Union II end-of-season roster review: Second-teamers

Photo: Ben Ross

This post wraps up our end-of-season roster review. If you haven’t, make sure you check out the previous parts of the series (the developmental pipeline, first-teamers, and amateurs).


Vital statistics (as of 9/19/2022 7:40 pm)

Union II professionals (10)
Nelson Pierre S 17.4 738
Stefan Stojanovic S 21.5 716
Jose Riasco* S 18.6 685
Carlos Paternina* ACM 21.4 443
Juan Perdomo* CM 21.6 614
Nathan Nkanji CB 21.0 1,183
Gino Portella LCB 21.4 0 (0)
Maike Villero* LB 21.6 311
Brooks Thompson GK 20.2 725
Boubacar Diallo CM 20.3 1,155

In the minutes column above half the players have received six or seven hundred game minutes. Only two have received over a thousand. The first of the two perhaps compensates for the zero (who has spent the entire season recovering from surgery). The other was recently signed as a professional, and so was being evaluated intensively by the technical staff.

Nelson Pierre was Philadelphia Union II’s first signed professional, perhaps deliberately to reinforce the openness of the pathway from the Union’s Academy to all levels of professional soccer. If so, Pierre follows the footsteps of Derrick Jones, who was Bethlehem Steel FC’s first professional signed at the end of 2015. But Pierre differs from Jones in that he is a striker. It is a subtle difference, but it highlights that attackers bring higher returns than do other positions. Pierre has five 2022 goals, none bigger than his touch late in the match past NYC FC’s goalkeeper at Belson Field on Long Island to convert a fight-back draw into the come-from-behind win. That win began his team’s climb back into the playoff picture. Pierre is at least a year away from consideration as a first-team homegrown signing, as his game 90 minutes in the friendly against Pachuca demonstrated. His defending is very willing but is neither instantly instinctive nor applied with all out pace, and a half a step slow means the opponent escapes. When attacking he remains most comfortable relying on his own physical gifts, no surprise since to this point they have given him success. But this season’s first-team offensive successes have come from three-man one-touch interchanges through the central channel. Gazdag, Carranza, and Uhre are not lone wolves. Pierre must learn not to be.

Jose Riasco has come a long way from the uncertain, perhaps homesick adolescent who arrived late last winter to eat strange food among strange fans who expected great things immediately. The Union’s system of play is described as difficult to learn for those who speak English. In March Riasco spoke no English and was a classic Latin American in-the-box striker whose one v one defending skills were rudimentary and whose endurance to run all day was an opportunity for tremendous future growth. Readers will remember that first-team right back Olivier Mbaizo spent his first year learning English.  They should take heart that elapsed time and accumulated experience has created a starter. This year it has been important that Riasco has had a community of Spanish speakers, a Colombian and two Venezuelans, to help him learn and adjust. There have been flashes of what Ernst Tanner saw that justified bringing him here, not least of which was the match-tying header on Long Island against NYC FC II. Most fundamental next season will be that he will have known what to expect throughout his winter break, and that he will already know the people with whom he will be spending 2023. Ernst Tanner plays a long game and Jay Sugarman lets him.

Stefan Stojanovic scored Philadelphia Union II’s goal of the year. All goals are important. But an unstoppable roofed first-touch volley at the death to defeat the best team in the league stands alone. Here is the video.  Stojanovic already has a key attribute of a Union organization striker, the willingness to play all out when defending.  His position is crowded at both professional levels as we showed in the opening piece of this series, so his age does not help him. In his age cohort Chris Donovan and Jeremy Rafanello seem ahead of him while behind him are the three teenagers. But his determination parallels that of Quinn Sullivan. If he is allowed to return next season, his conditioning must imitate Sullivan’s, and he may be repurposed as Rafanello is being. He seems willing to do whatever it takes to stick around.

Carlos Paternina has magic feet as an attacking midfielder. Time after time in the practices PSP has seen, he plays the “Ilsinho” role, the distinctively pinnied extra player who instantly changes to the new attacking side every time possession is lost. In that role he impacts practices. But once opponents became aware of him he has had less impact in games. He has learned the basic requirements of the organization’s system. He is part of the Spanish-speaking group of four that has so ably helped each other learn and adjust to strange food, a new language and a different culture on the pitch and off. He lies behind Daniel Gazdag, Paxten Aaronson, Jeremy Rafanello perhaps, Bajung Darboe, and maybe even Anthony Ramirez in the developmental pipeline of attacking mids. He has been on loan this season. Whether he will return is an open question.

Juan Perdomo is a Venezuelan central midfielder who can fill in adequately at the other two midfield positions. Had he not been injured for a bit in the middle of the season his game minutes total would likely be higher. In earliest days his English, particularly as it pertained to soccer, was the best among the four Latino players. Unsurprisingly he was the first of the group to see significant game minutes. Were he younger his successful utility roles would indicate a likely return. He will be impacted by how well younger midfielders may show during the anticipated post season friendlies. His Union II future is affected by Alejandro Bedoya’s new contract.

Of the four Latino players Maike Villero has always been the most immediately credible as an MLS-level athlete. He arrived as a left-sided central midfielder, and from almost the beginning has been learning the responsibilities of a left back. It has been happening as quickly as his own developing English and the coaching staff’s growing “Spanglish” have allowed. In the later portions of the season he has also been trusted as part of the double pivot protecting the center backs and starting the offense, a responsibility that began as simply getting him game minutes. The growing versatility speaks well for Villero’s intelligence and adaptability as a soccer player, characteristics of value to the Union’s system of play. His short-term ceiling seems the highest of Union II’s Latins, and it would be a surprise were he not to return for 2023, particularly if Kai Wagner and / or Leon Flach were to return to Europe.

Boubacar Diallo joins Chris Donovan as an in-season success story for 2022’s player development efforts. The versatile Senegalese-American midfielder was signed to a Union II contract in early August. As the season developed he was slotted more and more towards the defensive side of the midfield’s overall role, we suspect to evaluate his potential there. He needs to add bulk and strength to his athleticism, but that is something at which the organization’s sports scientists are good when given enough time.

Nathan Nkanji leads the second team professionals in minute played from necessity. Center back has been thin all season because of Gino Portella’s knee injury last November and especially since Stuart Findlay left for England. He has worked hard in the weight room and learned bull-wrestling from his coaches as evidenced by shutting down Miami’s Shanyder Borgelin the last two times he marked him. But he needs masses of further experience in the position before his anticipation will allow him to become mistake free. We would guess that during the expected post season friendlies he will be expected to become the lead center back next to an academy player. We cannot guess how he will be affected by the arrival of Abasa Aremeyaw because the Ghanaian has not arrived yet, only that he will be affected in some fashion.

Gino Portella has spent the season recovering from last November’s surgical knee. He has never been healthy enough long enough to show whether he fits the organization’s style of play. The signing of the above mentioned Aremeyaw suggests Portella’s soccer career may be moving forward elsewhere in 2023.

Brooks Thompson’s role as a goalkeeper in the organization will be impacted by Joe Bendik’s future status. Thompson has often been the first team’s fourth goal keeper for practices, and working with the Union’s goal-keeping staff has improved his play. For whatever it is worth, he was nominated for MLS NEXT Pro goalkeeper of the month in August although he did not win it. If the data is rounded off, his goals against is roughly equal to his expected goals against, suggesting that for the most part he has made the saves to be expected of him.  He is directly affected by the organization’s practice of using Union II matches to keep Matt Freese sharp.


  1. Thanks for putting these together, Tim. I greatly enjoyed watching Union II this season and will say that I think a lot of these players have a great future be it with the Union or elsewhere.
    I know you mentioned the game in Queens against NYCFC as a turning point for the team and Brooks Thompson deserves a LOT of the credit for that as he made some tremendous saves.

  2. Thompon did play well against NYC FC II. Thank you for remembering that.
    Andy, your second set of eyes hs been a big help to making the historical record better. Much obliged.

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