Union II end-of-season roster review: Amateurs

Photo: Ben Ross

Vital statistics (as of 9/19/2022 7:14 pm)

Amateurs > 2 appearances & 30-50 minutes
Bajung Darboe ACM 15.8 699
Anthony Ramirez CM 17.8 154
Frank Westfield RB 16.7 1,414
Andrew Rick GK 16.6 1 (8) 13
Logan Oliver DM 17.4 39
Marcos Zambrano S 17.6 103
An assumption

Former Union II player Shanyder Bergelin’s 2022 example illustrates well a principle that probably governs Ernst’s Tanner’s decision to offer or not offer contracts to his Academy players. Of his three years with Union II as a pro Borgelin had two healthy ones. His middle one was severely curtailed by injury.

Before the 2022 season he signed with Inter Miami II. The young Haitian-American had sculpted himself into an effective MLS NEXT Pro striker while in Philly. He has became faster and has improved his conditioning and mentality to become a two way player. He scored 14 goals for Miami II this season, leading their team and lying fourth in the table of league goal scorers at the time of writing. If he continues to improve he may someday makes Miami’s bench as a reserve, as Cory Burke has done with the Union.

But Borgelin will never attract the attention of a top European club in a big six league. Nor will he attract attention in the leagues that feed players to the big six, e.g., Red Bull Salzburg in Austria or Racing Genk in Belgium. Borgelin’s ceiling is not that high. Only players with high ceilings can Tanner sell at a profit as he sold Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie.

To stay with the Union as a young player, Tanner has to believe the player has the potential for a high ceiling. Many players who will become competent MLS professionals will therefore have to leave the Union organization. Borgelin is an excellent MLS NEXT Pro for Miami II, and he may evolve into a solid reserve for Inter Miami itself. But such players are not what Tanner is trying to find and develop.


Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc sent goalkeeper Andrew Rick out for the last 13 minutes of the last home game of the regular season against Orlando City B. Rick’s professional debut was not forced by injury or red-card dismissal, and it occurred in a match with a five-goal lead. It put the least amount of pressure possible on the 16-year-old keeper. It maximized his chances for success, and Rick collected all the balls he should have collected and safely distributed all the balls he should have distributed. He has been practicing with Union II since at least the middle of the 2021 season, after he had helped lead the 2021 Academy U15s to the MLS NEXT Cup championship match by winning at least one penalty kick shootout. His place in the overall pipeline will be affected heavily by what happens in the offseason with Joe Bendik (out of contract) and Matt Freese (on an option year in 2023). We also suspect that Brooks Thomspon has improved enough to earn a second year with Union II. Rick is in the mix for the longer-term future as a keeper,  provided he keeps growing and improving.

Frank Westfield has made solid progress as an MLS NEXT Pro right back. He provided both the assists in the away comeback win over NYC FC II that sustained the side’s attempt to make the playoffs. He has responded well to coach LeBlanc warning him early this season that LeBlanc would be riding him to improve. At the beginning of the season the decision to send Matt Real to play right back tells us how the technical staff then evaluated Westfield. By season’s end that evaluation had changed. Now Westfield sits the bench not because he’s not ready but because Nathan Harriel needs game minutes to stay sharp for the first team. Westfield is not yet as fluid offensively as Harriel himself was with Union II last season.  He must reach at least that benchmark to earn a homegrown contract with the first team. He has next season available to him to do so.

Logan Oliver only began to appear in Union II games once the 2022 Academy U17s had won their age group’s MLS NEXT Cup. He has appeared as Maike Villero’s relief at defensive midfielder. He has not allowed disasters while doing so. It is much too soon to say more. Every time we have watched a Union II practice since August, Oliver has been there. He will be tested further in post-season friendlies.

Anthony Ramirez lost months of 2022 to recovering from an injury suffered while in camp with his national team late last winter. Once he recovered full fitness the theme of his season has been to improve his play on the defensive side of the ball. He is described as having magic feet on offense. It is only recently that he has earned some starts. One of those was the comeback win away to New York City FC II. We suspect that his playing as one of the shuttling central midfielders may be as much to provide him with the opportunity to improve his defensive effectiveness as it is with that being his natural position. We suspect he is an attacking midfielder not a shuttler.

Once Bajung Darboe began to play in 2022, he was an early season fixture as a midfield starter. More recently that has fallen off. He works extremely hard. His ground coverage and anticipation are excellent. Creativity seems to have diminished a bit. He is not quite 16-years-old at this writing, so the changes may reflect wearing down under the demands of a ten-month professional season. He remains a top prospect for the future ranging from shuttling midfield through attacking mid to striker.

The organization has actively pursued retaining Marcos Zambrano’s services. That he has had two appearances with Union II suggests the pursuit has not failed, but there has been no official comment or announcement. As a two-year veteran of the Academy, he has had exposure to the demands of the Union’s way of playing. That knowledge showed clearly in the match he started at Subaru Park against Orlando B. He understands the necessity of being a two-way player as a striker. The roles were understood and their attempted execution was obvious. The ability to execute them in face of the physicality of professional opponents was the clear question.

Zambrano joins Nelson Pierre and Jose Riasco (see part four to come) as three teenage striker prospects in the developmental pipeline. To the best of PSP’s memory, never before have there been that many at that age at that position. The crowding is sufficient that a fourth such prospect, Gael Medrano, has left to join Red Bull Academy in North Jersey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *