MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 0-1 Columbus Crew 2

Photo: Ben Ross

Columbus Crew 2 defeated Philadelphia Union II 1-0 Sunday evening at Subaru Park in Chester.

Union II’s starting lineup reminded everyone that the team’s first purpose is to provide the first team with whatever it needs. Nine first-team reserves started, along with one U II pro at striker and one Academy amateur at right back.

The match’s only goal was scored in the 56th minute by Crew 2 striker Jacen Russell-Rowe off a cross from Columbus first-team U22 initiative international Alexandru Matan. Matan defeated Union II right back Jackson Gilman on the dribble from the corner and lofted a cross over Matt Freese’s reach to the back post, where Russell-Rowe headed it home. Gilman was the lone Academy amateur to start the match for Union II, and this was the second time that the 22 year-old Romanian attacking midfielder had deliberately attacked him 1v1. The first time Russell-Rowe missed a header from on the goal line that would have been called offside had he scored it.

Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois probably targeted his most skilled dribbler against Union II’s most inexperienced defender at halftime.

Courtois should be complimented for showing his side how to win what was an otherwise stalemated match. Union II did not have a similar first-team offensive asset to reply on its behalf. Without Matan’s individual effort in the left offensive channel the match was headed for a draw and MLS NEXT Pro’s penalty kicks.

From the Union’s point of view, the stalemate highlighted the subtleties of playing the high pressing, pressure absorbing 4-4-2 “narrow diamond.” To make the system work you must have strikers with sufficient pace, strength and technique to get into the green space behind the opponent’s restraining line.

Would that Union II inaugural professional signing Nelson Pierre had been available as he has the pace to get in behind.

As well described in a postgame interview with Union II right center back Brandan Craig, the nine first-teamers who started for head coach Marlon LeBlanc were trying to play the first team’s style, no surprise since that’s what they practice every day under Jim Curtin. They often forced Columbus into what amounted to a bunker in Columbus’s defensive third when they could not connect on long balls behind the Crew 2 defense. But they lacked the explosive pace to separate from defenders on those long ball opportunities, and their style of play does not emphasize the technical virtuosity often needed to break down a bunker.

When LeBlanc brought on his U II Pro and academy amateur subs in the 67th minute and particularly after the 78th, Union II’s play lost the cohesion Craig described. But there was pace to threaten the Columbus defense, especially Ian Abbey’s.

Halftime sub Chris Donovan actually went around on-rushing Crew 2 keeper Brady Scott in the box in the 80th minute, but was prevented from shooting at the open net by an excellent tackle from substitute defender Jordan Morris. It was Union II’s best chance to equalize.

LeBlanc was pleased after the match with how well his side limited the danger from Crew 2. 618 passes from the Ohioans produced only six total shots, three on goal.  The numbers of tackles won and clearances (see boxscore below) reinforce his point that actual Columbus opportunities were few.

LeBlanc twice credited Columbus with doing what they do very well, as their first-team did against the Union itself Saturday night.

The match illustrated the coach’s point that from a developmental perspective spending a game executing a system the way it is supposed to be executed, gaining experience doing that, is a success even if the result on the scoreboard is not. It should be noted that coach’s visual affect was not happy as his brain articulated that developmental truth. He wants to win as much as anybody from Philadelphia. He understands that winning is not his primary job.

The Canadians’ raid on Dieppe in 1942 was the opposite of a success in Europe in 1942. But the lessons learned were invaluable to the successes on June 6, 1944 at Gold, Sword, and Omaha beaches.

Crew 2 has now won two consecutive road games, beginning to suggest that may be a formidable side in MLS NEXT Pro’s Central Division of the Eastern Conference.

Union II do not play again for 14 days. They visit SeatGeek Stadium Sunday, April 24th at 7 p.m, to play Chicago Fire II.

Three points:
  1. From Union II’s perspective, the match ached for Nelson Pierre’s explosive pace, but Pierre was not dressed. He may be with the U17s at the Generation Adidas cup. Bajung Darboe is probably with him, we suspect.
  2. The match highlighted the continued absence of 18-year-old Venezuelan striker Jose Riasco who remains in P1 visa limbo.
  3. The total number of passes recorded for the match is extraordinary. It is only six short of a round 1,100. There were 618 for Columbus and 476 for Union II. Former Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke always had a goal that the Steel get beyond 400 passes a game in his more possession-oriented style of play.


 Union II: (4-4-2 “narrow diamond,” L-R) Matt Freese; Matt Real, Stuart Findlay, Brandan Craig, Jackson Gilman; Jack McGlynn (Boubacar Diallo, 78′), Cole Turner; Jesus Bueno (Juan Perdomo, 66′); Paxten Aaronson (Ian Abbey, 78′); Quinn Sullivan (Carlos Paternina, 66′), Stefan Stojanovic (Chris Donovan, HT). Substitutes: Brooks Thompson, Damian Alguera; Nathan Nkanji, Jack Jasinsiki.  Distribution: 1st Team – 9; U II Pro – 6; Acad – 5.

Crew 2: (3-4-3, L-R): Brady Scott*; Josh Wiliams (Jordan Morris, 67′), Philip Quinton, Mohammed Farsi; Will Sands (Coleman Gannon, 82′), Aidan Morris* (Issac Angking, 66′), Sean Zawadzki*, Abdi Mohammed; Alexandru Matan (Michael Vang,, 74′), Jacen Russell-Rowe, Marco Micaletto (Noah Fuson, 67′). Substitutes: Stephan Yerlan; Quinton ElliottU19,  Jordan Knight; Michael Vang, Coleman Gannon. Distribution: 1st Team – 7; Crew 2 Pro – 10; U19 – 2.


Crew 2       56th      Jacen Russell-Rowe (Alexandru Matan)


15:55     Union II     Jesus Bueno (foul)

!8:19      Crew 2.     Aidan Morris (foul)

87:50     Union II     Carlos Paternina (foul)


Union II

Crew 2


Possession %




Shots on goal


Blocked shots


Total passes


Passing accuracy %








Duels won


Tackles won








Yellow cards


Red Cards


Whistle: Ref: Alyssa Nichols     AR1: Ian Mangione    AR2: Jacob Little     4TH: Robert Cordrey


  1. Other than the goal (though Matan played on Saturday night against the first team and actually looked good I thought, so it was a huge task for a 16 year old Academy player to try to defend him), I thought Gillman looked solid at RB.

    Aaronson has been off to start the year imo. He has held on to the ball too long and has been stripped off possession too much.

    I agree overall the press performed well.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Given that it was primarily the Union bench playing and the lack of scoring chances it is definitely worrying if some of the Union starters get hurt. Agree with James that Aaronson has not looked sharp.
    We probably won’t see this many first team players for quite awhile since the next time they are in the same city as the first team is Monday, May 16 when the first team plays on both May 14 and May 18 at home.

  3. Since “going to press,” I have learned that Pierre was in fact at the GA Cup.
    As per Travis Clark on MLS’s website, “Philadelphia Union II signee Nelson Pierre scored the lone goal of the game for the Union Under-17 squad in a 1-0 victory over Weston FC.”

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