MLS NEXT Pro Match Report

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 0-5 New York City FC II

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

New York City FC II soundly thrashed an undermanned Philadelphia Union II side Monday evening at Subaru Park 5-0.

Union II played the match with only 13 field players. Since the first team plays Wednesday evening in Chicago (only the third day after Sunday’s win against NYC’s first team) only four first-team reserves were made available. And two of those were subbed off after an hour, perhaps so they will be fresh enough to be useful if called upon in the Windy City.

It was Union II’s worst defeat since the summer and fall of 2020 in the USL Championship when they regularly lost by comparable differentials.

Anticipations

Each side playing the day after its respective first-team might have meant reinforcements were possible. But each first-team plays away Wednesday evening June 29th on short rest, creating open questions for both about squad rotation. New York is deep enough to manage, but in late June 2022 Philadelphia is not.

Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn, Paxton Aaronson, and Brandan Craig remained unavailable since they will play tonight, Tuesday, June 28th, with the US U-20s in Honduras. Also, Jim Curtin has explained, Sergio Santos is away in Chile seeking his green card. And Jesus Bueno’s absence from Curtin’s short Sunday bench  probably means he is injured, although as a first-teamer he probably would not have been available to Union II in any case. And compounding the problem Carlos Paternina was suspended for yellow card accumulation, having gotten his fifth mustard packet in last Saturday’s draw against Chicago II.

Union II pro striker Nelson Pierre went to Dallas where the U17s MLS NEXT Cup 32-team tournament started Sunday. Regular season MLS NEXT Pro game minutes are developmentally more valuable than regular season U17 ones, but MLS NEXT Cup provides the learning crucible of a single elimination knockout tournament with meaningful silverware at its end. The other two U17-eligible Academy amateurs stayed home, attacking midfielder Bajung Darboe and right back Frank Westfield.

For New York City FC II, its U17s also remain alive in MLS NEXT Cup’s single elimination bracket and they have no one with the U20s in Honduras.

The reserve pigeons score lots of goals and  play in the style of their first team, primarily emphasizing possession and building out of the back rather than playing as directly as do Union teams. While their program provides a demarcated pathway from earliest youth levels to the pros much like that of Philadelphia, their overall roster is less committed to actual teenagers than is Philly ‘s.

Players under 20
NYC FC II (27) Union II (31)
Keep 0/4 0% Keep 2/5 40%
Defs 4/9 44% Defs 4/10 40%
Mids 3/8 38% Mids 7/12 57%
Fwds 2/6 33% Fwds 2/4 50%

(Small data sets have problems. Joe Bendik’s single game in a Union II goal lowers that percentage ten full points.)

First Half

As is to be expected of a Marlon LeBlanc team, Union II began the match on the front foot pressing the pigeons all over the midfield, and for the first five minutes the match seemed even.  Then New York winger Andres Jasson made Nathan Nkanji miss completely out on the right flank, dribbled the edge of the box to the near post’s longitude, and drilled a clinically curved ball to the far post for a 1-0 lead. It was a belief killer. From that moment New York dominated.

The baby pigeons controlled possession and used it to attack through the flanks. Both fullbacks played as flank midfielders in front of a two- or three-man defensive line. Their possession allowed them to spread the field, creating space sufficient to negate Union II’s attempts to press. Pressing works when the pressing team keeps its opponent concentrated and easily reached.

Union II attempted to counter with direct play to Chris Donovan, and upon occasion they would penetrate the New York box, but they created no meaningful first half threats, save once when City keeper Alex Rando came well out to make a play and Jack Jasinski attempted a long distance chip into the open net behind him. Unfortunately the North Carolinian’s 31st minute attempt floated high. And five minutes later after a Boubacar Diallo foul inside the “D” that earned him a yellow card, New York’s John Denis thumped the consequent free kick around the wall into the net and the match was effectively over.

The Union’s system works only if all ten field players play with all-out commitment, and one or two were playing to conserve their energy in order to last the 90 minutes rather than going flat out. Assistant coach Jose Kleberson’s Spanish will ring out frequently and incisively during film class.

Second Half

Neither coach subbed at half time. LeBlanc clearly motivated better effort from  his more obvious energy conservers at halftime.  But beginning in the 56th minute and within 90 seconds of each other, striker Jose Riasco picked up two consecutive yellow cards and was dismissed.  Within two minutes of the dismissal New York scored its third, and Subaru Park became an abattoir.

Philly remained game to try, and LeBlanc improvised a nine-man shape with three across the back, five in the midfield —  two of these being in a protective double pivot — and the other three deployed further ahead behind a lone striker. It took New York some minutes to adjust. But the pigeons’ wide play spread the three more forward Union middies to defend in the outside channels, and Union II became vulnerable to central channel runners closing onto the crosses that the wide play repeatedly produced. Goals four and five followed in the 80th and 89th minutes, and several other such opportunities were struck either wide or high.

Mercifully, the final whistle meant it was over.

Mentions for courage should go to those who chased New York all over the pitch for the full 90. They are defenders Frank Westfield, Anton Sorenson, and Nathan Nkanji, and midfielders Boubacar Diallo, Jack Jasinski , and Juan Perdomo. Perdomo’s mental toughness was on display in the last ten minutes as he made himself limp to spots where he might be useful.  Diallo showed a dogged persistence all over the pitch that will catch Jim Curtin’s eye. All three field subs played, with Maike Villero and Anthony Ramirez making only their second MLS NEXT Pro appearances of the season.

There is value in a match such as this. The adversity reveals  character and tenacity. And several young men in dark blue learned lessons and stepped up to the new, more demanding mark.

Philly still lies fifth in the Eastern conference and fourth in the Northeast division tables. But their margin of safety ahead of their pursuers is gone and they must make up that many more points to catch those above the playoff line.

Union II next play away Saturday, July 2nd at 7 PM at league leading Columbus Crew 2, the day before the respective first teams match up in Ohio’s capital city after both have played on Wednesday. Extra reinforcements for the second teams again seem unlikely, especially for the Union since the hope is that both the US U-20s in Honduras and the Union U17s in Dallas will be playing their respective championship matches the next day.

Three Points

  1. Tactics, not fitness. When asked coach Leblanc indicated that his recent pattern of substituting Carlos Paternina for Bajung Darboe at roughly the hour mark is related to tactics, not fitness. In our words not coach’s, Paternina has more twinkle in his toes. LeBlanc said he is trying to inject something different into his attack when he makes the move.
  2. Squad turnover. As the transition from one Academy year to the next changes the amateur portion of Union II’s player pool, Goalkeeper Damian Alguera joins Jackson Gilman as no longer available to Union II. Alguera has been with El Salvador at the Concacaf U-20 championship in Honduras and from there will move on to Cal State – Bakersfield. Midfielder Ian Abbey is expected to leave for Rutgers sometime around  July 10th. Swiss Army Knife Jack Jasinski will be available longer than his fellow graduates because Princeton is in the Ivy League, and Ivies start their NCAA activities noticeably later than everyone else.
  3. MLS NEXT Cup. After winning their first match 1-0, the Union Academy U-15s were eliminated by Real Salt Lake Sunday. The U-17s remain alive after winning 6-2 over Cedar Stars-Monmouth Sunday morning and 5-1 over Toronto FC II Monday night. They play New York Red Bull U17s on Wednesday at 10:00 AM Eastern in the quarter finals. It is also worth mentioning that the only non-MLS Academy U17 side to make it into the quarters is storied local power FC Delco, who are on the opposite side of the bracket from the Union.

BOXSCORE

Lineups

Union II (4-1-2-1-2 “narrow diamond” L-R) Matt Freese; Anton Sorenson, Cole Turner (Maike Villero, 61′), Nathan Nkanji, Frank Westfield; Boubacar Diallo; Jack Jasinski, Juan Perdomo; Ian Abbey (Anthony Ramirez, 71′); Chris Donovan (Bajung Darboe, 60′), Jose Riasco. Unused substitutes: Brooks Thompson. Distribution: 1st– 4; 2nd – 5; Am – 6. Suspended: Carlos Paternina (accumulated yellows). Injury: Stefan Stojanovic, Gino Portella. Away: Nelson Pierre, Brandan Craig.

NYC FC II (4-3-3, L-R) Alex Rando; Steven Bednarsky, Nico Benalcazar, Samuel Owusu, Stephen Turnbull; Andres Jasson (Julian Gomez, 60′), Justin Haak (Kenan Hot, 60′), Jack Beer; M. Murania ( Jonathan Jimenez, 77′), Kevin O’Toole (Kamran Acito, 77′), John Denis (Andrew  Maia,, 82′). Unused substitutes: Pol Rodriguez, Giuliano Santucci;   Kelvin Da Costa,

Goals

NYC II      7th minute      Andres Jasson (Stephen Turnbull)

NYC II      36th minute    John Denis (Free kick)

NYC II      59th minute    Massimino Murania (Stephen Turnbull, Samuel Owusu)

NYC II      80th minute    Jack Beer (Jonathan Jimenez)

NYC II      89th minute     Jonathan Jimenez (Jack Beer)

Cards

NYC II      20th minute      Yellow      Steven Bednarsky (foul)

Union II   35th minute      Yellow      Boubacar Diallo (foul)

Union II    52nd minute    Yellow     Jack Jasinski (foul)

Union II    56th minute     Yellow      Jose Riasco (foul)

Union II    56th minute     Yellow      Cole Turner (argument)

NYC II       56th minute      Yellow     Nico Benalcazar (argument)

Union II    57th minute       2nd Yellow/Red     Jose Riasco (foul)

Whistle: Ref: Jose Carlos Rivero,  AR1: Alexandru Focea,  AR2: Patrick Casey,  4th: Luis Arroyo.

Stats

U II   NYC II U II   NYC II
30 Possession % 70 2 Offsides 2
10 Shots 21 52 Duels won 63
2 Shots on goal 10 19 Tackles won 14
5 Blocked shots 3 5 Saves 2
245 Total passes 586 13 Clearances 9
66.5 Passing accuracy % 87.9 19 Fouls 6
4 Corners 10 4 Yellow cards 2
9 Crosses 13 1 Red cards 0

7 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Obviously not a great game (or even a good one) but I want to focus most of my comments on Riasco. The yellow cards were especially egregious since about a minute before the first one he was warned about excessive fouling and then not only commits a foul, he commits one that probably would have been a yellow even if he hadn’t been warned (it was enough that it started a shoving match). Then, after getting carded, the next time the ball comes close to him, he manages to commit another card worthy foul.
    .
    I should also mention that Jasinski also committed a foul shortly after being warned (which was how he picked up his card) but he managed to not commit another until several minutes later and then didn’t commit any more.
    .
    Back to Riasco, I don’t think he really fits into the Union system, at least based on last night’s performance. Even before the cards came, he didn’t seem to be pressing the defenders nearly as hard as others were, especially Donovan and Abbey. In order for the system to work, the players up top need to be able to press. Riasco also doesn’t seem to have the speed that the other forwards have both foot speed and vision. There were several times where he received the ball and had someone breaking with him and rather than push forward on his own or feed a runner, he would hold up the ball to try and take on his defender 1-on-1 (usually unsuccessfully).
    .
    For those hoping that Riasco would soon contribute to the first team, I think he has a ways to go, if he ever makes it at all.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    +1
    .
    Andy and I saw the same match and his descriptions are spot on.
    .
    Riasco has not come close to going beyond 60 minutes. And he is the person within the Union organization who knows that fact the most acutely. Neither Pierre nor Stojanovic were available to sub for him, and he knew it. And I strongly suspect he has never seen Bajung Darboe play as a striker. The rest of us have only if we watched the U15s last year or the preseason scrimmages last February.
    .
    Clearly LeBLanc (and presumably Kleberson) lit a fire under him at halftime because the attempts to press after halftime were both speedier and came much closer physically to the ball carrier.
    .
    He needs a Connor Casey or an Aurelien Collin to teach him how to play physically in MLS without fouling. it is beyond fortunate that NYC FC II’s Justin Haak is in excellent shape and lucky, because Riasco’s first yellow was a hip check, which, had it occurred on the Flyers’ ice, might have won him an immediate game misconduct. (I do defer to the opinions of readers who know more about hockey than I do, e.g., One Man Wolfpack).
    .
    Given what I think I have learned about the professional technical staff’s decision-making process over the years, I would expect Riasco is starting because they are calling for it. He is being force-fed.
    .
    I hope that the organization’s well-known personnel search process is methodically and carefully seeking an additional coach who is truly bilingual in English and Spanish. They are absolutely right to make sure they find the right person. Bedoya might be perfect if he weren’t still playing.
    .
    It took Olivier Mbaizo at least a full calendar year before coach Burke was willing to indicate that communication was no longer a barrier to understanding, and even so at least twice by memory Santi Moar indicated otherwise during games loudly enough for the whole of Goodman Stadium to hear including writers hard of hearing in the press box.
    .
    I would not give up on Riasco. I have seen him playing well within the system in the occasional practices to which I manage to get. But Andy is dead right on. Monday night was a stinker.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I hadn’t thought about the hockey analogy, but it’s pretty accurate. At the very least it would have been a charging penalty for leaving his feet and taking more than 2 steps lining up the hit. Open ice, probably just 2 minutes, but against the boards, probably a game misconduct.

  3. Spot on comments…

    Went to game last night with a buddy and his 1st time soccer game in person, 8 year old.

    About half way thru the half I made a comment about Riasco, and the little guy says… ‘he doesn’t seem to want to play tonight… he’s being lazy.’

    Talk about spot on.

    A good friend in Venezuela said ‘don’t expect much’ when we signed him for a cool Mil… have been watching his career, not just last night… NOT IMPRESSED AT ALL. He misses home… as my friend said he would… and he’d be better off back in Venezuela!

    Herr Tanner was in attendance last night. I spoke with him personally.

    So if an 8 year old saw it…..

  4. Union fan says:

    This seems good as place as any to say what has been bothering me for a bit. The Union do not have a roster befitting of a MLS cup aspirant. Something is going wrong among the Head Coach-Sporting Director- and Owner. The coach doesn’t use the even meager depth he is given, Tanner tries to get by with the smallest roster possible, and the owner as usual hardly spends. The Union knew in January that almost certainly 3 of their 4 most important bench players would be with U-20s during a packed MLS schedule week. What was the plan? Hope everyone stayed healthy and run them into the ground? Most important opponent of the season this past Sunday and they couldn’t even fill out a full game day roster with TWO backup GKs. 13 players for a U2 game? Well, that can happen at that level but still kind of ridiculous. Santos has now missed 2 MLS games getting his green card, why did that have to happen right now when the youngsters are in Nicaragua? If they need the international spot for a July 7 overseas signing to sign immediately it makes sense, but I haven’t heard anything. Otherwise, wait for the off-season. Even if Santos is ready for Wednesday, he has still missed 2 weeks of training. I don’t know what it is, but there is a disconnect among Union hierarchy.

    I don’t remember the exact quote, but a year or 2 ago Sugarman said something like “ I’ll spend at the time it makes sense to do so.” Well it makes sense about now Jay. Are the Union in it to win a Cup or nah?

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I’d say the depth is a lot more on Sugerman and Tanner than on Curtin. Aside from Burke, he has one offensive option on the bench right now, and that player is really still at Union 2 level. He has no attacking midfielders. He was about to bring on a defensive sub when NYCFC scored and the situation changed (Mbaizo was standing next to the 4th official when the PK was called).
      .
      As far as Union 2’s depth goes, that is much harder to judge at the start of the season since many of the players are playing as amateur high school seniors and you don’t know what their situation is with going to college and leaving the team to do something else over the summer.

    • Tim Jones says:

      A picky detail, Union Fan, that takes nothing away from the cogency of your analysis and commentary.
      .
      Union II had 15 players total because the starting and backup goalkeepers are also players. the number 13 referred to field players as the text indicates..
      .
      That technicality aside, in terms of depth being short, there may be greater roster challenge against Columbus than there was this past Mondayagainst NYC FC II for Union II.

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