MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 3-2 Columbus Crew 2

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

In a spectacular comeback win on Sunday, Jeremy Rafanello’s hat trick secured Philadelphia Union II’s first home win of 2023, giving defending league champion Columbus Crew 2 its second consecutive defeat and increasing its total goals surrendered by 50%.

After falling behind 2-0 in the first 24 minutes on two defensive errors, C. J. Olney won a penalty kick in the 32nd that Rafanello buried in the 33rd. Two minutes later Olney found Rafanello on the right side of the box for a worm-burner to the left-side netting. Then in the 81st, with Luciano Sanchez looming as a sub on the sidelines, Juan Castillo found the exhausted hat-tricker well outside the box in the left channel and his 30-yard strike lasered past surprised Columbus keeper Brady Scott for the winner.

In advance

Philadelphia’s first team had played the night before, 131 miles north of Subaru Park in Queens with Rafanello on the bench.

Columbus’s first team tapped off in Nashville an hour and a half later than tap off in Chester. Sketchy glances at previous Crew 2 gameday rosters suggest only limited past game-day migration between their first and second teams.

The Union Academy U17s played a friendly against Reading United Friday night, but it did not limit starts by Alex Perez, David Vazquez and Olney. Daniel Kreuger and Andrew Rick were on the bench. Union II defensive midfielder Pedro Alvarez was not available due to injury recovery protocols.

Union II’s starting midfield was Francis Westfield, 17.5-years-old, Perez, 17.1,  Vazquez, 17.3 and Olney, 16.4. Their starts reflected how well Westfield and Perez had done at the double sixes down in North Carolina against Crown Legacy for the first 60 minutes last Wednesday night.

Union II’s youngest player went the full 90 after having gone 88 minutes against Crown Legacy in North Carolina. Earnie Stewart would now mention Olney’s “engine-building.”

First half

Initially, Columbus played an extremely high back line, looking to build possession, penetrate to the Union II’s end line, and lay passes back for late runners. The high restraining line continued, but the Union II’s counter press disrupted midfield possession well enough to reduce the threat from late runners. They were too busy. Union II direct play also discouraged Columbus’s late runs from deep.

In the 19th minute right back Anton Sorenson too easily allowed Marco Micoletto to gain goal-side position and the Crew 2’s 27-year-old scored. Five minutes later the same defender received a yellow card inside the box for tripping, surrendered a PK taken by Gibran Rayo, and Columbus led 2-0.

Union II heads did not go down.

Nine minutes later in the 32nd Olney was in turn tripped in the box on a yellow from Abdi Mohamed and Rafanello buried the PK to halve the deficit. And two minutes later Olney fed Rafanello on the right for a worm burner to the far post to even matters.

The high-energy half slowed in the last two or three minutes as Columbus overtly fell back behind the centerline to defend and Union II began to possess the ball a bit more laterally in their own defensive half.

Second half

At halftime Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc replaced Gino Portella with his last allowable  academy player, 17.4-year-old center back Daniel Kreuger. He may only play five amateurs at any one time.

Portella had once again received a yellow card in the first half. In his last five games  the German-Italian has received five yellow cards. Having been suspended already for yellow card accumulation, he will be suspended a second time for his next one. The season has not yet reached its halfway point.

The teenage midfield continued to keystone all ten Boys in Blue reading and executing their pressing cues simultaneously. Perez and Westfield form an effective tandem of defensive center midfielders. Columbus remained stymied until fatigue forced LeBlanc to begin to substitute after about seventy minutes.

That’s when fresh Columbus legs began to turn the match’s momentum.

By the end Union II were playing as though they were dead on their feet. The substitutes were not executing their pressing cues in synch with everyone else. Had Union II’s starters been 90 minutes MLS NEXT Pro match fit ,the result would not have been in doubt.

In actual fact, coach LeBlanc may need some throat lozenges today.

In the 88th and the 90th Brooks Thompson had to come up big on two “one v one” saves. Union II is lucky that Crew 2’s fresher legs were not wearing their shooting boots on the night as shots were either wide, high, or right at Thompson.

Next Match

Union II travel to northern Kentucky to play FC Cincinnati 2 at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 4.

Three points
  1.  The U.S. U-20s won their group when they defeated Slovakia 2 – 0 last Friday in the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina, having kept three consecutive clean sheets. Brandan Craig started and played the full 90 at center back on Friday. Jack McGlynn subbed on the in the 67th, as Quinn Sulllivan did in the 73rd, garnering an assist on the stoppage time coffin nailer. The U.S. will play the opening match of the knockout stage against Group A’s third-place New Zealand on Tuesday, May 30 at 2:30 p.m. ET broadcast on FS2 from the city of Mendoza.
  2. For Union II to have taken four points from the top two teams in the conference last Wednesday and yesterday is an achievement.
  3. From the 64th minute until the 71st Union II played seven consecutive minutes down a man because of consecutive injuries to Rafanello, who recovered, and Vazquez, who had to be helped from the field having absorbed a second hard blow to his upper leg. It would not surprise if Vazquez misses time in recovery.

Union II Lineup (4-2-2-2, L-R): Starters: Brooks Thompson; Juan Castillo, Gino Portella (Daniel Kreuger HT), Hugo Le Guennec, Anton Sorenson; Frank Westfield, Alex Perez (Maike Villero 75′); C. J. Olney, David Vazquez (Boubacar Diallo 71′); Jeremy Rafanello (Luciano Sanchez 86′), Stefan Stojanovic (Nelson Pierre 71′). Unused substitutes: Andrew Rick; Luke Martelli, Carlos Rojas, Anthony Ramirez. 1st – 3, U II – 8, Acad – 9. Injury recovery: Pedro Alvarez

Starters ages:

Thompson Castillo Portella LeGuennec Sorenson Westfield
21.0 20.7 22.2 23.3 20.3 17.5
Perez Olney Vazquez Rafanello Stojanovic
17.1 16.4 17.3 23.1 22.2

Crew 2 lineup (4-3-3, L-R): Starters: Brady Scott; Stuart Richie (Jordan Knight 74′), Xavier Zengue, Jacob Erlandson, Abdi Mohamed; Cole Mrowka (Brent Adu-Gyamfi 83′), Taha Habroune (Gio De Libera 65′), Marco Micaletto; Gibran Rayo, Thomas Roberts, Noah Fuson. Unused substitutes: Stanislav Lapkes; Ty Nero, Nicolas Rincon, Clay Holstad, Mataeo Bunbury, Coleman Gannon.


C 2      19th minute       Marco Micaletto

C 2       24th minute      Gibran Rayo (PK)

U II      33rd minute      Jeremy Rafanello (PK)

U II      35th minute       Jeremy Rafanello (C. J. Olney)

U II       81st minute       Jeremy Rafanello (Juan Castillo)


U II       21st minute      Yellow      Gino Portella (foul)

U II       23rd minute     Yellow      Anton Sorenson (foul)

C 2        32nd minute     Yellow      Abdi Mohamed (foul)

C 2         54th minute     Yellow     Cole Mrowka (foul)

U II        64th minute     Yellow     Jeremy Rafanello (dissent)

C 2         67th minute     Yellow      Noah Fuson (foul)

U II       82nd minute     Yellow     Boubacar Diallo (foul)

U II Statistic C 2 U II Statistic C 2
30 Possession % 70 5 Offsides 1
10 Shots 9 48 Duels won 28
3 Shots on goal 4 14 Tackles  won 4
1 Blocked shots 0 3 Saves 0
305 Total Passes 713 17 Clearances 9
69.8 Pass Accuracy % 87 13 Fouls 14
1 Corners 6 4 Yellow Cards 3
11 Crosses 14 0 Red Cards 0

Ref: Joshua Encarnacion, AR1: Jeffrey Skinker, AR2: Andrew Charron, 4TH: Marie Durr.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    First, a correction on the U-20 game today. I believe it starts at 1:30 rather than 2:30 (to give time for potential overtime/PK’s before the 5pm game).
    Rafanello’s game winner was awesome. I don’t think anyone was expecting him to take that shot.
    Rafanello was really upset when he had to sit out for 3 minutes with after being treated, but I think he had the proper opportunity to get up before the staff came on the field. He also received a yellow on the play he was injured on. I didn’t think it was for dissent, but for a reckless tackle. Vazquez had to be helped off the field so it was obviously a serious injury, but even if he hadn’t, it would have made sense for the medical staff to check him out to help run out the 3 minutes for Rafanello. Vazquez would have been allowed to stay on the field since a card was given to Columbus on the play.
    I also noticed that when Stojanovic took a ball straight to the face, he did not have to come off despite receiving medical attention since it was a check for a concussion.
    I did not particularly enjoy the substitute PA announcer as he seemed to get excited about goals and subs for both teams rather than just the home team.
    Unfortunately, I’m going to have to miss the next home game on June 9, but I look forward to your summary, Tim.

    • HopkinsMD says:

      I agree about Rafanello‘s third goal—it was a stunner. One of his teammates fell to the ground in reaction… or maybe he was just out of gas. Nah, it was a pure “wow.” 🙂

      • Tim Jones says:

        Columbus 2 must feel snake-bitten at Subaru Park. Rafanello’s game winner this year; and Stojanovic’s, last.

    • Tim Jones says:

      I am scheduled to do that match report, with the usual caveats about divine willingness and creeks not flooding.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    Thanks for the time correction on today’s broadcast of the U20s, Andy.

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