Analyzing Union II’s recent goalkeeper signing

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Philadelphia Union II’s announcement last Thursday that 17.4-year-old rising Academy senior Andrew Rick has been signed to a professional contract and Andre Blake’s absence with Jamaica has focused attention more than usually on the organization’s goalkeepers.

The Rick signing announcement comes more than half a year before his 18th birthday.

  • Under U.S. child labor laws, it had to have involved his parents’ participation and consent.
  • That he is enrolled in the Union’s Academy makes the school element of legal compliance easier.
  • He can no longer pay for college with an athletic scholarship, but can pay for online course work with his professional earnings.
  • It suggests possible preemption of outside clubs’ interest in the young goalkeeper.
  • It means he joins Brooks Thompson as a possible emergency extreme hardship call-up to back up Holden Trent if Joe Bendik goes down.
  • And it opens another potential Union II game slot to a different academy amateur, since Rick will no longer count against the limit of only five on the pitch at any one time.
Goalkeeping data

Emphasizing one statistic hides lots of other important information. But sometimes the stat makes a point. Consider the column “GA – XGA.”

“Goals Against,” or GA, records how many goals the other team scored. “Expected Goals Against” estimates how many should have been scored in an “average” situation given all the characteristics of each shot. When the Expected Goals Against estimate exceeds actual Goals Allowed – when  the statistic produces a negative number  – the keeper has performed well.

Using MLS and MLS NEXT Pro regular season match logs, you can examine how many times in 2022 and 2023 each of the six organization’s six professional-level keepers clearly outperformed general expectations because they produced negative GA-XGA games.

Not only is Andre Blake the Union’s best goalkeeper. He sets a standard against which others may be compared. The standard is high.

Small sample sizes caution the usefulness of many of the comparisons that can be made from the data. Also, Matt Freese and Joe Bendik have played matches at both professional levels. Finally, Andrew Rick played 13 minutes in MLS NEXT Pro in 2022 without receiving a shot on target.

Negative GA – XGA games produced (as of 26-June-23)

2023 2022
Andre Blake MLS  11 of 18 24 of 34
Matt Freese MLS 0 of 1 —-
Next Pro 1 of 1 6 of 14
Joe Bendik MLS 1 of 5 —-
Next Pro —- 0 of 1
Holden Trent Next Pro 2 of 5 —-
Brooks Thompson Next Pro 2 of 4 2 of 8
Andrew Rick Next Pro 2 of 5 0 of 0

Omitted is in-game poise provided by experience. Joe Bendik has that. Trent, Thompson, and Rick have yet to accumulate it.

Union Development Squad

Although he could technically still qualify for Academy U17 matches through December 31, 2023, Rick will probably play for the Union Development Squad when he does not play with Union II.

The Union Development Squad meets needs created when the organization laid down its Academy U19 side after the 2019-2020 season.

  • Academy seniors bound for the NCAA rather than the pros still need development minutes.
  • The organization has actively sought them against semi-professional adult sides.
  • Social dynamics within the Academy’s schoolhouse need its seniors to continue to have challenging competitive soccer.
  • And UDS can maintain organization contact with Academy graduates during unversities’  summer offseason, as illustrated by Academy alum and current Rutgers player Ian Abbey who has started every UDS match to date since mid-May of this year.

In 2021, its first year of existence, UDS played an independent schedule. By the fall of 2022 it was part of the Premier Division of the United Premier Soccer League competing in the Northeast – American conference.

Since mid-May 2023 it has competed in the National Premier Soccer League’s East Region, in that region’s Keystone East Conference. Among the adult semi-pro teams of Keystone East and Keystone West are several local sides that have regularly scrimmaged Union II and Bethlehem Steel FC: West Chester United, FC Motown, Jackson Lions, Atlantic City FC, Philadelphia Lone Star, and Ukrainian Nationals among others.

 UDS stretches the Academy’s NCAA-bound students against adult former professionals and former collegians.

A Union II first

Last Friday afternoon Union II announced that both Maike Villero and Pedro Alvarez had terminated their contracts with the club by mutual agreement. To the best of recorded memory, second team midseason mutual termination has not occurred before.

The moves make sense.

  • Both Venezuelan defensive center midfielders are 22.4 years old, slightly beyond the upper limit of Ernst Tanner’s targeted developmental ages.
  • Alex Perez and Francis Westfield have taken over as Union II’s starting double sixes, relegating the Venezuelans to the bench.
  • The summer transfer window is opening and other opportunities to play elsewhere can easily develop.
  • The departures open opportunities for younger amateurs precisely when the next birth-year cohort — the 2007s — is beginning to try to make Union II.

The organization likes its teams to win. But discovering and developing individual youth talent is Union II’s fundamental purpose.


  1. Good stuff, but unfortunately the sample size is too small for anyone but Blake or Freese, understandably… and because of Blake’s dominance, others just do not get enough playing time to really compare. Herr Tanner’s challenge as Blake ages.

    I sincerely think Curtin should give Trent a start now. Atlanta has something to prove this weekend, and we can ill afford falling further and further behind Cincy.

  2. PS: A Bendik/Guzon duel would have been something I’d wanted to see 5 years ago. Not Saturday.

    Watch the 4 goals scored on Bendik & Guzon last week. They were all like the same goal. Old goalie out of position, trying to make the save too late.

    PLEASE start Trent!

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Hard to blame Bendik on the goal against Miami given that it took a deflection off Glesnes.

      • You know what I mean. We need to look forward, not back… no disrespect to Coach Bendik.

    • Tim Jones says:

      I have no idea, J Fav, whether you may have seen Holden Trent’s first start for Union II however many weeks ago. His play was tentative and unsure. To put him out in a non-injury situation in an MLS match risks his confidence in himself. A goalkeeper above all must play with certainty.
      Jim Curtin has done an excellent job, IMO, with other young players placing them to experience confidence-building success rather than confidence-destroying failure: Austin Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, Matt Real, Matt Freese, Anthony Fontana, and so forth and soon. I am inclined to trust his judgment. He knows his people a lot better than I do.

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