MLS NEXT Pro Match Report

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 2-1 New York City FC II

Photo: Ben Ross

Late Saturday afternoon Philadelphia Union II hosted New York City FC II at Subaru Park, defeating the Citizens 2-1 in regulation to double their win total.

Brandan Craig had a three-part man-of-the-match performance.

In the 50th minute he served the corner kick that Chris Donovan shot into a New York defender, the rebound from which the Conestoga man then collected and scored. Next, in the 75th minute on a free kick from 25 yards outside and to the right of the New York penalty box’s “dee,” Craig took advantage of a poorly-positioned, insufficiently-manned wall and a keeper who had drifted too close to the far post to strike a laser into the near bottom corner himself.

Finally, in the first minute of stoppage time, after New York had begun heavily pressing the Union defense in the center of the pitch more than they had for the entire game, in the same sequence of play Craig saved two consecutive shots off the goal line . He said merely did what he practices every week on the second day before a first-team match. Since in the next minute New York actually scored, Craig’s goa;line successes saved Union II’s three points.

Postgame conversation with head coach Marlon LeBlanc confirmed that the underlying purpose of the match from Philadelphia’s perspective was to prepare first-team reserve midfielders Jack McGlynn, Paxton Aaronson. and Quinn Sullivan for the upcoming congestion in the first team’s schedule.  The trio had not had a full-length match for 20 days, ever since Union II played Columbus on April 10th.

Coach LeBlanc also said that the trio needed a full 90 minutes before the congestion, when the Union face LA FC in LA on Saturday, May 7, Orlando City in the Open Cup on Tuesday, May 10, and New York Red Bull at home on Saturday, May 14. They each got 60 minutes Saturday night, and were available on the bench for the first team in Nashville. (Unusually, the three left the pitch immediately after being subbed, and were showered, dressed, and organizing themselves for travel to Nashville as PSP was interviewing LeBlanc after the match.)

And in addition to all the backstory given above, the match itself was enjoyable well-played soccer between two well-matched sides, until stoppage time.

First half

The intensity and effectiveness of Union II’s high press and direct attacks on the “in-behind” green space took Gotham’s junior pigeons by surprise. It took the visitors about 20 minutes to adapt to the challenges the 4-4-2 narrow diamond presented to their own midfield trio. Left back Stephen Turnbull quickly discovered that with only two Philly strikers, he could range forward to help with the midfield battle, since most of the Union’s long-range passes were directed down the other outside channel or in the center. His colleagues in the defensive line were quite capable of suppressing Donovan and Nelson Pierre who was making his first professional start.

After 10 or 15 minutes of even back-and-forth play between minutes 20 and 35, Union II increased their intensity, and sent the invaders  back onto their heels again with counter pressure and long direct service.

New York’s clearly older side — several 20 or more and no visiting starter not a signed professional with either MLS or MLS NEXT Pro — was becoming visibly frustrated. They were dangerous only in the outside channels and their shots were only from long range, save for one close-in near disaster at the end of the half. Keeper Matt Freese had only one official first-half save, although several times his sure-eyed reading of the action in front of him prevented nascent danger from maturing.

The half ended scoreless.

Second half

The first 15 minutes of second half produced more of the same, aside from Donovan’s goal from the corner kick. and then the three Nashville-bound midfielders had to leave. Ian Abbey replaced Aaronson; Juan Perdomo, Sullivan; and Boubacar Diallo, McGlynn. For a few minutes Union II’s previously precise passing became sloppy, and then the new men began to mesh with the rest.

New York began to get more of the play. A goal in the 65th minute was disallowed for offside. And as the 70th approached Cole Turner was forced to execute a beautiful slide tackle inside the penalty area to head off a specific threat.

At the 70th New York themselves subbed off two first-teamers, noticeably pacey John Denis from one of their two more forward midfield slots. The early-20s more polished players were replaced by late teens, with predictable consequences. In the 75th came Craig’s game-winning free kick. And the teams began to trade breakaway chances.

Abbey began to assert himself as Union II’s attacking center midfielder and New York had to fend off some dangerous counter thrusts. Diallo was beaten for one such attempt, and promptly provided a beautiful service to Donovan’s head only to see it driven wide.

In the 85th Cole Turner messaged the rest of the league that they would do well not to anger him. His retaliatory foul earned its deserved yellow card but left the victim in pain on the ground, and younger Gotham hothead Massimo Murania who had subbed on in the 69th  proceeded to shove Turner directly in front of the ref, evening the yellow cards on the play.

In the 88th Nathan Nkanji went down for the second time with cramps and had to come off.

In consequence observers learned how effective Turner had been controlling the central channel as defensive center midfielder. The first-teamer from Churchville, Maryland had to drop to right center back for Nkanji, and the central channel opened up to New York.

Bajung Darboe (on for the cramping Nkanji), Abbey, and Diallo could not close the middle effectively. Craig produced the goal line heroics previously referenced, New York scored, and the final whistle blew.

As of Saturday night, Union II lie third in the Northeast division on goal difference. They are tied with Toronto and New England on points, but New England has yet to play its match on Sunday. Union II are fifth in the Eastern Conference, again with the caveat that the conference’s weekend schedule was not complete as of writing.

Union II next play Saturday, May 7 in Ft. Lauderdale at Inter Miami CF II. Kickoff is four hours before the first-team plays in Los Angeles against LAFC, so each team must rely on its own resources.

Three points
  1. Brandan Craig is not the only first team defender deserving of praise. Goalkeeper Matt Freese was error free accumulating most of his saves late in the second half. And Turner proved how important he was at defensive center mid by his absence.
  2. Nelson Pierre received his first professional start. When asked for comment on the start after the match, LeBlanc’s immediate single word was,”Chances!” He then explained that Pierre’s pace meant that New York had to deal with two threats to the green grass behind their high restraining line. And he pointed out that the 17.1-year-old matched muscles with defenders who were 20, 21, 23, and 24. Once Pierre increases his endurance and adds to his ability to read a center back’s bag of tricks, he should be formidable.
  3. Before tap-off, two match-ups seemed key: Union II’s young defensive line against New York’s older attack, and Union II’s two strikers against New York’s practiced, unchanging defenders. The second match-up was a wash because both Union II goals came on restarts. But the first one was a clear Union success that had LeBlanc displaying his signature proud grin afterwards. Two academy-amateur outside backs, ages 18.0 and 16.4, together with an  18.1 year-old first-team center back and his mate, an MLS NEXT Pro 20.6-year-old who was playing amateur club ball until mid-January came aces short of keeping a clean sheet.  Dimple-creating grin indeed!


Union II (4-4-2 “narrow diamond” L-R). Matt Freese ©; Jackson Gilman, Brandan Craig, Nathan Nkanji (Bajung Darboe, 90′), Frank Westfield; Jack McGlynn (Juan Perdomo, 60th), Cole Turner ; Quinn Sullivan (Boubacar Diallo, 60′), Paxten Aaronson ( Ian Abbey, 60′); Chris Donovan, Nelson Pierre (Stefan Stojanovic, 76′).Unused Substitutes: Brooks Thompson; Maike Villero, Carlos Paternina,   Jose Riasco. Distribution (Starters only): 1st – 6; U II Pro – 3, Ac/Am – 2.Distribution (Total): 1st – 6, U II Pro – 9, Ac/Am – 4. Call -up to US U20s: Anton Sorenson. Suspended: Jack Jasinski.

NYC FC II:  (4-3-3 L-R). Alex Rando; Steven Bednarsky, Nico Benalcazar, Samuel Owusu, Stephen Turnbull; John Denis (Francesco Di Ponzio, 69′), Piero Elias (Kenan Hot, 89′), Jack Beer; Jonathan Jimenez, El Mahdi Yousouffi (Massimo Murania, 69′) Kevin O’Toole. Unused SubstitutesDocumentation gives 16 players on NYC FC’s game day bench. Direct eye observation of warm-ups, halftime, and the match itself discovered only six, three of which were used and are identified above. Distribution (Starters only): 1st – 4; NYC FC II Pro – 7; Ac/Am – 0.


Union II      50th minute      Chris Donovan (officially unassisted)

Union II     75th minute       Brandan Craig (unassisted)

NYC FC II   90+1 minute     Stephen Turnbull (Kenan Hot)


Union II     55th minute      Jackson Gilman (foul)

Union II      63rd minute     Nelson Pierre (foul)

Union II      86th minute     Cole Turner (foul)

NYC FC II   86th minute     Massimo Murania (argument)


REF: Gary Gutierrez   AR1: Max Smith  AR2: Patrick Casey  4TH: Justin Saporito









Possession %









Duels Won



Shots on Goal



Tackles Won



Blocked Shots






Total Passes






Passing Accuracy %









Yellow Cards






Red Cards



  1. I thought the HG midfield of McGlynn-Aaronson-Sullivan looked really good and performed to the level I expected from them when they started together earlier in the season. Some real nice combinations from them. I really a silly Sullivan back heel flick that put Aaronson through once. McGlynn is also so fast on the ball, mentally, there were times I thought he was under to much pressure but he just always finds the right pass at the right time. I have really high hopes for them in the U20s in June.

    Pierre looked good, and while Donovan is scoring I think Pierres athleticism advantage over our other strikers is clear. He also understands the press better and our press is more effect with Pierre out there. I would also like to see Riasco’s time accelerated as I think there are backup minutes to be had at striker with the first team.

    Craig seems really good, not just the goals and assists but on defense he never seems to be caught out. Honestly in all the games I have seen anytime a CB is beat or makes a mistake it is Nkanji.

    • Tim Jones says:

      It will be interesting in the coming match against Miami because Shanyde Borgelin is strong as an ox and started for the junior herons this past weekend. He gave Craig some real challenges with his upper body last time they were in Miami.
      It will be a good opportunity to check Craig’s progress.

    • Tim Jones says:

      I would suggest more patience with Riasco.
      He is 18 years old only, turned so only a month or two ago. He is living on his own in a strange country without much command of the language at all.
      He is not the imposing athletic specimen that Olivier Mbaizo was when he arrived in exactly the same circumstances a few years ago.
      In Riasco’s 10 or so minutes in Chicago he was very tentative offensively, waited for a pass to reach him rather than going to collect it and so had it intercepted. He did recognize a Chicago threat and moved with some speed and decisiveness to try to help out.
      It is way, way, way too early to draw any conclusions. Let coach and his staff get to know the young man and begin to assess what he needs and how best to “unlock” him. Right now he is figuring out where things are and who the people are around him.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    When the three kids were taken off in the 60th minute and they started walking to the locker room I yelled down asking if they had a plane to Nashville to catch. In return I received a distinct nod from Sullivan, so it was not surprising they were all gone by the end of the match.
    Given that their next game is in Miami 3 days before the Open Cup game in Orlando, I’m thinking it probably makes sense to bring Turner, Craig, and Freese at the very least and have them play in the Open Cup.

    • Tim Jones says:

      Turner and Craig I expect. Freese would be a bonus. They took the risk for the Nashville match. Whether they do it again for LA FC I cannot guess.
      They have to develop Brooks Thompson, after all. By their philosophy that development is more important than winning.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Even if Freese is on the bench in LAFC, it still makes sense for him to play in the Open Cup and give Blake a rest.
        Playing Freese with Union II and putting Bendik on the bench for the Union helps with Freese’s development and getting him the work he needs.

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