MLS NEXT Pro Match Report

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

Photo: Ben Ross

Philadelphia Union II came from behind and defeated New York City FC II 2-1 at Belson Stadium in Jamaica, N.Y. Wednesday night.

For the first half-hour the second team Boys in Blue were hanging on for dear life against the junior Cityzens, who came out swarming. When Jonathan Jimenez redirected a rebound off the near post in the 57th minute, the future looked dim. But in the 64th Juan Perdomo collected a ball back to Frank Westfield, who advanced down the Union’s right flank and crossed perfectly to Jose Riasco’s head for the equalizer. And in the 86th a second Westfield cross found substitute Nelson Pierre in front of the net for a redirection that gave the young men from Philadelphia all three points.

Making the win all the more impressive was that only three first-team players made the trip, three who have seen almost all their game minutes with Union II this season. Anton Sorenson played the full match at left back, as did Brandan Craig at center back and Cole Turner at defensive midfielder. Brooks Thompson was flawless in goal. Maike Villero made his first Union II start at the other defensive midfielder next to Turner in the double pivot. And in his first start Anthony Ramirez played a full hour at right central mid.

Two facts in advance

A result in New York was a necessity, given the roster realities of this coming Saturday’s match in Columbus, which will be played away two hours before the first team taps off at Subaru Park. Claiming all three points without unusual first team augmentation was purest gravy.

Earlier in the day Boubacar Diallo was signed to a Union II professional contract for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023. Diallo, 19, has spent the season practicing daily and appearing with Union II as an amateur, but one not enrolled as a student at YSC Academy. Diallo has spent the season in the midfield, most recently appearing as a defensive midfielder.

First half

The first 30 minutes were almost completely dominated by New York. They seemed faster to the ball, especially in the midfield. Brooks Thompson had to make at least three 1-on-1 saves in the box. The best NY chance came on a free kick in the 44th minute that bent down to glance off the bar and out.

After the Citizens energy had begun to ease, Union II occasionally thrust forward, but never is a sustained way. They had no serious first half chances to score. The quality of New York’s personnel in the midfield and Union II’s empty bucket deployment always meant that the emphasis was going to be defensive.

Stefan Stojanovic started up top next to Jose Riasco and was the primary threat to stretch the field, although he was several times offside.

The rule implemented at midseason requiring a player going down injured for a longer period of time than usual to spend a few minutes on the sidelines aided Union II’s offensive resurgence late in the half, as City’s central mid Piero Elias was absent for a bit. He played right in the middle of the empty bucket, highlighting the shape’s major weakness.

Union II primarily hit long balls to the strikers, and they came primarily from Brandan Craig. Nathan Nkanji does not have the same facility to deliver such service as Matt Real. Frank Westfield and Anton Sorenson were primarily occupied by containing and defending NYC FC attacks down the flanks.

For the half New York had 70% possession with 277 passes, 8 shots, 4 of which were on target. Union had only 113 passes, matched New York’s 8 shots and had three of them on target.

Second Half

Once again Marlon LeBlanc, Frazer Robertson, Karl Spratt and the rest of the technical staff adjusted magnificently at halftime.

In the first ten minutes the match was even with Union II applying high pressure and threatening New York’s penalty box, particularly down the left side with Sorenson and Boubacar Diallo. New York’s goal was somewhat against the run of play.

Then Cole Turner and Maike Villero made a subtle shape shift. They still stayed central, but instead of side by side they stacked themselves vertically, freeing Turner to make ball carrying forays forward. The Union exploited heavily the departure of Elias, as Turner became the man rampaging unstoppably among young boys with Villero being the reliable backstop.

And Westfield had a breakthrough half delivering assists on the cross. Nothing fancy, just inch perfect twice enabling his fellow teenagers at striker to deliver the win.

The victory will not match the last game of the season in 2021, when NYC’s reserve side deployed $25 million worth of attacking talent only to see Union II win 1-0.

But a come-from-behind win, away, to a team that had shellacked them 5-0 the last time out will put that trademark mouth closed grin onto LeBlanc’s face.

Next match, standings, and the playoffs

Union II next play Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against Columbus in old Crew Stadium. The challenge of facing the best team in the conference with perhaps even fewer first teamers than yesterday is daunting. But the performance against New York removes the sense of inevitable doom.

Union II now lie third in the conference on 34 points, second in the division to Toronto.

Taking two wins from this week is a unexpected boost to the side’s playoff chances.

Three Points
  1. Jose Riasco is not yet ready to step in for Julian Carranza. The consistency of his defensive effort is nowhere close to sufficient.  But his head ball was unstoppable, not least because the man has what basketball players used to call “ups,” and he played 89 minutes, far and away his longest time on the field all season.
  2. Maike Villero was a rock at defensive midfielder. One game justifies no long term conclusions about position appropriateness. But the pairing of Turner and Villero was a revelation.
  3. Brooks Thompson had three best friends, the bar and both posts, but he played magnificently. He had to, and he did. He saved the day while Craig and Nkanji were figuring out how to adjust to New York busting Jonathan Jimenez through the center between them like an American football fullback running the belly series. The entire defensive back five deserve a hearty well done from their coaches, their teammates, and the fans. The opening half hour had produced no thoughts of a win, only prayer for a clean sheet and a draw.
Box Score
Lineups

U II: (4-2-2-2 “empty bucket,” L-R): Brooks Thompson; Anton Sorenson, Nathan Nkanji, Brandan Craig, Frank Westfield; Cole Turner, Maike Villero (Logan Oliver 80′); Boubacar Diallo, Anthony Ramirez (Juan Perdomo 63′); Stefan Stojanovic (Nelson Pierre 63′), Jose Riasco (Noe Uwimana 89′). Unused substitutes: Andrew Rick; Luke Martelli, Devon Stopek, Marcello Mazzola, Carlos Paternina. Distribution: 1st – 3, 2nd – 9, Am – 8. Injury rehab: Gino Portella. USYMNT U17s: Bajung Darboe.

NYC II: (4-3-3, L-R): Alex Rando; Stevo Bednarsky, Klevis Haxhari, Samuel Owusu, Stephen Turnbull; Francesco Di Ponzio, Piero Elias (Tyler Morck 59′), Maximo Carrizo ( Julian Gomez 65′); Jonathan Jimenez, Andres Jasson, Kevin O’Toole. Unused substitutes: Pol Rodriguez,  Giuliano Santucci; Alex Hauschild, Oliver Stafford, Brian Flores, , Ronald Arevalo,, Massimo Murania Yankowitz.

Goals

NYC FC II         58th minute        Jonathan Jimenez (Piero Elias)

Union II            65th minute        Jose Riasco (Frank Westfield)

Union II            86th minute        Nelson Pierre (Frank Westfield)

Cards

Union II          Yellow        20th minute        Jose Riasco (foul)

NYC FC II       Yellow        36th minute        Klevis Haxhari (foul)

Union II          Yellow        83rd minute        Logan Oliver (foul)

Whistle

Ref: Melinda Sopka, AR1: Alexandru Focea, AR2: Nicola Vesia, 4TH: Ernie Constantine

Stats

U II

  NY II U II  

NY II

36.2

Possession % 63.8 3 Offsides

4

17

Shots 15 54 Duels won

63

6

Shots on goal 7 12 Tackles won

12

1

Blocked shots 3 6 Saves

4

279

Total passes 507 16 Clearances

14

67.4

Passing accuracy % 82.3 21 Fouls

9

7

Corners 1 2 Yellow cards

1

8

Crosses 15 0 Red cards

0

6 Comments

  1. to my eye it looked like the light blue shirts had some nice talent out there but in the end were out-coached

    • Agreed about the NYC FC II talent.
      .
      On next day reflection the removal of Elias was a decisive error. But in fairness to coach Pilkington, Union II had shown little offensive threat and it seemed like an opportunity to give a youngster a good run of minutes.
      .
      WE do not know whether coaches told Turner to start attacking forward, whether Cole himself sensed the new vulnerability, or whether it was even more simple that one of the pillars of the team said to himself, “The hell with it we have to get a result and I am going to start taking bigger risks.”
      .
      Turner’s mentality to go for it epitomized the developmental philosophy of never say die. And do not underestimate the importance of Villero cleaning up all the messes behind Turner as he sashayed forward.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Brooks Thompson did not just play flawlessly, he made Andre Blake look ordinary. The foot save he made when Jiminez dragged the ball (and Nkanji) across the mouth of the goal was world class.

    • Brooks has done well when given the opportunity this year. I hope he continues to grow and develop so that he can be a key contributor when it’s his turn at the next level, hopefully with us. He is also a very kind person, if you ever meet him you’ll be cheering for his success for that reason too.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I won’t get to meet him directly, but assuming Freese starts on the 4th, I certainly intend to shout my congratulations on yesterday’s game to Brooks when he goes to the bench for that game.
        .
        He should get at least 2 more starts this season given that Freese is ineligible against Orlando (plus this coming Saturday when Union II play in a different state on the same day as the Union).

    • Give recognition to the quality of the Union organization’s goalkeeping coaches. Phil Wheddon and Karl Spratt deserve some credit for the improvement.
      .
      No question Thompson himself deserves plenty of congratulation, but it has not happened alone.

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