Analysis / Philadelphia Union II

Midseason Union II roster review, part two: The first-teamers

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Ever since Philly Soccer Page began covering Keystone Sports and Entertainment’s professional-level developmental soccer team, it has reviewed the team’s roster at “midseason.”

To create individual 20-person game-day rosters, the team draws players from three sources.

  1. First team professionals. These practice with the first team daily but come down to receive game minutes with Union II.
  2. Second-team professionals. Union II contracts.
  3. Amateurs. Union Academy U17s and Union Developmental Squad players who play and practice exclusively or primarily with Union II on so-called zero-dollar contracts that preserve their amateur standing for future NCAA play.
First Team




Anton Sorenson




Cole Turner




Brandan Craig




Matt Freese




Jesus Bueno




Jack McGlynn




Paxten Aaronson




Quinn Sullivan




Matt Real




Stuart Findlay




Joe Bendik 1 33.1 GK

Ages as of 5/31/22. Games as of 5/31/22

The total project has been subdivided accordingly. The amateur portion was published May 25th. The second-team portion lies ahead.

1st teamers

Eight of these eleven are Homegrowns. Two are internationals. And there is an American goalkeeper.

For most Union II provides  a pathway towards first-team starting minutes. For all it maintains or restores both conditioning and game sharpness.

When Anton Sorenson is healthy and available, the first team homegrown starts at left back. PSP believes he is loaned down from the first team for the entire year, and Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc has said he often gets his practice minutes with Union II.

Sorenson is fast and mentally tough. He is not shortness challenged like poor Jack Elliott, so he needs more physical strength in his upper body to overcome his stature’s lack of leverage. The point was illustrated first against Cincinnati and more recently against Orlando and New England.

He has pace sufficient to contest every outside channel attacker he has faced this season. No one has smoked him for speed.

Ernst Tanner wants him to learn judgment and discrimination in using his  offensive aggressiveness. In the first Miami match against Romeo Beckham, the pedagogy was “sink or swim.” Beckham enjoyed meaningful successes until an injured Sorenson had to come off. Sorenson then missed matches while called into a USMNT U20 camp. The judgments Tanner wants are improving. The improvement needs to be reinforced by repetition.

Rochester’s stoppage-time goal suggests Sorenson may still also need end-of-game engine building.

Defensive center mid and sometime captain Cole Turner is not Jose Martinez. But he has become a credible two-way DM, either by himself at the base of the narrow diamond or occasionally in the empty bucket’s double pivot. At the MLS NEXT Pro level, he is solidly effective. This year, consistently, he has been instinctive with instantaneous transitions to the attack from all over his patch. He is now a bona fide two-way DM, a statement that could not have been made in previous years.

He had played every minute for Union II until the Orlando match. And he has played every one since. (Bueno got a needed DM tune-up in the Orlando match.) There are no current, comparable alternatives to him within the second team or the academy, as illustrated by NYC FC’s stoppage time goal from the central channel when Turner had stepped into the back line at the end for the cramping Nathan Nkanji. A Gino Portella return from injury later this summer would allow Brandan Craig to push forward to DM in an emergency situation.

A competent DM is the “without that, none” of the 4-4-2 narrow diamond. For the rest of the system to work and therefore develop its other players, Turner has to be there. By no means is he James Chambers. But this year he is playing the Bethlehem captain’s old role.

Brandan Craig was in Argentina for the Cincinnati game (as were Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson, and Quinn Sullivan below).

The first Miami match illustrated two aspects of Craig well. First, it showed why the Union want to develop him as a center back. He had two assists: one from serving a corner and one from play. Second, it showed what he must improve before he can join the first team’s defense. He is an intelligent young man and already articulates what he must improve.

Miami striker Shaan Hundal was more rugged physically and half a step quicker with his moves. At least twice Craig went to ground for a tackle but missed. Substitute striker Shanyder Borgelin was even more rugged than Hundal but not quite as fast. Once he simply shouldered Craig off the ball to create a chance. Craig’s engine was spent by the end of the match, so much so that his coach left the team’s free kick shooter off the penalty kick shootout list.

In Union II’s second visit to Ft. Lauderdale a month later Craig’s performance was better, in part because his usual partner Nathan Nkanji marked Borgelin man-for-man all over the pitch and out of the game.

Craig started at right center back against Columbus since Union left center back Stuart Findlay plays on the left. Craig remained the preferred choice to serve the long passes that probed the space behind Columbus’s restraining line.

Craig has only begun learning center back within the last three seasons, so game minutes are his highest priority. If all goes well, in future years Craig will understudy Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes.

Young players can be like rollercoasters. Experience helps them grow beyond it. Game experience is why Union II exists.

As discussed in PSP’s match report, Craig was man of the match in the home win over New York City FC II.  Against Rochester he gave up the game-sealing penalty kick with an unneeded lunge half-a minute after Rochester had suffered a red card. LeBlanc is confident that he has learned that at a moment of high emotion for all three participating groups, both teams and the referee, playing with careful restraint is especially needful.

So far this season the three discussed above have gotten game minutes only with Union II.

As the number two first-team keeper should, Matt Freese has played almost flawlessly behind a Union II defensive line that is growing furiously in experience, aging fast, and will acquire central defender Portella rehabilitated from the injured list later this summer.

When Freese has appeared, he has captained both the defense and the side. His ability to both carry out his own responsibilities and provide guidance for the entire squad seemed essential early in the season and continues to be quite important.

In the first Miami game in Ft. Lauderdale, Tuesday, April 5th, Freese was PSP’s man of the match. He had help from the goal posts more than once, but he kept his younger, heat-enervated side alive until the 74th minute when Miami finally broke through. With a lesser goalie Miami would have won easily in regulation. In the shootout his save of Miami’s fifth attempt set up Turner’s shoot-out winner.

Against Orlando he perfectly judged and executed a save on a well-struck ball placed in any goal-keeper’s weakest spot, thigh high inside arm’s length. It is too close for a dive, and can be too fast for shifting feet as this shot was. It can be only stopped by a vertical drop. His execution thereof kept Orlando’s score sheet clean.

As a Union II player Jesus Bueno first appeared in the right midfield channel.  That reflects a need for him to make the necessary defensive and offensive cues instinctive rather than thoughtful. More recently he needed a game as a single-pivot defensive center mid to stay -game-sharp at his primary position. In that sharpener he helped produce the Orlando clean sheet.

Against Miami in April Jack McGlynn played the left vertex of the defensive midfield double pivot next to Turner protecting the center backs. Miami’s displayed threat-level led him to judge, correctly, that offensive circumspection was necessary from him.

McGlynn’s professional mentality, technique, and soccer IQ are not in question. When evaluating him for potential starter minutes with the first team, instantaneous field coverage and top-end pace may be. As it used to be in the USL Championship, McGlynn’s play at the MLS NEXT Pro level is often dominant.

Against Miami in April Paxten Aaronson scored the first-half stoppage-time equalizer from Craig’s corner kick service, and he was all over the midfield defending against their attacks the entire game. He scored the game-winner early in the second half against Orlando off a rebound from his own initial shot six minutes after he had come on.

He also played against Columbus and NYC FC II.  The 4-4-2 narrow diamond’s attacking style does not always emphasize individual technical skill, which may sometimes mask his ability to contribute on offense. He still has to extend his physical endurance at maximum speed.

He seems to impact matches early but then loses the razor-like hone from his edge. Only game minutes can develop his ability to keep that edge longer and he has gotten some against NYC FC II and Orlando B. They may have led to his recent first first-team start of the season.

The Orlando B match illustrates unmistakably that Aaronson has future competition at attacking midfielder. Bajung Darboe started ahead of him, in part because Aaronson’s legs were being preserved for a first-team match two days later. Perhaps later this season we may see a Union II midfield of McGlynn at DM, Aaronson at LM, Quinn Sullivan at RM, and Darboe at AM. McGlynn would be the “old man methuselah” in the group.

 Quinn Sullivan has thrice reprised his 2020 and 2021 Union II appearances, He did so against Columbus, NYC FC, and Orlando.

Like his fellow first-team reserve midfield homegrowns, Sullivan has needed game minutes to maintain sharpness and conditioning. Against Columbus he was deputizing for Union II inaugural signing Nelson Pierre who was away scoring the match winner that day for the U17s in Texas in their first match at the Generation Adidas Cup.

Sullivan should be an inspiration to any young boy who is small-statured as a young teen, because the “little shrimp” who was “playing up” with the U15s a few years ago now stands about six feet tall and is a “put-together” physical specimen who Jim Curtin said “destroyed” the beep test conditioning evaluation on the first day of official first-team preseason practice.

As a striker Sullivan does not easily create separation, either through pace or technique. He is confident in his shot when he finds it.

His future first-team role was well anticipated when he stepped in for Alejandro Bedoya against Charlotte as one of the 8’s in the narrow diamond. That role’s future likelihood was reinforced in the MLS NEXT Pro game against Orlando when the combination of McGlynn and Sullivan on the flanks confined the purple lion cubs’ possession advantage to their own defensive half for the first 45 minutes. Possession is of value only if it leads to crossing midfield.

It should be no surprise that Matt Real locked down his outside defensive channel when he has appeared for Union II. He has made up the numbers when either Anton Sorenson or Brandan Craig has not been available.

Stuart Findlay made his inaugural — and only — Union II appearance against Columbus. He accurately read the game’s flow to make correct offensive forays forward. He ended one such by asking for head ball service on the edge of the box. The game minutes prepared him for his role in the Open Cup match in Orlando, as is Union II’s purpose.

Columbus produced little offensive success against Findlay in either the central or outside left defensive channels, not a surprise given he is a razor-blade edge away from starting for one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer. If only he had seen the striker behind him at the back post who headed home the game-winning chip from Columbus’s $425k U-22 initiative winger Alexandru Matan.

Goalkeeper is the one position for which play in an MLS NEXT Pro match does not affect availability for an MLS match the next day. If only for Friday practice before the first team’s match Saturday evening match, Joe Bendik was needed in New England Memorial Day weekend. So after the practice — we assume — he started for Union II to get some game minutes. He had practiced with them the previous Tuesday during a first-team day off. For the Union organization the Revs II game was his debut at that level.

One Comment

  1. Really making us wait about Riasco…… SMILE.

    Many friends in Hamilton, Dayton a d Cincy from college near Lima. (like the bean).

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