MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II / USL Match report

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 1 – 2 Toronto FC II

Photo Ben Ross

For the second time this season Philadelphia Union II lost to Toronto FC II on a goal so late that effectively there was no time left in the match to answer it. This time it came in the 89th minute on a disciplined quick TFC II attack that began on the left, passed through the center to the right providing a through ball that was fed from the end line past the near post and the spot to find Julian Altobelli unmarked for the score from the one-yard line.

Last Saturday night the organization’s philosophy never to play for a tie sent the Subaru Park crowd home happy from an excellent comeback. Monday night that same philosophy turned a fight back that had equalized in the 70th minute to ashes. Ball-watching Matt Real had been beaten for inside position in the 17th minute by Stefan Karajovanovic closing from the left channel onto a cross delivered from the right channel by Themi Antonoglou to score. The first team reserve left back atoned in the 70th, smashing home on a corner kick  served by Brandan Craig and nodded into his path by Chris Donovan. Then, for the second time this season against Toronto, head coach Marlon LeBlanc made an almost 90th minute substitution, probably again to create a better PK shootout lineup, and again the shootout opportunity disappeared.

The match was delayed for 63 minutes in its 20th minute for “severe weather,” aka, lightning strikes within a radius too close to the Stadium for league safety policy. And as the match ended severe weather threatened again, sending the fifty or so friends and relatives in attendance scurrying for the concourse and then their cars.


Union II played at Subaru two days after the first team had come back to beat New England there and five days before the Union will play in Orlando. The schedule allowed extra first-team reinforcements. Cole Turner and Chris Donovan did not dress for New England, and both Brandan Craig and Jesus Bueno dressed but did not play. All four were available, along with Matt Real, Quinn Sullivan, and keeper Matt Freese. Anton Sorenson remained a given for Union II, also.

Head coach Marvin LeBlanc has had a little more than two weeks to work with Academy U17 players. His bench included one of them, midfielder Logan Oliver. Striker Stefan Stojanovic and center back Gino Portella have not yet participated in non-contact drills in practice, let alone full contact ones or games.

Going into the match, Union II were tied for last in the league in goals scored with Real Monarchs and Portland Timbers 2 at 14. They lay exactly in the middle of the league table for goals allowed at 11th with 23.

Toronto FC II last played eight days previously when they tied league leaders Columbus 0-0 in York, Ontario, Canada and won the PK shootout 4-3. They began the night three points ahead of Union II in the Eastern conference in sixth place. In June and July they have beaten both Philadelphia at home and NYC FC II on the road, and have tied Rochester, New England, and Columbus. In their five most recent matches against the four teams occupying the current playoff slots in the Eastern conference, they had not lost.

TFC II have a larger pool of MLS NEXT Pro professionals than Union II, and have had fewer first-teamers loaned down. But they experience similar levels of game day roster variability, although mostly in the attack. Last time out against Union II they played a 3-4-3, a shape that tends to spread a narrow diamond midfield wider than it likes. Most recently in the Columbus match they played a 4-3-3, as they did last night.

First Half

Union II began on the front foot. Nelson Pierre put a shot on goal after only 46 seconds. They attempted to apply high pressure. But that works only if all eleven have the high pressure mentality of quick, correct anticipation. Toronto FC II absorbed it and answered with a shot on goal of their own just two minutes later.  The Canadians seemed more cohesive as a unit, starting the same defense and midfield as had held league leaders Columbus Crew 2 scoreless in their last match. Union had a lineup that had never played together before, and it showed. Cole Turner started at center back as he has been doing recently. Anton Sorenson played left midfield in the narrow diamond, an intriguing concept but one not before seen in any of the matches followed by PSP either this year or last. Jesus Bueno was the defensive midfielder instead of Turner.

The rain delay coming as it did on the heels of Toronot’s opening goal allowed them to adjust easily to playing a lower restraining line with a low pressure pickup at the bottom of the midfield “D.” They were fast and quick, well conditioned, and consistently used physicality to ride Union II midfielders off the ball generating threatening counters. And they showed professional gamesmanship every time the ball either went out of bounds or was theirs on a restart. The possession percentages and total passes among the statistics below show how Toronto packed it in to absorb pressure and play on the counter.

The lineup Union II started showed courageous effort in the central channel but little consistent creativity. Jesus Bueno does not have Jose Martinez ability to possess the ball and lose a defender to deliver an attack-starting pass. Carlos Paternina does not compensate for his ground coverage with an anticipation quick enough to get to the point of confrontation in time. Paternina was surrounded by first-team players, save for Nelson Pierre at one of the strikers, and every once in a while there were one or two well-connected one-touch balls. But not it did not happen as frequently as it needed to.

Second Half

Union II made no changes at half-time and there were no significant changes to the way the match transpired until the 57th minute when Jose Riasco substituted for Nelson Pierre. Riasco was not a game changer. But Bajung Darboe and Anthony Ramirez had more of an impact when they came on for Paternina and Sorenson seven minutes later, especially Darboe. The 15-year-old does not have Paternina’s individual technical prowess, but he anticipates where the play will be sooner than the Venezuelan and gets to the needed spots in time, as is no surprise to those who have watched his body of work this season. Riasco showed more and longer sprints when defending, but too often other defensive runs felt timed to avoid getting “stuck in.” That has to change. He is making some progress but it is slow.

The referee ordered a cooling and hydration break in the 76th minute, appropriately so, given the heat and humidity of the night.

And in the 87th minute both coaches made substitutions, probably to set up better shootout lineups. Unfortunately for the Union when they brought on Boubacar Diallo for Bueno, Toronto brought on Reshaun Walkes. And two minutes later Walkes would collect an excellent through ball from Kobe Franklin and drive it from  the right end line across the goal mouth where Altobelli knifed in unmarked for the winner. Both Frank Westfield and Boubacar Diallo ball-watched rather than noticing Altobelli lagging behind them. And neither anticipated Walkes precisely struck but thoroughly conventional delivery of the game winning assist. In fairness Westfield had played his heart out for the entire match and Diallo is a stopgap as a defensive midfielder.

Next game & standings

Union II next play Orlando City B in central Florida Sunday, July 24th at 7 PM. That is  the day after the two first teams have played, also in Florida, so extra reinforcements might again be available.

Union II now lie 9th in the Eastern conference table on 17 points, last in the Northeast division six points behind fourth place Toronto with a game in hand on everyone.

Three points
  1. For the record the video shows that when Walkes receives his through ball, Altobelli is clearly offside with a shoulder slightly ahead of Frank Westfield who steps ahead of him as the through ball is delivered. (The officiating error is clearer in the second half of the video.) He remains offside as Walkes strikes the assist. Had the play occurred in MLS under the aegis of VAR the goal would have been disallowed.
  2. Three first-teamers combined on a set piece to score Union II’s goal, although accuracy demands that Chris Donovan be called a hybrid since he began the season on Union II’s roster. Of the 12 not-Chris-Donovan Union II goals, Nelson Pierre has three, Boubacar Diallo has one, and Carlos Paternina has a fifth.  The other seven come from first-teamers.
  3. Two years ago when  coach LeBlanc took over, he brought forward some academy players who became two-year stalwarts for him. That process is renewing itself with a new crop of U17 veterans  trying to fill the shoes of departing graduates. Discovery and transition will take time and patience, from both  fans and technical staffers making judgments.

Union II: (4-1-2-1-2, L-R): Matt Freese; Matt Real, Brandan Craig, Cole Turner, Frank Westfield; Jesus Bueno (Boubacar Diallo 87′); Anton Sorenson (Anthony Ramirez 64′), Quinn Sullivan; Carlos Paternina (Bajung Darboe, 65′); Chris Donovan, Nelson Pierre (Jose Riasco, 57′). Unused substitutes: Brooks Thompson; Nathan Nkanji, Maike Villero,  Juan Perdomo, Logan Oliver. Distribution: 1st –8, 2nd – 7, Am – 5. Injury rehab: Stefan Stojanovic, Gino Portella.

Toronto II: (4-3-3, L-R) Luka Gavran; Rohan Goulbourne, Antony Curcic, Adam Pearlman, Kobe Franklin; Steffen Yeates, Alonso Coello, Themi Antonoglou; Nakye Greenridge-Duncan (Paul Rothrock, HT), Hugo Mbongue (Julian Altobelli 71′), Stefan Karajovanovic (Reshaun Walkes 87′). Unused substitutes: Baj Maan; Joshua Gordon, Joseph Daher, Markus Cimermancic, Mehdi Essoussi, Antonio Carlini.


TFC II      17th minute      Steffen Karajovanovic (Themi Antonoglou)

U II          70th minute      Matt Real (Chris Donovan, Brandan Craig)

TFC II      89th minute      Julian Altobelli (Reshaun Walkes, Kobe Franklin)


U II         35th minute      Cole Turner (foul)

TFC II     52nd minute     Paul Rothrock (foul)

TFC II     60th minute      Steffen Yeates (foul)

U II         90+1 minute     Brandan Craig (foul)

TFC II    90+5 minute      Luka GAvran (delay)


Ref: Scarlet Agrawal, AR1: Tom Felice, AR2: Patrick Casey, 4TH: Joshua Encarnacion

58 Possession % 42 4 Offsides 2
5 Shots 8 23 Duels won 19
2 Shots on goal 5 4 Tackles won 7
2 Blocked shots 1 3 Saves 1
378 Total passes 277 5 Clearances 8
88.4 Passing accuracy % 80.9 6 Fouls 8
5 Corners 2 2 Yellow cards 3
8 Crosses 4 0 Red cards 0



  1. Gruncle Bob says:

    Thanks for the write up.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    “the fifty or so friends and relatives in attendance”. You’re forgetting to include die hard fans!
    As far as I saw, the biggest problem was breaking down the tight Toronto defense. On most occasions they weren’t even giving the backs the chance to cross.
    It was interesting that Sorenson was playing midfield and Real in the back. If I recall correctly, it’s been the other way around in the past.
    I was amused that every time he had an offensive zone free kick, Craig would move the ball about half a yard forward as soon as the ref turned her back to mark off the 10 yards for the defense.

    • Conspiracy theory – Wagner is being sold and they wanted to get Real reps in at LB just in case.

    • Tim Jones says:

      Full credit, Andy Muenz!
      With dedication like that you should write up your fan experiences at some point for a guest column!
      My conventional interpretation of the Real – Sorenson position switch is that they wanted to get Real minutes at left back and he is the more senior first-teamer.
      My “far out” interpretation is that Maike Villero is the heir apparent at reserve left back, once his English is good enough to learn all the cues and responsibilities there, and that they need to find a use for Sorenson. Sorenson’s pace is ideal for pressing in the midfield, and he is left-footed. He is still too easily shouldered off the ball, but that’s been true with him from day one.

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