Commentary / Philadelphia Union II

Previewing the 2023 Union II season

Photo: Ben Ross

Philadelphia Union II opens its season Sunday, March 26 at 3:00 p.m. against Orlando City B at Subaru Park.

Given the Union’s international call-ups, injuries, and suspensions, several Union II players are likely to provide bench depth to the first team the night before, so their availability Sunday afternoon is uncertain.


There were four Union II preseason scrimmages in Florida. There have been four more since the team’s return. They have won five, tied one, and lost two. Four occurred after first team scrimmages or games, either later the same day or on the day immediately afterwards, but first team participation seems not to have been extensive.

Scrimmage players’ origins remain incompletely known. The possibilities are the first team, Union II professionals, Academy U17s, and trialists. Trialists are fully dark, so there can be no further discussion of them. Lineups may well have adjusted to the level of the opponent within the U. S. Soccer pyramid. Levels ranged from fully professional division 2 to amateur division 4.

Preseason results against division 2 opponents were a win and a loss, and against division 3 were a draw and a loss. In three of the four matches the defense surrendered only one goal or kept a clean sheet.

Head coach Marlon LeBlanc has been conditioning his group towards 90 minutes game fitness as well as getting them all developmental minutes.

All scrimmages were closed to the public.

  • Saturday night February 4, against Florida Premier of the U. S. Soccer pyramid’s Division Four United Premier Soccer League, Union II played two 45-minute periods and won 6-0.
  • Thursday night February 9, against Nona FC of D 4’s United Soccer League 2, Union II played two 45s and won 5-1.

This drone overhead footage shows some of the U II goals from the first two matches. .

  • *Tuesday night February 14, against Nashville’s second team Huntsville City Union II played two 45s and drew 1-1. Starters played 60 minutes and were ahead 1-0 when they withdrew.
  • Saturday morning, February 18, against Club de Lyon of D 3’s National Independent Soccer Association & D 4’s UPSL, Union II played two 45s and won 3-0.
Back home
  • *Sunday, February 26, at Loudoun United of D 2’s USL Championship, Union II played two 45s and lost 4-2.
  • *Wednesday, March 8, Union II hosted Loudoun United in a rematch, played two 45’s, and won 1-0. Only two first-teamers played for Union II.
  • *Sunday, March 12, Union II travelled to NY Red Bull II, newly of MLS NEXT Pro in D  3, and played two 45’s, losing 1-0 on a penalty kick. Only three first teamers joined in, probably the two who are loaned out and a goalkeeper needing minutes.
  • Sunday, March 19, Union II hosted Philadelphia Lone Star of D 4’s USL 2, National  Premier Soccer League, and UPSL, played two 45s, and won 5 – 1.

Touching wood against the commentator’s curse, as far as can be determined Union II did not suffer any significant injuries during preseason.

Offseason developments

Two former academy players who would have played for Union II in 2023 are no longer with the organization.

  • Striker Marcos Zambrano signed with Benfica in Portugal over the winter.
  • Attacking mid Bajung Darboe has left Philadelphia’s Academy. (The link gives unconfirmed suggestions about his situation.)

On March 10 Rochester NY FC ceased operation, forcing last-moment reorganization to the Northeast Divison’s and the Eastern Conference’s  game schedule.

The schedule

Union II’s MLS NEXT Pro’s (MLSNP) 2023 28-game regular season schedule is simple.

  • The side engages in no cross-conference play.
  • It plays each conference opponent home and away, creating 24 games.
  • It also plays four of the five other Northeast Division teams a third time. Both New York teams are played away and New England and Toronto are played at home.

Below the Eastern Conference for 2023 is listed alphabetically by divisions, with 2022 finishes and points along side where applicable.

Northeast Division Central Division
Teams & 2022 places and points Teams & 2022 places and points
Crown Legacy FC 1 Atlanta United 2 [USLC]
New York City FC II 5th (37) 2 Chicago Fire II 8th (31)
N Eng Revolution II 7th (33) 3 Columbus Crew 2 1st (55)
New York Red Bull II [USLC] 4 FC Cincinnati 2 10th (17)
Philadelphia Union II 3rd (40) 5 Huntsville City FC
Toronto FC II 2nd (41) 6 Inter Miami CF II 6th (36)
7 Orlando City B 9th (25)
Schedule rhythms

The season lasts 26 weeks plus a weekend, from Friday, March 24 to Sunday, September 24, (MLSNP’s “Decision Day.”)

The first nine games follow the rhythm of a sine curve. All are on Sundays played on the seventh day after the preceding matches, with eight of the nine the day after first-team Saturday games.  Four of the nine find Union II at home. This opening sequence enhances the potential for game day roster interchange between the Union and Union II.

At the end of May, exactly when the organization’s total roster will be stressed to its limit for other reasons, the rhythm of games becomes much less uniform.

The international absences discussed elsewhere and the addition of midweek games change LeBlanc’s challenge from putting out a good team  to putting out a complete one. If the first team makes the finals of the Concacaf Champions League and advances into the second and third rounds of the US Open Cup, probably the organization will have to petition for schedule adjustment, perhaps for both squads.

After May no matches are scheduled fewer than five days after the preceding one. But no mathematical formula describes the rest of the season’s pattern.

And as always beginning in mid-June the academy portion of Union II will cycle from the graduating classes of 2023 and 2024 to those of 2024 and 2025 as seniors go off to college.

Opponents’ quality

Of the seven teams new to the league, four are in the Eastern Conference. Huntsville City FC, and Crown Legacy FC are literally brand new, each having been created from scratch for 2023. Atlanta United 2 and New York Red Bull II played last season in the Eastern Conference  of division two’s United Soccer League Championship, finishing next-to-last (13th) and last (14th) respectively.

Preseason scrimmages with Huntsville and Red Bull produced a 1-1 draw and a 1-0 penalty kick loss. Otherwise how each future opponent has evolved for the 2023 season has yet to be seen on the pitch.

Of the MLSNP Eastern Conference returnees three made the last year’s playoffs. The other six missed out (see chart above).

Last season’s version of Columbus Crew 2 was the class of the league. Five of its alumni started the MLS season opener against the Union at Subaru Park, with a sixth coming off the bench.

Crew 2 won 2022’s MLS Next Pro Cup over St. Louis 4-1, after having defeating Toronto and before that now defunct Rochester.

Toronto had defeated Philadelphia Union II 1-0 in a playoff match played during a Philadelphia roster crunch of international absences and a simultaneous home friendly against Pachuca.

Union II’s changes and continuities for 2023

Four players and one assistant coach departed. In addition to Zambrano and Darboe, loaned professionals Carlos Paternina, and Juan Perdomo have gone. Assistant coach Frazer Robertson also left.

Two new professionals have joined, left back Juan Castillo and defensive mid Pedro Alvarez.

And defensive mid Maike Villero has had his loan extended, after initially seeming to have left.

Stringent rules maintain the amateur eligibility of U17 academy players. To date in 2023 no amateur mentioned below has been officially confirmed as part of Union II. Apparently they can be so listed and confirmed only after having played in a 2023 regular season game.

In advance of those conditions being fulfilled, all academy amateurs should be listed as “academy player,” officially.  So of necessity what follows is strictly unofficial, unconfirmed, and of no relevance to the maintanence of amateur status.

This could be one of the stronger Union II starting lineups without any “extra” first-team help. Union II: 4-2-2-2 (L-R). Brooks Thompson; Anton Sorenson, Gino Portella, Nathan Nkanji, Frank Westfield; Maike Villero, Pedro Alvarez; Boubacar Diallo, Anthony Ramirez; Nelson Pierre, Jose Riasco.

And these are likely the backups from whom a game-day bench might be chosen: Andrew Rick, John Evans; Juan Castillo, Devin Stopek, Daniel Kreuger, Noe Uwimana; Logan Oliver; CJ Olney, Marcello Mazzola, Luciano Sanchez; Stefan Stojanovic, Alex Perez.

Before Andre Blake’s adductor strain Jim Curtin had commented that Holden Trent would get his games in Union II’s goal. The first nine games could still allow that to occur when both teams are in the same place.


MLS NEXT Pro’s just-emerging roster page for Philadelphia Union II lists a name previously unknown. He is former Rutgers University captain, Hugo Le Guennec, a 23.1 year-old Frenchman who made second team all Big Ten for the 2022 season in which they won the conference tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA division one men’s soccer tournament. He seemed to play primarily as a center back in practice Wednesday, Marc h 22.

And David Vasquez from the Academy and the US U17s seems to be practicing with Union II. He will probably oscillate between Union II and the U17s, particularly when the U17s have important tournaments.

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