MLS NEXT Pro Match Report / Philadelphia Union II

Match report: Philadelphia Union II 5-3 Toronto FC II

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II communications

In a match that did not exemplify defense, Philadelphia Union II eliminated Toronto FC II from playoff contention 5-3 on Friday evening at Subaru Park.

The hosts kept pace with NYC FC II in the playoff race as well, a team who also won – while both maintained their hope of overtaking Chicago Fire II, Huntsville City FC, and Orlando City B for the final playoff spots. In either case, Union II and the Baby Pigeons need help in that endeavor and did not get as much as they might have: Huntsville lost to Atlanta 2-1, but Chicago beat Kansas City II 3-2, Orlando had a bye for the weekend.

Friday’s first half saw Philadelphia and Toronto exchange deflected goals.

At halftime head coach Marlon LeBlanc probably remediated the tactics of his new center back pair to be more direct and longer feeding the attack. Between minutes 50 and 58, Union II scored three unanswered goals.  A Chris Donovan assist to Jeremy Rafanello produced the winner at the end of the sequence. Toronto then narrowed the lead on a poorly defended, perfectly served corner kick’s near post flick. Donovan got one back in the 82nd for his brace, and Toronto finished with a consolation score in the 86th. Donovan’s brace and assist highlighted the night.

Union II put two interesting combinations on the field. Midfielder C.J. Olney and left back Anton Sorenson were tasked to contain highly regarded highly paced Toronto first team reserve Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty at right back. Teenage center backs Olwethu Makhanya, 19.4, and Neil Pierre, 15.9, stood in for Hugo Le Guennec and Daniel Kreuger while first-teamer Quinn Sullivan also got a start.

In advance

Neither club’s parent team played during the international break.

New coach John Herdman in Toronto was likely assessing his roster. Four first team reserves were loaned down to Chester: goalkeeper Luka Gavran, midfielder Themi Antonoglou, Marshall-Rutty, and reserve midfielder Hugo Mbongue. Philadelphia badly neededed its first team to rest, but still sent down six players total.  In addition to usual season-long loanees Nelson Pierre and Anton Sorenson, the extra four were left center back Makhanya who was tasked with captaining the defense, bulldozing midfield dynamo Quinn Sullivan, precise free kick-server attacking mid Jeremy Rafanello, and striker Donovan.

Union II attacking midfielder David Vazquez remained away with the USYNT U17s in Czechia in a tune-up before FIFA’s 2023 U17 World Cup in Indonesia this November. They defeated Ukraine 3-2 Wednesday and Vazquez started, they then lost to Switzerland 3-1 and Vazquez did not start and finally they lost to the Czechs 2-0 Sunday with Vazquez starting again. He will have returned before Union II’s next game.

First half

The most hyped player on the pitch was Marshall-Rutty. His ball control and speed were clear, but by the end of the match his mentality was not. He got the visitors on the board in the sixth minute with a shot that took a deflection from left center back Makhanya’s planted foot to become a mortar lob over goalkeeper Andrew Rick instead of a cannon shot.

Other than that moment, Philadelphia contained the youngster.

Once they scored Toronto played low pressure in its own half, defending its lead. They had difficulty coming out of that pattern after Donovan had tied the match from a Gavran spill in the 24th.

Contributing to everyone’s slowness was the heat and humidity which mandated a cooling break. Because Donovan scored off a spill, Olney’s set up of his initial strike does not earn an assist. That unfortunate technicality cannot obscure the 16-year old’s excellent penetration and perfect service creating the scoring opportunity.

The Union’s teenage center back pair did not look for long direct service in the first half as consistently as they might have done. Their instincts were for safe possessions. Neil Pierre had several attempted feeds intercepted. Combine that with the absence of Vazquez and the boys from Philly had fewer quality threats than they otherwise might.

Second half

Probably coach LeBlanc counseled his center backs at halftime. Early second half results suggest as much: three scores in less than ten minutes are the evidence.

  • First, Rafanello served a goal onto Francis Westfield’s head from a corner kick in the 50th for the lead.
  • Then Sullivan refused to be stopped by a total of four defenders while dribbling into the box, splitting a final double team, and laying back to striker Stefan Stojanovic. Union II’s Mr. Versatile’s shot took a deflection, becoming a chip to match Rutty’s earlier one extending the lead.
  • Finally, Donovan laid a cross back from near the right endline to Rafanello on the edge of the area for a precision striker to the far post on which Toronto keeper Gavran had no chance.

Following the triple barrage, both sides began to substitute and the respective defenses frayed. The Canadians’ third score will receive acidic comment during Monday’s film session as Westfield applied little pressure against the cross, and Makhanya missed cutting it off, leaving Reshaun Walkes with an uncontested header from two yards.

A win is a win, but Union II had to scoreboard watch for the rest of the weekend and only some help was received.

Next time out

In the final home game of the season, Union II will host Huntsville City FC Sunday, September 17 at 4:00 p.m. at Subaru Park.

Whether it will be Union II’s final game in the big stadium depends on further construction at the WSFS Sportsplex. The sod of the new competition pitch seems finished and practice equipment now populates it. But no other stadium attributes are visible like seats, lights, concession and comfort accesses, ingress and egress controls, technical and media facilities, and so forth.

Under one of the league’s quirkier experimental rules, Hugo Le Guennec will serve his red card suspension against Huntsville. He was sent off for DOGSO a few weeks ago in Alabama. As such, if it is possible in the same season which it is in this case, as a professional player contracted to an MLS Next Pro side he must serve the suspension against the same team in the following match.

Four points
  1. Neil Pierre showed that he must improve some of his more esoteric ball touches so they become smooth instead of awkward even though he has such long legs – and he must judge his longer feed attempts better. But he showed clear dominance in the air, especially in the second half.
  2. Carlos Rojas continued to play effectively as a single six. The professional farm team has not had a trustworthy single pivot since James Chambers retired from Bethlehem Steel FC after 2019 was over.
  3. Union II roster announcements: Before tap Friday they said they had signed Sal Olivas to an MLS Next Pro contract, a move that may have been influenced by the 17-year-old from El Paso’s appearance for Mexico’s U17s early last month in a friendly. They also said they had loaned Jose Riasco to CA Boston River of Uruguay’s first division. Boston River’s official Twitter account indicates he has already appeared as a late substitute in first two 2023 Clausera matches, and that he has earned yellow cards in both. He totaled 21 minutes. He is being thrust into a higher level of competition.
  4. C. J. Olney‘s offensive combining with the first team reserves around him and his role in closing down Marshall-Rutty continue his excellent first full Union II season.
Box score

Union II lineup (4-1-2-1-2, L-R, substitutes italicized)

Starters: Andrew Rick; Anton Sorenson (Juan Castillo 71′), Olwethu Makhanya, Neil Pierre, Francis Westfield; Carlos Rojas; C. J. Olney, Quinn Sullivan (Boubacar Diallo 87′); Jeremy Rafanello (Kyle Tucker 77′); Chris Donovan (Sal Olivas 87′), Stefan Stojanovic (Nelson Pierre 71′).

Unused substitutes: Gavin Atkinson; Daniel Kreuger, Hugo Le Guennec, Alex Perez.

1st – 6, U II – 9, Acad – 5.

Starters average ages = 19.6

Rick Sorenson Makhanya N. Pierre Westfield* Rojas
17.6 20.6 19.4 15.9 17.7 19.6
Olney* Sullivan Rafanello Donovan Stojanovic
16.7 19.4 23.4 23.1 22.5

Finishers average ages = 18.9

Rick Castillo Makhanya N. Pierre Westfield* Rojas
17.6 20.9 19.4 15.9 17.7 19.6
Olney* Diallo Tucker Olivas Pierre
16.7 20.7 24.1 17.2 18.5

Toronto II lineup ( 5-3-2, L-R, substitutes italicized)

Starters: Luka Gavran; Jesus Batiz (Reshaun Walkes 67′), Rohan Goulbourne (Matthew Medeiros HT), Lazar Stefanovic, Adam Pearlman, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Theo Rigopoulos 84′); Myles Morgan, Themi Antonoglou, Lucas Olguin; Jordan Faria (Alec Diaz 67′), Julian Altobelli (Hugo Mbongue 67′).

Unused Substitutes: Matthew Abraham; Richard Chukwu, Marko Stojadinovic, Matthew Catavolo.


Toronto II         6th minute       Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty (Lucas Olguin)

Union II          24th minute       Chris Donovan

Union II          50th minute       Francis Westfield (Jeremy Rafanello)

Union II          55th minute        Stefan Stojanovic (Quinn Sullivan)

Union II          58th minute        Jeremy Rafanello (Chris Donovan)

Toronto II       76th minute.      Myles Morgan (Themi Anonoglou)

Union II          84th minute       Chris Donovan (C. J. Olney)

Toronto II       86th minute       Reshaun Walkes (Themi Antonoglou)

Yellow Cards

Union II         29th  minute      Francis Westfield (foul)

Union II          77th minute       Nelson Pierre (foul)

Toronto II      88th minute       Theo Rigopoulos (foul)

Toronto II      89th minute       Themi Antonoglou (dissent)

Toronto II      90+2 minute      Toronto assistant coach (dissent)

U II Statistic T II U II Statistic T II
33.7 Possession % 66.3 1 Offsides 1
16 Shots 9 52 Duels won 38
9 Shots on goal 5 15 Tackles  won 5
4 Blocked shots 3 2 Saves 4
317 Total Passes 640 13 Clearances 11
77.9 Pass Accuracy % 87.8 14 Fouls 7
4 Corners 7 2 Yellow Cards 3
13 Crosses 13 0 Red Cards 0

Ref: Austin Saini, AR1: Katarzyna Wasiak, AR2: Max Smith, 4th: Kenneth Rojas.

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