Summarizing the Union’s first three preseason scrimmages

Photo: Ben Ross

The first leg of Philadelphia Union’s preseason training, which ended on Friday with a scrimmage against Minnesota United, has achieved any preseason’s essential keystone. Touch wood, they are without added injury. And almost all field players have maximized their possible game minutes given the leg’s apparent purpose.

The patterns suggest that the first leg is being used to  discover who can do what next to whom rather than to hone a best game day XI towards 90-minute sharpness. For example, in the first half against Minnesota Matt Real and Nathan Harriel started at the outside backs instead of Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo, and Jesus Bueno and Andres Perea played the shuttling mids instead of Leon Flach and Alejandro Bedoya. The probable point was to see how those four integrated into the rest of the usual starting lineup.

When the group returns to Florida for the second leg, 90-minute sharpness for the best XI should become a more prominent goal.

None of the three scrimmages added extra periods, so a few players did not get as many minutes as the technical staff might have hoped. Jim Curtin’s comments about the Austin match suggest that extra periods are negotiated between coaches. We speculate decisions depend on the numbers of healthy bodies available on the day, and that they are influenced by the state of roster builds, conditioning levels, injuries, and other absences.

The only field player identified in Florida who has seen no game time in leg one is Academy right back Frank Westfield. Goalkeeper Brooks Thompson did not either. Union center back Abasa Aremeyaw, whom Curtin earlier indicated may be recovering from injury, has not been seen in pictures or video clips and may have remained in Chester to rehabilitate it.

Except for the Austin match  — played in the same location as the January US U20s training camp — center back Brandan Craig, midfielder Jack McGlynn, and attacker Quinn Sullivan have been away at U20 camp.

The first phase of the Union in Florida lasted 18 days, from Monday, January 16 through Friday, January 27 and included three scrimmages.

  • Saturday, January 21 versus Austin, two 45-minute halves resulting in a 3-2 win.
  • Tuesday, January 24 versus St. Louis, two 45-minute halves resulting in a 2-2 draw.
  • Friday, January 27 versus Minnesota, two 45-minute halves resulting in a 2-2 draw.

It is too early to be concerned especially given the purposes of  leg one, but the Union kept no clean sheets and gave up six goals.

Roster thoughts

Union sporting director Ernst Tanner spent time tinkering with the roster during this leg.

Goalkeeper Matt Freese started against Austin but did not dress against either St. Louis or Minnesota, ahead of a trade to New York City FC.  On the incoming front, attacker Joaquin Torres joined from CF Montreal and center back Damion Lowe joined from Inter Miami CF.

As of January 22, the Union were tied with Kansas City as making — or planning to make — the fewest 2023 roster moves in the league. That reflects Jim Curtin’s comment from the aftermath of the 2022 season that the goal was to keep the team together.

The roster will be larger than last season. Torres replaces Cory Burke, although he is an entirely different type of attacker. First round draft pick Holden Trent, if signed, replaces Matt Freese among the goalkeepers. Trade acquisition Andres Perea replaces and upgrades departed Cole Turner in the midfield.

But Lowe’s arrival increases the center back cohort to six, facilitating more frequent use of three CBs together in a three-back shape with reserves sufficient to sustain the process. We take Ernst Tanner at last fall’s word that August additions Jeremy Rafanello, Richard Odada, and the aforementioned Aremeyaw were primarily oriented towards 2023,  We assume Gino Portella will remain healthy and with the first team as probably his contract has always been legally.

When announcing Lowe’s arrival, Ernst Tanner reinforced the expectation that coping with unprecedented numbers of games will need extra players and greater tactical flexibility. If as Tanner has indicated Nelson Pierre is added as a new first-team homegrown, 2023 will see 26 field players on the roster. Last summer that number dropped as low as 21 or 22 with only 13 being used when games still hung in the balance.

The following tweet of the second Union goal against St. Louis illustrates how roster members not in  last year’s top 13 can and must contribute. In 2022 Bueno played almost exclusively with Union II and Portella was rehabbing from injury from January into October.

The starting and substituting patterns in the Minnesota match suggest that defensive midfielders Perea and Bueno are more likely than Richard Odada to shift to the shuttling midfielders when needed.

There should be stiff competition among the reserve center backs with Aremeyaw once healthy and Portella most likely see time with Union II.

And probably Joe Bendik advances to the back-up first team keeper, but without extensive time with the second team. That time will fall to Trent and Brooks Thompson.


Leeds United’s reported interest in signing Weston McKennie from Juventus might further reduce the possibility of their interest in acquiring Kai Wagner as they are not the wealthiest of premier league clubs. Juventus have just been reduced by 15 points in the Serie A table with various administrators banned for varying numbers of months, and are looking to unload the USMNT starter to raise money. Arsenal are also reported interested.

Of course there are other rumors involving Wagner, e. g., Bologna in Italy’s Serie A where CF Montreal’s Joey Saputo is involved in ownership.


We aggregate the conditioning information recoverable from the three scrimmage live blogs, tweets, and other written recaps  follow it with the goals data, and finish with two explanatory notes.

Austin St. Louis Minnesota Total
Blake GK DNP 0 Start 30 Start 45 75
Wagner LB Start 45 Start 45 ht Sub 45 135
Elliott LCB Start 45 Start 45 Start 64 154
Glesnes RCB Start 45 Start 45 Start 64 154
Mbaizo RB Start 45 Start 45 ht Sub 45 135
Martinez DM ht Sub 45 Start 45 Start 64 154
Flach LM Start 45 Start 45 ht Sub 45 135
Bedoya RM Start 45 Start 45 DNP 0 90
Gazdag AM Start 45 Start 45 Start 64 154
Carranza S Start 45 Start 45 Start 64 154
Uhre S Start 45 Start 45 Start 45 135
Bendik GK Sub 30 Sub 30 ht Sub 45 105
Sorenson LB Sub 13 ht Sub 45 Sub 64 26 84
Real LCB ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 Start 45 135
Portella RCB ht Sub 32 ht Sub 45 Sub 64 45 122
Harriel RB ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 Start 45 135
Odada DM DNP 0 ht Sub 45 Sub 64 26 71
Bueno LM ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 Start 45 135
Perea RM ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 Start 64 154
Rafanello AM ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 Sub 64 26 116
Donovan S ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 ht Sub 45 135
Stojanovic S DNP 0 ht Sub 45 DNP 0 45
Craig LCB ht Sub 45 UA # UA # 45
McGlynn LM Start 45 UA # UA # 45
Sullivan S ht Sub 45 UA # UA # 45
Trent GK Sub 30 Sub 30 DNP 0 60
Pierre S DNP 0 DNP 0 Sub 64 26 26
Torres S NYJ # NYJ # Sub 64 26 26
Lowe CB NYJ # NYJ # UA # #
Freese GK Start 30 Gone? # Gone? # 30
Union Austin
Bedoya, from Wagner 45th Cascante 28th
Bueno, from Sullivan 67th Noel 58th
Donovan, from Craig 80th
St. Louis
Wagner, from Carranza 9th Klauss 41st
Portella, from Bueno 75th Gioacchini (PK) 88th
Carranza, from Uhre 40th Lod 45th
Gazdag, from Perea 52nd Pacheco 77th

Nelson Pierre getting 26 minutes against Minnesota hints toward Tanner’s comment that he will be promoted. But we have no idea when. The state of Union II’s roster strongly indicates that for now he will play his games with them.

We assume finalizing the first team’s roster build will maximize its capacity to use extreme hardship emergency call-ups should they become necessary, e.g., having three goalkeepers.


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  2. I think I heard early on that Odada had a slight knee knock? Or am I just making that up?
    Oh, and keep your hands off Wagner Saputo!! He’s my, my, my, my bologna!!! (for all you Weird Al fans out there)

  3. Thanks Tim for the summary and your articles this offseason on the rosters of Union and Union II. Hopefully we get some live streams in the next part of the preseason.

  4. McKennie loan to Leeds was made official yesterday afternoon.

  5. Many thanks, Andy!

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