Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 1-1 Wrexham AFC

Photo: Tim Jones

Philadelphia Union II and Wrexham AFC, of both the documentary and Wales, played a preseason international friendly Friday night at Subaru Park to a 1-1 draw.

As the halftime whistle still echoed in the stadium, the Public Address announcer informed the crowd that the National Wether Service had detected lightning and other severe weather in the immediate vicinity and teams and fans were required to leave the pitch, exposed seats to shelter in place.

Two and a half hours of rain and wind transformed a sweltering July evening into a distinctly cooler one, helping also transform a match from one dominated by an old, wise side experienced at surviving adverse conditions into one dominated by the exuberance and energy of youth. Wrexham coach Phil Parkinson wisely avoided injury among his starters by substituting all of them at the half. The massive change and the drop in temperature meant Philadelphia dominated the second stanza. Only in its last ten minutes did Wrexham begin to match Philly’s second half energy and offensive threat.

Both goals came from set pieces at the end of the first half, in the 42nd and 47th minutes.

The first, Wrexham’s, began as a corner kick that deflected off Union defender Juan Castillo’s back directly to Wrexham’s Tom O’Connor. O’Connor was unmarked slightly to the left of the penalty spot whence he put a low, hard, unstoppable shot to the back of the net. The second, Union II’s, came from a free kick 25 yards away from goal to the left of the penalty area’s “D,” a chance that was struck hard on frame by Jeremy Rafanello and deflected off Wrexham’s Andy Cannon to wrong foot 40-year-old former EPL and England keeper Ben Foster.

The two restart deflections balanced each other on the scoreboard.

In advance

The match stood alone as a preseason international friendly. Its pregame expectations governing substitutions were:

  • Each team could substitute a maximum of ten field players plus a goalkeeper.
  • Each team could substitute up to three individuals in the first half.
  • Each team could have three separate substitution events of multiple players per event in the second half.
  • Substitutions above and beyond those limits could be allowed in case of injury.
  • The match could end as a draw at the end of regulation with no further activity, as it did.
  • There were no age restrictions on player eligibility.
  • Any number of academy amateurs could be on the field for Union II at any one time.

In Wrexham’s three previous stateside matches they had substituted all eleven starters. Individual game minutes had reflected the sequences of preseason conditioning. Reportedly Wrexham coach Phil Parkinson had indicated his starters should expect to go 90, but the weather reversed his plan. Union II was the Welsh side’s final tuneup. Their next match — one that counts — comes against MK Dons in the EFL Cup on August 5th.

The Union first team does not play until Thursday, August 3rd against DC United, so extra reinforcements above and beyond the usual season-long loans were made available: striker Chris Donovan and striker-midfielders Jeremy Rafanello and Quinn Sullivan all started and played healthy shifts.

The match was the fourth and final one in the Welsh side’s preseason tour of the United States.

Day Date Opponent Result Recovery Venue
We 19-Jul Chelsea L    0 – 5 Chapel Hill
Sat  22-Jul LA Galaxy II W  4 – 0 3rd day Carson City
Tue 25-Jul Man Utd W  3 – 1 3rd day San Diego

Wrexham was founded in 1864. It is the third-oldest soccer club in the world. Last season, as champions of the National League, they earned promotion to the English Football League’s League Two. They had not participated in the fourth tier of English soccer since 2008. A sizable group of Welsh fans accompanied the team on its tour.

A curiosity is that Wrexham AFC’s fiercest rivalry, the Cross Border Derby, is against Chester City who are only ten miles away but in England not Wales. The Derby requires a heavy police presence, classifies as “high risk,” and usually has an early start time to accommodate police attempts to reduce hooliganism. It last occurred in 2017.

Personnel news

Friday morning Union II announced goalkeeper Brooks Thompson had been loaned with a right of recall to North Carolina FC of USL League One for the remainder of the season. NC FC’s website mentions there was an agreed fee but does not give an amount.

The news telegraphs that Andrew Rick has become the presumptive Union II starter for its matches and is virtually certainly to be the fourth keeper for first-team practices with Andre Blake, Joe Bendik, and Holden Trent.


Attendance was the highest ever for a Union second team regular season home game (see the feature photo taken during the first half’s hydration break). All sections of the stadium were open and occupied. Never before had that happened since 2016, at either Subaru Park or Lehigh’s Goodman Stadium.

Bethlehem Steel FC used to play FC Cincinnati in Nippert Stadium when both were still in the USL Championship, and Cincinnati regularly had attendances in the low thirties of thousands. So probably Nippert Stadium holds the Union II/Bethlehem Steel FC attendance record for a regular season game.

First half

Five major characteristics dominated play in the first half. All favored Wrexham.

  • Wrexham contested every possible ball and seemed to win most one v one duels of whatever type. When they did not, they did not allow Union II to win cleanly, thus destroying short range build-ups. Union II was only able to thrust forward on long direct service to the strikers from the back line.
  • Wrexham was well-drilled and dangerous on restarts, especially corner kicks.
  • Except for Chris Donovan, Wrexham was better at winning aerial balls.
  • The heat noticeably slowed the pace of play, for both teams.
  • Wrexham seemed to have a pace advantage in its left channel when it pitted flank midfielder Jacob Mendy against the 17-year-old segment of Union II’s defensive line, Francis Westfield and Daniel Kreuger.
Second half

The second half tapped off about five minutes before 11. The weather delay had lasted approximately two and a half hours. The storm dropped the temperature noticeably.

As made a great deal of sense for an older team that had cooled inactively for 150-minutes, Wrexham coach Parkinson replaced his entire side at halftime.

These were the major characteristics of the second half,

  • Just as Wrexham had contested every possible ball in the first half dominating the period, so Union II did in the second half until about the last ten minutes.
  • As Wrexham had dominated midfield possession and play in the first half, so Union II dominated in the second.
  • Union II restarts became dangerous, while Wrexham totaled only two in the second half until the 87th minute.
  • Union II outworked their counterparts from Wales.
  • Wrexham’s dangerous outside channel threat switched from its left channel to its right, but Juan Castillo and Hugo Le Guennec handled the pace and the feet in the second half as well as Westfield and Kreuger had done in the first.

Union II’s best chance to score came in the 8oth minute, when after defeating his marker Nelson Pierre rang a hard shot off the near post. Pierre the Elder had a pleasantly bright, energetic half an hour as a substitute.

Wrexham put a nerve-wracking ball across Andrew Rick’s box late in stoppage time, but it flew wide of the far post.

When the referee blew the final whistle, the draw seemed a just result.

Next match

Union II host NYC FC II next Friday, August 4th at Subaru Park at 7:00 pm. The clubs will lie sixth (Union II) and seventh (NYC FC II) in the eastern conference table before tap-off, even if the baby cityzens have won their league match this past Sunday.

To qualify for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro playoffs, teams must finish in 7th place in the conference or higher.

Three points
  1. Goalkeeper Andrew Rick flawlessly made the saves he had to make. None were spectacular; all were mistake free.
  2. Wrexham’s starters were clearly superior to Union II.
  3. Union II was clearly superior to Wrexham’s reserves.
  4. Bonus point: It was unfortunate for the supporters of both side not to be able to watch the Welsh side’s injured striker Paul Mullin.

Press box mavens in the know calculated the average ages of the first half’s starting lineups. Wrexham AFC’s equaled 28 while Union II’s equaled 19.6.

Union II lineup (4-1-2-1-2, L-R): Starters: Andrew Rick; Juan Castillo, Hugo Le Guennec, Daniel Kreuger, Francis Westfield; Carlos Rojas; C. J. Olney (Nelson Pierre 62′), Quinn Sullivan; David Vazquez (Luciano Sanchez 62′);  Chris Donovan (Stefan Stojanovic 62′), Jeremy Rafanello (Kyle Tucker 74′). Unused substitutes: Gavin Atkinson; Nathan Nkanji, Neil Pierre, Anton Sorenson, Boubacar Diallo, Alex Perez, Edward Davis. 1st – 5, U II – 9, Acad – 8.

Unknown: Gino Portella, Jose Riasco.

U II Starters’ ages

Rick Castillo LeGuennec Kreuger Westfield Rojas
17.5 20.8 23.5 17.6 17.6 19.5
Olney Vazquez Sullivan Rafanello Donovan
16.6 17.4 19.3 23.3 23.0

Wrexham lineup (4-2-3-1): Starters, First Half: Ben Foster; Eoghan O’Connell, Ben Tozer (C), Will Boyle, Ryan Barnett; Andy Cannon, Tom O’Connor, James Jones, Jacob Mendy; Elliot Lee, Sam Dalby. Starters, Second Half: Mark Howard; Bryce Hosannah, Max Cleworth, Aaron James, Aaron Hayden, Callum MacFadzean,  Jordan Davies, David Jones, Liam McAlinden, Billy Waters, Ollie Palmer.


Wrexham           42rd minute       Tom O’Connor

Union II             45+2 minute       Jeremy Rafanello

Yellow Cards

Wrexham          88th minute        Callum MacFadzean (foul)


None were discoverable.


Ref: Juan Encarnacion, AR1: Mr. Casey, AR2 Mr. Whitmore, 4th Dustin Wynn.

One Comment

  1. Great summary, Tim. Thank you.

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