MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II

Match report: New York City FC II 2-0 Philadelphia Union II

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II communications with thanks to NYCFC II

Reacting against both recent futility against Philadelphia Union II and being below the playoff qualification line with only four games to go, NYCFC II head coach Matt Pilkington rearranged his veterans from his 2019 youth championship side including some loans down from the first team to defeat the boys from Philly 2-0 and leapfrog them in the standings. In particular left center back Nico Benalcazar’s offensive distribution sustained New York’s attack.

Both teams are now four points below qualification with three matches left to play, the Baby Pigeons holding the tiebreaker of one more win than Union II. The east cost pair are chasing midwesterners Chicago Fire II and Huntsville City FC, themselves tied on points in seventh and sixth with 37.

Jonathan Jimenez scored the match winner in the 36th minute immediately upon the resumption of play after the first half’s hydration break. And Matt Myers scored the clincher moments after Union II had substituted for three starters. It is not the first time this season that younger, less experienced subs off Union II’s bench have taken a few minutes to adapt into their roles.

New York doubled Philly’s number of shots taken, 18 to nine, and shots on target was a gross mismatch in their favor, 10 to one. Union II goalkeeper Andrew Rick made eight saves to his counterpart Alex Rando’s one. The match’s imbalance was further reflected by the possession statistics, 72% to 28%, and the total passes, 664 to 247.

In advance

Extra first team reinforcement for Union II beyond Nelson Pierre and Anton Sorenson did not happen because of the three first team injuries or suspensions at defensive midfield. The Union tapped off in Chester an hour after Union II’s final whistle had blown on Long Island.

Additionally, starter attacking midfielder David Vazquez was called in to USYNT U17 camp from September 1 to September 11. He missed the trip to Long Island and will miss the following match in Chester against Toronto II. C.J. Olney stepped into the attacking mid role, while Alex Perez slotted in for Olney at the left shuttling mid.

Although by current standards Union II’s eight-man bench was one short, prior to Covid seven was every professional bench’s normal length. The bench’s inexperience and youth were what mattered.

NYCFC’s first team played in the Bronx the day before. Extra reinforcements were possible, and several were made available, notably center back Justin Haak and left back Kevin O’Toole in addition to Benalcazar.

Before the match began Union II lay eighth in the table on 33 points. NYCFC II lay one spot below in ninth on 30. Each side had its fading playoff hopes riding on the outcome.

First half

From tap NYCFC II dominated possession on the front foot. At 30 seconds keeper Rick had to make a strong save on an excellent chance.

Without Vazquez and with Stojanovic moved into the forward line, Union II’s narrow diamond could not maintain stretches of possession to relieve pressure. The little cityzens were constant in their attacking. Philadelphia would break out on a counter but could not keep New York out of their own defensive third for more than seconds.

Right after the hydration break, midfielder Alex Perez was stripped and New York right winger Jimenez  broke in unmarked onto a cross for a score from the right channel. It was the mirror image of Daniel Gazdag’s from the left channel roughly three and a half hours later in Chester. In each case the shot was well struck to the far post and neither goalkeeper had any chance.

Coach Pilkington’s adjustments  created dominance, and coach LeBLanc’s thin bench meant he had few possible answers.

Second half

At halftime Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc sent 15.9-year-old professional Neil Pierre on at right center back for 17.7-year-old amateur Daniel Kreuger. In addition to the obvious player development purpose, the move enabled himto substitute an amateur for a professional later in the match.

Le Blanc must maintain a 6:5 professional to amateur ratio on the pitch at all times. Bringing on the younger Pierre meant he could use  amateur Sal Olivas to replace the older Pierre, also a  pro, at striker later, in the 58th minute. We have never been able fully to confirm that the 6:5 ratio is required by the NCAA to maintain academy players’ amateur standing, although knowledgeable sources in the past have suspected that our surmise may be correct.

When keeper Rick spilled the lasered cross that striker Myers’ tapped home unopposed, the match’s result became engraved in granite, and the point of the last 21 minutes became player development not playoff positioning.

Next Game

Union II play Toronto FC II this coming Friday, September 8, at 7:00 pm in Chester. The match is scheduled to stream on and therefore probably on YouTube. Neither team is above the playoff line. Toronto lies two slots below Union II in 11th on 28 points.

Three points
  1. Absences  from Jermey Rafanello and David Vazquez demonstrated how valuable they have been to Union II’s success, Rafanello not only for scoring but for allowing Stojanovic to strengthen the midfield diamond, and Vazquez for continuing to develop his abilities as an attacking mid.
  2. In a situation where winning called for a more conservative defensive structure such as the 4-2-2 “empty bucket” that coach LeBlanc had used constantly until Carlos Rojas showed prowess as an MLS NEXT Pro single six, evaluating the Venezuelan teenager as a single six outweighed winning.
  3. That Andrew Rick received a through shelling from cannon shots, howitzer arcs, and mortar lobs is a good thing, if the purpose of playing is player development. If his mentality is strong enough, the mistake he committed will be learned from.

UNION II Lineup (4-2-2-2, L-R, substitutes italicized)

Starters: Andrew Rick; Juan Castillo, Hugo Le Guennec, Daniel Kreuger (Neil Pierre HT), Francis Westfield; Carlos Rojas, Alex Perez (Boubacar Diallo 71′), Kyle Tucker (Anton Sorenson 71′); C. J. Olney; Stefan Stojanovic (Edward Davis 58′), Nelson Pierre (Sal Olivas 58′), .

Unused substitutes: Gavin Atkinson; Gavin Wetzel,  Nathan Nkanji.

1st – 2, U II – 9, Acad – 8.

Unknown: Gino Portella. On Loan: Jose Riasco.

Starters’ average age = 19.7

Rick Castillo LeGuennec Kreuger Westfield Rojas
17.6 20.9 23.6 17.7 17.7 19.6
Perez Tucker Olney Pierre Stojanovic
17.4 24.1 16.7 18.5 22.5

Finishers’ average age = 18.9

Rick Castillo LeGuennec N. Pierre Westfield Rojas
17.6 20.9 23.6 15.9 17.7 19.6
Diallo Sorenson Olney Davis Olivas
20.7 20.6 16.7 17.2 17.1

NYCFC II lineup (4-3-3, L-R, substitutes italicized)

Starters: Alex Rando; Kevin O’Toole, Nicholas Benalcazar, Justin Haak, Stephen Turnbull; Maximo Carrizo (Ronald Arevalo 71′), Samuel Owusu, Jonathan Shore (David Duque 90+6′); John Denis, (Piero Elias 70′) Matt Myers, Jonathan Jimenez.

Unused Substitutes: Alexander Yagudayev; Alexander Hauschild, Rio Hoope-Gund, Brian Flores, Stevo Bednarsky, Julian Gomez.


NYC II       36th minute       Jonathan Jimenez (Matt Myers)

NYC II       69th minute       Matt Myers

Yellow Cards

Union II    13th minute       Juan Castillo (foul)

NYC II       84th minute      Stephen Turnbull (foul)

N II Statistic U II N II Statistic U II
72.1 Possession % 27.9 0 Offsides 4
18 Shots 9 34 Duels won 39
10 Shots on goal 1 8 Tackles  won 12
3 Blocked shots 3 1 Saves 8
664 Total Passes 247 10 Clearances 14
90.8 Pass Accuracy % 66.8 8 Fouls 12
7 Corners 2 1 Yellow Cards 1
18 Crosses 11 0 Red Cards 0

Ref: Nickrod Fateh, AR1: Alexandru Focea, AR2: Eric Schreiber, 4th: Stephen Foster.

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