Philadelphia Union II

Friendly observations: Philadelphia Union II 1-2 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals

Photo: Ben Ross

A Philadelphia Union II equivalent to an excellent high school team salted with an overage ringer or two played a good National Premier Soccer League side at the Ukrainian American Sports Center in North Wales, PA on Sunday, June 5, falling 2-1 to the hosts after entering halftime scoreless.

No Union first-teamers travelled, so Union II played with 16 players. Two others who are not game fit travelled in support.

Union II’s primary purpose appears to have been to get game minutes for the squad members most in need of them. 17.6-year-old midfielder Anthony Ramirez got his first start of 2022, and 21.2-year-old left back Maike Villero made a double debut, both as a starter and as a left back. Villero had had 10 minutes as a flank mid earlier in Chicago. And 16.2-year-old goalkeeper Andrew Rick made his 2022 debut as a substitute at halftime.

The match

Ramirez started ahead of Jack Jasinski at right midfield, and striker Jose Riasco started ahead of Chris Donovan. Nelson Pierre started at striker ahead of Stefan Stojanovic, since Pierre is not yet 90-minute match ready while the man from Chi-town is.

Since the Union II midfield had never before played together in a match while three of the back four had extensively, the back four dominated Union II’s possessing and passing until the last twenty or so minutes of the match. The Ukrainian National midfield was better coordinated and controlled the middle third until that last phase.

Coach Marlon LeBlanc made adjustments at halftime. Andrew Rick subbed at that point, the first time Union II has voluntarily changed keepers during a match this season. Pierre had the Union’s best chance to date in the first five minutes, as the side’s trademark offensive burst out of the locker room almost produced a goal. But then the self-described “Ukies” punished two defensive mistakes in front of Rick for their two goals.

After the second punishment, LeBlanc swapped his teenage strikers for his 21-year-olds, and additionally Bajung Darboe joined with Jasinski into the midfield to replace Carlos Paternina and Ramirez.

After the Ukies began to sub, in the last 15 minutes Union II held the majority of possession, putting significant pressure on the slower Ukrainian Nationals back line as the match became more frenetically chaotic. But Union II did not manage to score until late in stoppage time, when Jack Jasinski out-sprinted his mark to punch a breakaway past the on-rushing keeper for a consolation goal.

Only in that last quarter of an hour did the superior conditioning to be expected of full professionals put the other side on their heels.

Union II resume play in MLS NEXT Pro Saturday, June 11 in York, Ontario, Canada against Toronto FC II, with kickoff at 8 p.m.


Jose Riasco has not yet learned how to play physically without fouling. His conditioning looked better, but it still has a ways to go. It seemed telling that when Stojanovic had to come off after trying to play through an injured lower leg, Pierre was the one to replace him. We know nothing of the seriousness or nature of the Stojanovic’s injury. (Writer’s note; In his post-publication Wednesday press availability, Coach LeBlanc indicated Stojanovic may be unavailable for longer than a day-to-day return.)

Chris Donovan’s defensive work as a striker in this match reminded this writer of Cory Burke back in the days when the Jamaican was Bethlehem’s fullback-eating direwolf. Donovan had clear pace and quickness advantages over his opponents. And the speed of his mental transitions was devastating.

Anthony Ramirez tends to dribble and take extra touches when in doubt. He needs more time working with his immediate neighbors to integrate better into Union II’s passing combinations on the flank.

Jackson Gilman was clearly expected to be the leader of the defense and the primary backline distributor. He seemed credible in that role at the collegiate level. Frank Westfield was workmanlike at right back. He did better offensively once he was joined my his more familiar flank partner Jasinski.

Maike Villero at left back had plenty of mistakes and plenty of room for improvement, but there are positives. He played the full 90. For this match his speed and quickness were elite, enough so that should they continue he may be one of Union II’s more important 2022 signings once he masters his tactical reads and responsibilities.

One versus one the Venezuelan was a shutdown defender. But reading and stifling combination play will be a topic for future discussion, study, and practice.

In the match’s last 15 minutes his offensive forays contributed meaningfully to the pro team’s late-game threat. If he learns all the position’s reads and reactions, he could end up in the first team in a year or two.

Towards the end of the first half keeper Brooks Thompson preserved the shutout with an excellent save.

Here is the Union II’s lineup for the friendly.

Union II (4-4-2 “narrow diamond” L-R): Brooks Thompson, (Andrew Rick, HT); Maike Villero, Jackson Gilman, Nathan Nkanji, Frank Westfield; Boubacar Diallo; Ian Abbey, Anthony Ramirez (Jack Jasinski, 57’), Carlos Paternina, (Bajung Darboe, 57’); Jose Riasco (Chris Donovan 57’), Nelson Pierre, (Stefan Stojanovic 57’, Nelson Pierre 80’). Unused substitutes: Zero. Distribution: 1st – 0, 2nd – 8, Am – 8. Injury rehabilitation: Juan Perdomo, Gino Portella.

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