MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Toronto FC II 1-1 (4-2) Philadelphia Union II

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II 

Despite a sensational goal by Philadelphia Union’s Jeremy Rafanello, Union II conceded late and then fell in a shootout to Toronto FC II on Tuesday night.

To any neutral observer the result was just. Had Toronto laced on their accurate shooting boots, the regulation score would not have been close. But their performance perfectly illustrated the fallacy of the possession statistic. They dominated possession 68 to 32 but only put five shots on target to Philadelphia’s four.

Rafanello took care of Philly’s scoring in spectacular fashion. In the 56th minute Toronto cleared a corner kick into the air 25 yards away from goal but directly onto the uncontested Delran Township, NJ striker’s right foot. The YSC Academy alumnus struck the ball as it was descending putting topspin on it to make it dip at the end. It did so to kiss the bottom of the bar and give Union II an improbable lead.

The lead looked to hold until the 74th minute when left back Juan Castillo’s recurring leg cramps forced him to leave. In Francis Westfield’s yellow card accumulation absence, there was no outside back depth on the bench, and the consequent defensive disorganization was obvious.

Versatile Toronto central spine player Anthony Curic slotted home from a Dekwon Barrow cross in the 84th to tie it. Union II keeper Brooks Thompson made a spectacular double save in the first minute of stoppage time to preserve the tie. And Toronto keeper Luka Gavran made two saves to Thompson’s one in the shootout to earn the extra point.

It was the second draw between the teams this season; each has now won a shootout.

In advance

Union II played a team on the road below them in the table. They have played better when the away opponent has been above them. Toronto II were on a mission. Toronto II had three wins nine losses and four draws for 15 points and 12th place before tap-off. Union II had been 6-8-3 in 9th on 23 points. Toronto was also on shorter rest, having played the previous Friday. Union II had a bye over the weekend.

Brandan Craig can no longer be made available to Union II since he has been loaned for the rest of the season to Austin FC where he has a better chance of getting actual MLS minutes than he did in Chester. (We hope to report the basic data of Craig’s loan performances once it has accumulated.)

New players from the Academy U17s have not yet begun to tryout. All recent graduates save Luciano Sanchez have enrolled in their university summer schools to acclimate to training facilities and living environments, Union II will be short-handed for the immediate future. Only 17 names plus the two first-team loanees remain eligible on the roster page, with two of those consecutively absent unexplained for recent matches.

Tuesday’s addition

Tuesday afternoon Union II announced the signing of Phoenixville native and five-year Drexel soccer alumnus Kyle Tucker. He has played 20 games with local semi-pro side West Chester United of USL2 and NPSL, including 90 minutes in United’s  actual first round U. S. Open Cup loss to Ocean City Nor’easters.

He was observed trying out at practice last Thursday. Head coach Marlon LeBanc describes him as a box-to-box midfielder. He is signed for the rest of 2023 with an option for 2024. He will be 24 years old on the 23rd of July. He will provide midfield depth necessary to support the teenage engine-building currently underway in Union II’s 2023 midfield, as he did last night. He wears number 88.

First half

Toronto came out on the front foot. They seemed to play three across the back with two extra men moving up into the midfield, and for the first 15 to 20 minutes they dominated.

Jesus Batiz schooled both Anton Sorenson and Daniel Kreuger early, but without scoring. To both Union defenders’ credits, as the half wore on they learned to cope more effectively.

Union II was lucky that Toronto did not put several good chances on frame. and after the first half an hour, Union II began to win the ball on the press and create spells of possession on offense and some chances. In the 43rd minute Toronto striker Jordan Perruzza broke in alone on Brooks Thompson but missed his shot. The episode encapsulated the first half.

Second half

Luciano Sanchez replaced Nelson Pierre at halftime. HIs cruise control speed is higher paced than Pierre’s, and Union II play again on Sunday.

Union II began the half brightly, although the match had already begun to have significant elements of end-to-end back and forth play.

As soon as Rafanello scored, Toronto began to swap tired legs for fresh and make tactical adjustments. Anthony Curic moved from central center back in their original back three to the center of the midfield. Union II’s defense contained the changes until Castillo cramped the second time. Attacking players playing defense play with man-marking principles, not zone-spacing and instinctive pressure-cover and balance ones.

Correctly anticipating Toronto runners out of the midfield  became a Union II defensive flaw. Not having defensive Swiss Army knife Westfield hurt.

Next match

Union II will host New York Red Bulls II this Sunday, July 16 at 6 p.m., the day after the respective first teams have played other opponents. Union II will be playing on short rest, the fourth day. The match is scheduled for Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.

Three points
  1. No single six. The experiment with a single six did not continue. Union II deployed the double pivot instead with Carlos Rojas and Alex Perez doing the honors.
  2. The effects of practicing with the first team. Recently Jeremy Rafanello is showing as a dominant offensive creator and scorer at the MLS NEXT Pro level, much improved over last season.
  3. Andrew Rick. Probably Rick did not dress because Thompson needed a start, and Gavin Atkinson needed to travel and dress.

Union II lineup (4-2-2-2, L-R): Starters: Brooks Thompson; Juan Castillo (Boubacar Diallo 74′), Daniel Kreuger, Hugo Le Guennec, Anton Sorenson; Alex Perez (Kyle Tucker 62′), Carlos Rojas; C. J. Olney, David Vazquez (Stefan Stojanovic 62′); Jeremy Rafanello (Nathan Nkanji 83′), Nelson Pierre (Luciano Sanchez HT). Unused substitutes: Gavin Atkinson; Edward Davis. Suspended: Francis Westfield. Unknown: Gino Portella, Jose Riasco, .

1st – 3, U II – 8, Acad – 7.

Starters’ ages 

Thompson Castillo Kreuger LeGuennec Sorenson Rojas
21.1 20.8 17.5 23.4 20.5 19.5
Perez Olney Vazquez Rafanello Pierre
17.2 16.6 17.4 23.2 18.3

TFC II lineup (3-4-3, L-R):

 Starters: Luca Gavran; Themi Antonoglou (Dekwon Barrow 77′), Adam Pearlman, Lazar Stefanovic, Theo Rigopoulos (Alec Diaz 83′); Markus Cimermancic, Antony Curic, Lucas Olguin (Myles Morgan 83′); Jesus Batiz, Jordan Perruzza (Julian Altobelli 59′), Reshaun Walkes (Matthew Catavolo 59′).

Unused substitutes: Adisa De Rosario; Rohan Goulbourne, Matthew Medeiros, Marko Stojadinovic.


Union II       56th minute       Jeremy Rafanello

Toronto II    84th minute       Anthony Curic

Penalty kick shootout

Toronto FC II  4

Union II  2

v Brooks Thompson

v Luca Gavran



















Yellow cards

Union II       24th minute       David Vazquez (foul)

Toronto II    72nd minute      Anthony Curic (handball)

Union II       78th minute       Carlos Rojas (foul)

Toronto II.   89th minute       Alec Diaz (dissent)

T II Statistic U II T II Statistic U II
68.1 Possession % 31.9 4 Offsides 3
14 Shots 9 51 Duels won 46
5 Shots on goal 4 10 Tackles  won 19
4 Blocked shots 0 3 Saves 4
710 Total Passes 326 6 Clearances 20
86.1 Pass Accuracy % 73.9 7 Fouls 9
5 Corners 4 2 Yellow Cards 2
12 Crosses 12 0 Red Cards 0

Ref: Ryan Schwenger, AR1: Twayne Anderson, AR2: Reda Fazazi, 4th: Yusri Rudolf.

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