simply do not exist.

Part II: What we think we know

To paraphrase the opening trailer of the cold war submarine adventure movie Hunt for Red October, according to all the individual clubs involved and MLS itself, “ … nothing of what you are about to [read] … ever happened.”

Last summer and this fall, the Philadelphia Union II almost completely disappeared from all forms of news media. Mentions on the club’s website disappeared until interrupted by mid-October’s Torneo Las Americas, and then they disappeared again. On Twitter the quantity of tweets shrank greatly. They came only from head coach Marlon LeBlanc. They were only an un-captioned pregame squad picture with assumed starters grouped together, the match result, and who scored for Union II. They were posted only after a match, so presumably only players and parents would be looking for them. And more than once there wasn’t even that much.

Player development still occurred, as Ernst Tanner recently indicated in his joint end-of-season press conference with Jim Curtin. But it happened in stealth mode. Few-to-no emissions reflected back to anyone’s radar screens.

“Dress rehearsal”

One guess is that Union II may perhaps have been participating in a pilot program for the announced and now somewhat detailed but still mysterious MLS second team league.

Why? The program’s purpose may have been to prove the quality of soccer available for current and future media contract negotiations. The ESPNs, the Fox channels, the Spanish-language networks, and who knows whom else might have refused to bid on an unknown product sight unseen, so – perhaps – a product was displayed for evaluation, but displayed only to them. LeBlanc may have been pushing the envelope as he tried to credit his boys for what they achieved.

The secrecy compares to any theater production’s dress rehearsals, from commercial Broadway to any local high school. Dress rehearsals are firmly closed against the public, particularly against those who publish reviews and write comments.

From roughly July 22 through November 13 other ad hoc MLS reserve sides played matches against Union II as we detail both above and below.  Other MLS first teams either hosted or were being hosted by Philadelphia’s, and some forms of second teams came along and played as well — unless a hurricane’s remnant happened to force rescheduling to the last match of the season.

These second-team league “dress rehearsals” that “never happened” are unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unofficial. No participant was allowed to be an official 2021 member of any recognized professional league, such as the United Soccer League’s Championship or League One, with two exceptions. (The suspicion is that the two exceptions may have occurred because the networks wanted to know how a former USL Championship club reflecting most of the new league’s principles — Union II — would match up against a current USL League One side — Ft. Lauderdale,  or against a  Championship club — New York Red Bull 2).

There may to have been seven or ten “dress rehearsal” matches originally imagined for the intended 15 weeks, but only six occurred. Without the formalities of official schedules and signed match contracts, “spit happens,” as the Philadelphia Daily News once headlined about something else entirely.

In most cases the visiting first team may have increased its travel party sufficiently to play a second game. The second match may sometimes have occurred the morning after the official varsity one, but not always.

The cost of one chartered plane would presumably be less than two separate ones even if the plane were bigger enough to seat the extra two dozen people. The cost-saving of consolidating travel likely covers both the extra meals and the extra day’s lodging. If the host club were to provide appropriate physical facilities for the visiting first team’s morning-after rehabilitation and recovery while the reserves were playing, the process would use time efficiently and preserve savings.

Our media contract guess

The guess is that the showcasing reflects that the United Soccer League has a streaming deal with ESPN+, and that leaving USL meant or means leaving those revenues behind for the 14 clubs that will have done so by 2023. Replacing the revenues might be attractive.

There is no evidence whatsoever to support the guess about future video streaming, only the logic of continuing that which has gone before.

But, from this vantage point, it is difficult to conceive of a different, equally cogent explanation for doing what allegedly has been done with the dress rehearsal program. Everybody knows that MLS has been closely focused on a comprehensive, more lucrative media rights deal for some time, as Commissioner Don Garber reminded us in his state of the league address prior to MLS Cup.

Secrecy

Secrecy surrounded the dress rehearsal project because MLS certainly was, and probably still is, interviewing and hiring most of the personnel who will run the new league next year. Only its two day-to-day bosses are known, President Charles Altchek and Senior Vice President of Competition and Operations Ali Curtis. None of their various staffs for communications, rules compliance, and record-keeping are yet announced as in place. Nor is anything about any alleged media-rights deal, to say nothing of all the people needed to implement one.

It is much easier to make necessary corrections and improvements outside the public eye. No expectations must be walked back or recast. No justifications need be given. Failures to carry out an announced plan’s details do not have to be explained away if no plan has ever been announced.

A further reason for secrecy last summer might have been to finesse U.S. Soccer’s requirements for Division 3 play, for example, broadcast-quality nighttime lighting in a 1,500-seat stadium. According to some visual backgrounds of video snippets on Twitter, Union II played matches on the practice fields at the Power Training Complex in daylight at some of the times in question. Demonstrating the soccer itself was the point, not broadcasting it.

Guessed, unconfirmed, “dress rehearsal” match data

The following unconfirmed, unofficial results of these “pilot program” matches were pieced together from tweets, sources, and assorted leaps of logical inference.

EST DATE TEAMS RESULT UNION II GOALS
Th, July 22 Phila Union II

@ Orlando City

D 1-1 unknown
Mo, Aug 2 Chicago Fire

@ Phila Union II

W 3-1 Aaronson (2), Pierre
Sa, Sept 25 Phila Union II

@ Ft. Lauderdale 

L 3-4 Harriel (2), Craig
Su, Oct 3 Columbus Crew

@ Phila Union II

W 6-0 Jasinski (2), Zambrano (2), Medrano, Borgelin
Sa, Oct 9 Phila Union II

@ Chicago

W 3-1 Borgelin (2), Darboe
Mo, Nov 8 NY RB II

@ Phila Union II

L 1-2 Jones
Fr, Nov 13 Phila Union II

@ NYC FC 2

W 1-0 Jasinski

Chart notes:

  • Home teams are boldfaced.
  • None of these matches has a solitary gram of official confirmation or acknowledgement.
  • We assume a single plane took the Union to Orlando, and Chicago and Columbus to Philadelphia. Union II must have flown separately to Ft. Lauderdale and Chicago.
  • Both the Ft. Lauderdale and Red Bull 2 results suggest that current League One and Championship sides can compete effectively against current MLS second-team league ones.

Below is an incomplete, unconfirmed list of Union II players with the club in mid-November who may have participated in “dress rehearsal,” either by playing or dressing. Two first-teamers, one current and one future, are included because they had never dressed for a first-team game before the health and safety protocol emergency for the conference final playoff game. They are asterisked. Other first-teamers sometimes played but were “playing down” for needed minutes as is conventional in the Union’s use of its farm team. Also, while Gino Portella and Shanyder Borgelin are professionals, they have never counted against the first team’s roster. They are double asterisked. All ages are as of 11/16/21.

 

Players

Pos Name Age
GK Andrew Rick 15.8
GK Ian Turnbull 17.5
GK Owen Moore 17.7
LB Anton Sorenson* 18.8
LCB Gino Portella** 20.7
RCB Brandan Craig* 17.6
CB Samuel Jones 17.8
CB Gavin Wetzel 15.2
CB Daniel Kreuger 15.9
RB Francis Westfield 15.9
RB Jackson Gilman 17.5
DCM Diego Lopez 16.6
RCM Jack Jasinski 18.0
LCM Bajung Darboe 15.0
ACM Ian Abbey 17.6
ACM Anthony Ramirez 17.1
S Shanyder Borgelin** 20.1
S Nelson Pierre 16.7
S Marcos Zambrano 16.8
S Gael Medrano 15.9

 

Players’ roles

Has dressed Has substituted Sometimes starts Usually starts
Daniel Krueger Jackson Gilman Brandan Craig
Gavin Wetzel Gael Medrano, Samuel Jones Anton Sorenson
Ian Turnbull, Anthony  Ramirez Shanyder Borgelin
Owen Gallagher Andrew Rick Gino Portella
Francis Westfield Nelson Pierre
Marcus Zambrano Diego Lopez
Jack Jasinski,
Ian Abbey
Bajung Darboe

The average age of this group on 11/16/21 was 17.2 years old, even with Craig, Sorenson, Portella and Borgelin.

3 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    To paraphrase, Captain First Rank Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius from same movie in accordance of ‘determining range’ … “Give me one ping please Vasily. One ping only,” I cannot help but still think of Cole Turner turning down a commissionng with The Naval Academy- for what has unfolded the last two years.
    .
    I hope he is content.
    .
    In other news, I cannot tell you how often I have argued with people who think there is no room for another leagues growth in this country simply becasue MLS has the primary TV deal. My contention is professional sport clamors for the TV money, but in the future TV will be secondary IMO. Sponsorship and viewership will be live-streamed. TV will be irrelevant. A relic. And not the sole means of existing. It is already happening and a league that boldly, carefully and thoughtfully positions itself will be able to benefit greatly. I sit and wait, patiently to see what becomes of USL.
    .
    Appreciate the content Tim. It is worthwhile.

  2. Nice to see the “II side” whupping up on MLS teams! As outlined above, thanks for the review – very interesting.

  3. I was definitely disappointed about the black hole that was Union II this year!
    .
    Thank you for culling all of this!!!!
    .
    I’m really hoping that they start playing open games in the stadium (or somewhere) next year – I want to be able to get excited about our prospects again

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