Analysis / Union

Summarizing the Union’s last four preseason scrimmages

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The sine qua non of preseason is to condition the best XI to play full regular season matches, in the Union’s case the season opener at home Saturday, February 25 at 7:30 p.m. versus the Columbus Crew.

If conditioning starters is “job one,” “job two” is to identify and condition reserves sufficient to rotate the squad, because the Union must survive as many as 20 extra games above and beyond Major League Soccer’s 34 during its regular season if they do well in their other three regular season competitions.

The conundrum of how to condition rotation players is that increasing the conditioning of starters successively reduces the minutes available for anyone else. In preseason a solution is to play extra time. Careful calendar placement of some of the second-team’s preseason scrimmages suggest they could be used to resolve the conundrum once everyone is back in Philadelphia and the first team’s regular season has begun.

Here are the total minutes everyone on the first team played during Florida’s leg two sorted by position, and then the totals for preseason as a whole.

      N Eng Cincy Nash Colo Total
1 Blake GK 60 60 90 90 300
2 Bendik GK 30 60 30 45 165
3 Trent GK 0 0 0 0* 0
4 Wagner LB 45 60 60 90 255
5 Real LB 45 60 60 45 210
6 Sorenson LB 30 60 0 0* 90
7 Elliott LCB 45 60 60 90 255
8 Craig LCB 60 60 60 45 225
9 Glesnes RCB 45 60 45 90 250
10 Lowe RCB 45 60 75 45 225
11 Mbaizo RB 45 60 60 90 255
12 Harriel RB 45 50 60 45 200
13 Martinez DM 45 60 60 59 224
14 Odada DM 0 10 0 0 0
15 Perea DM 45 60 75 76 256
16 Bueno DM 45 60 60 45 210
17 Flach LM 45 60 60 90 255
18 McGlynn LM 45 60 60 45 210
19 Bedoya RM 45 60 45 90 250
20 Gazdag AM 45 60 60 90 255
21 Torres S/AM 45 60 77 56 237
22 Rafanello S/AM 0 60 43 0 103
23 Carranza S 45 60 0 45 150
24 Sullivan S 45 0 60 45 150
25 Uhre S 45 60 77 79 261
26 Donovan S 0 0 43 45 88

Ranking players by total preseason minutes played telegraphs who is being prepared to play a lot early in the season.

2023 Total preseason game minutes

Player Total Player Total
Perea 410 Bendik 270
Gazdag 409 Craig 270
Elliott 409 Torres 263
Glesnes 404 McGlynn 255
Uhre 396 Lowe 225
Wagner 390 Donovan 223
Mbaizo 390 Rafanello 219
Flach 390 Sullivan 195
Martinez 378 Sorenson 174
Blake 375 Odada 71
Bueno 345 Trent 60
Real 345
Bedoya 340
Harriel 335
Carranza 304

McGlynn, Sullivan, and Craig missed the first Florida leg while they were in USYNT U20 camp. Then Sullivan dealt with a surgically repaired broken nose. Donovan also dealt with a broken nose. Sorenson may have had extra minutes with Union II. Odada may be rehabilitating an unknown injury. Jim Curtin recently has said that Holden Trent will now start getting his game minutes with Union II.


Four preseason first-team scrimmages happened during the second Florida leg.

  • Sunday, February 5 the Union visited the New England Revolution, played two 45-minute halves, and won 2-0.
  • Friday, February 10, they hosted FC Cincinnati, played two 45s and an extra 30, and won 3-1.
  • Tuesday, February 14 they visited Nashville SC, played two 45s and an extra 30, and lost 2-0 in the extra 30.
  • Saturday, February 18 they visited the Colorado Rapids, played three 45s, and won 4-1 before flying back to greater Philadelphia.
New England observations

The key takeaway was practicing tactical flexibility. The Union used two different tactical shapes. They deployed three center backs in a 3-4-1-2 in the first 45 and a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas tree” in the second.

In the three center back shape amidst the usual starters Brandan Craig started as the center center back. In front of the backs Jack McGlynn was the left defensive mid next to Jose Martinez. Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo were the wing backs. And all the way up front Quinn Sullivan was the second striker next to Julian Carranza.

The second half’s Christmas Tree saw Mikael Uhre as the lone striker, with Andres Perea as a second attacking mid next to Joaquin Torres. Jesus Bueno, Leon Flach, and Alejandro Bedoya were the three defensive mids with Flach in the center and Bedoya on the right. Damion Lowe was the right center back next to Craig, who was followed at left CB by Matt Real with Sorenson coming in later at left back. Real and Nathan Harriel began the half at the outside backs. (See appended data charts below.)

Jim Curtin’s subsequent comments indicated the new shapes had not been drilled extensively, that the group had been given new information and that they had adapted well although not perfectly.

Cincinnati observations

All participants save one in the cobbled together double 60s totaled a full 60 minutes each. Nathan Harriel gave Richard Odada his last ten minutes.

The match seems to have been intense. Cincinnati may be developing a thing for Philadelphia. There were five yellow cards between the teams, and a penalty kick was awarded to each. Those are unusual disciplinary steps for a mid-sequence preseason scrimmage.

Striker combination experimenting continued. Torres and Carranza played together for the first 60. Uhre and Rafanello combined for the last 60. Quinn Sullivan (broken nose) and Chris Donovan (some type of facial injury requiring a face mask in the Colorado scrimmage ) did not play.

First round draft pick goalkeeper Holden Trent did not play either.  (His signing announcement came before preseason’s last scrimmage against Colorado – see below.)

Only each side’s starters scored goals.

 Nashville observations

 The Union played on the fourth day after having made an intense effort against Cincinnati. They must similarly play on short rest in more than half the weeks of 2023’s regular season. The players discovered or re-discovered what that effort demands, and the sports science staff evaluated how everyone handled it.

The Union starters played the first half against a Nashville reserve side backed by Joe Willis their starting goalkeeper. At halftime Nashville sent on seven of their ten expected starting field players in front of their back-up keeper. In the 60th minute the Union removed all starters save Andre Blake, Mikael Uhre and Joaquin Torres. Uhre and Torres came off in the 77th for Chris Donovan and Jeremy Rafanello, and in the 90th Joe Bendik came on for Blake. Nashville’s Teal Bunbury scored twice, in the 112th and 114th minutes against the Union’s reserves for the win.

Julian Carranza, Anton Sorenson, Richard Odada and Holden Trent did not play. We have reason to believe Sorenson got the first 60 minutes of Union II’s match against Huntsville City FC later that same evening.

Joaquin Torres started at striker with Mikael Uhre, and then replaced Daniel Gazdag at attacking mid when Quinn Sullivan came on. All likely combinations using him in the attack in the 4-4-2 narrow diamond have now been tested. Damion Lowe got some minutes next to Jack Elliott after halftime before Elliott came off, so that combination will not be untested should an emergency arise.

Colorado observations

 As Jim Curtin indicated would happen back before the Cincinnati match, except for Martinez and Uhre the starters played 90 minutes. The reserves got 45. Before the match Curtin had hoped for two 90s.

Judging solely from its starting personnel, Colorado may have put out a variety of the 3-5-2 shape against the Union, trying to block the narrow diamond’s attack and stretch it into the outside channels when defending.

The Rapids substituted earlier than the Union, and the Union’s bench outscored Colorado’s in the 3rd of the 45 minute period’s.

Conditioning opportunities for first team reserves may continue in the early weeks of the first-team’s season i. e.,  the last weeks of Union II’s preseason, since the second team’s scrimmages all occur the day after first-team games. And start times accommodate same day round-trip bus rides by the travelling team. We have no confirmation of our guesswork.

Andre Blake, almost always fronted by the first-string defense, kept a clean sheet throughout the second leg of preseason training in Florida, 300 minutes. Of all preseason opponents only Nashville managed to clean sheet the Union.

Appended data

Quinn Sullivan’s minutes were restricted by his broken surgically repaired nose, Donovan also. Richard Odada may be recovering from an unspecified injury.  There is no concrete information on Julian Carranza’s, Anton Sorenson’s, and Holden Trent’s missed times. There may be a pattern of giving “elder statesmen” among the starters like Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Martinez and Jakob Glesnes a day off here and there in the fashion of many major league baseball managers with important stars.

With no video, the only comment possible on the Quinn Sullivan experiment at striker is that it seems to have continued to the end of preseason and that Curtin has twice publicly said he had a midfield that is nine players deep.  To get to nine he is almost certainly including either Sullivan or Torres.

Florida leg two: scrimmage minutes

Player Total Player Total Player Total
Blake 300 Torres 238 McGlynn 210
Uhre 261 Lowe 225 Harriel 200
Perea 256 Craig 225 Carranza 195
Wagner 255 Martinez 224 Bendik 165
Elliott 255 Torres 238 Sorenson 150*
Flach 255 Lowe 225 Sullivan 150
Gazdag 255 Real 210 Donovan 88
Glesnes 240 Bueno 210 Odada 10
Bedoya 240 Trent 0

*Even though he did not play against Nashville, Sorenson may have gotten 60 minutes against Huntsville City FC later that same evening.

Here is a vertical scrimmage-by-scrimmage minutes tally.

New England: Sun, 5-Feb Cincinnati: Fri, 10-Feb
First 45: 3-4-1-2 First (45 + 15): 4-4-2
Pos Player Off Pos Player Off
GK Blake 45th GK Blake 60th
LCB Elliott 45th LB Wagner 60th
CCB Craig 45th LCB Elliott 60th
RCB Glesnes 45th RCB Glesnes 60th
LWB Wagner 45th RB Mbaizo 60th
LDM McGlynn 45th DM Martinez 60th
RDM Martinez 45th LM Flach 60th
RWB Mbaizo 45th RM Bedoya 60th
AM Gazdag 45th AM Gazdag 60th
S Carranza 45th S Carranza 60th
S Sullivan 45th S Torres 60th
Second 45: 4-3-2-1 Second (30+30): 4-4-2
GK Blake 60th GK Bendik 120th
LB Real 90th LB Sorenson 120th
LCB (Craig) 60th LCB Craig 120th
RCB Lowe 90th RCB Lowe 120th
RB Harriel 90th RB Harriel 110th
LDM Bueno 90th DM Bueno 120th
CDM Flach 90th LM Real 120th
RDM Bedoya 90th RM Perea 120th
LAM Perea 90th AM McGlynn 120th
RAM Torres 90th S Rafanello 120th
S Uhre 90th S Uhre 120th
GK Bendik 60th Substitution 110th minute
LB Sorenson 60th M Odada 120th
LCB (Real) (60th) RCB (Real) (120th)
Did not play Did not play
DM Odada 0 S Sullivan – inj 0
M/S Rafanello 0 S Donovan 0 (inj?)
S Donovan 0 (inj?) GK Trent 0
GK Trent 0


Nashville: Tuesday, 14-Feb Colorado: Saturday, 18-Feb
First (45 + 15): 4-4-2 Three 45s – 4-4-2
Pos Player Off Pos Player Off
GK Blake 90th GK Blake 90th
LB Wagner 60th LB Wagner 90th
LCB Elliott 60th LCB Elliott 90th
RCB Glesnes 45th RCB Glesnes 90th
RB Mbaizo 60th RB Mbaizo 90th
DM Martinez 60th DM Martinez 59th
LM Flach 60th LM Flach 90th
RM Bedoya 45th RM Bedoya 90th
AM Gazdag 60th AM Gazdag 90th
S Uhre 77th S Uhre 79th
S Torres 77th S Carranza 90th
Second (30+30): 4-4-2 Substitutes
Substitutions Halftime LM Perea (59th) 135th
RCB Lowe 120th DM [Flach] (59th)] 135th
RM Perea 120th S Torres (79th) 135th
Substitutions 60th minute The Extra 45-minute half
LB Real 120th GK Bendik 135th
LCB Craig 120th LB Real 135th
RB Harriel 120th LCB Craig 135th
DM Bueno 120th RCB Lowe 135th
LM McGlynn 120th RB Harriel 135th
S Sullivan 120th DM Bueno 135th
(AM) (Torres) 120th LM Perea (59th ) 135th
Substitutions 77th minute RM McGlynn 135th
S Donovan 120th AM Torres (79th ) 135th
AM Rafanello 120th S Donovan 135th
Substitution 90th minute S Sullivan 135th
GK Bendik 120th Did not play
Did not play AM/S Rafanello 0
S Carranza 0 LB/M Sorenson 0
LB Sorenson 60* DM Odada (inj) 0
DM Odada 0 GK Trent 0
GK Trent 0
*Sorenson may have gotten 60 minutes against Huntsville City FC later that same evening.

Leave a Reply

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