Commentary

The Union organization’s older teenagers

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II

The older end of the Union Organization’s developmental pipeline operates under the aegis of Sporting Director Ernst Tanner and Director of Academy and Professional Development Tommy Wilson.

A first step in assessing it is to enumerate what teenagers are part of the two professional teams’ games and practices. Such an enumeration is charted below. It is followed by a guess about which teenagers might be promoted from their current statuses.

Explanations

Since roughly mid-season Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc has deployed a 4-1-2-1-2 narrow diamond. That is a change from his previous 4-2-2-2 “empty bucket” used ever since he took over at mid-summer of 2020. Since the narrow diamond remains the first team’s more effective tactical shape, now that they are succeeding better in playing it when Alejandro Bedoya is not available, below we deploy the teenagers in that shape.

Because many of these players are not well known to wider audiences, we provide personal as well as family names. But including both along with ages in a  visual approximation of the tactical shape challenged our layout capability. (See the Appendix for an attempt that may or may not work.) So we use a lineup card’s column instead. Amateurs are identified with asterisks.

The older teenagers
Striker
Nelson Pierre 18.5
Striker. 
Quinn Sullivan 19.5
Sal Olivas 17.2
Edward Davis* 17.3
Attacking Mid
David Vazquez* 17.6
Left Mid
C. J. Olney* 16.8
Right Mid
Antonios Horozoglou* 17.2
Defensive Mid
Carlos Rojas 19.7
Alex Perez* 17.4
Left Back
Jack Andrus* (inj) 17.7
Left Center Back
Brandan Craig 19.5
Right Center Back
Olwethu Makhanya 19.4
Neil Pierre 15.9
Daniel Kreuger* 17.7
Right Back
Francis Westfield* 17.8
Gavin Wetzel* 17.1
Goal Keeper
Andrew Rick 17.6
Gavin Atkinson* 16.4
Jonathan Evans 17.2

 

Nineteen older teenagers are listed. Sorting them by contract-type, we have

  • Four current first-teamers (Sullivan, Craig, Nelson Pierre, Makhanya)
  • Four Union II professionals (Rick, Neil Pierre, Rojas, Olivas)
  • Eleven who maintain NCAA eligibility using zero-dollar contracts (Evans, Atkinson, Wetzel, Westfield, Kreuger, Andrus, Perez, Horozoglou, Olney, Vazquez, and Davis)
Possible promotions

Perhaps as many as three amateurs and one on-loan Union II professional may be candidates for promotion  and/or acquisition. We list them in our judged order of likelihood from the two most likely to the least.

  • Attacking Midfielder David Vazquez,
  • Left Midfielder C. J. Olney,
  • Defensive Midfielder Carlos Rojas,
  • Right Back Francis Westfield.

We discuss them in the reverse of that, from less likely to more.

Carlos Rojas

Carlos Rojas (see photo) has enabled Union II to use the narrow diamond at the second team level for the first time in three and a half years. The side has not used it since James Chambers retired from Bethlehem Steel FC after 2019’s season.

Rojas is an effective single six at the MLS NEXT Pro level. His play has allowed David Vazquez to play as an attacking mid, a true number ten. At the first team level Rojas’s  situation is much less clear. We do not know whether he has ever practiced with the first team.

Deportivo La Guaira of Venezuela’s first division owns his contract and Transfermarkt rosters several other defensive center mids including their team captain. But buying his contract would likely be quite expensive. It is unlikely that he would be bought without a higher degree of certainty that he would integrate into the first team.

Before anything would happen he would need to practice with the first team for a sufficient period of time. Were such exposure to be inconclusive, a middle ground would be to extend his loan until next June, accumulate more data, and postpone a decision.

Francis Westfield

Among players permanently within the organization, Francis Westfield would be “next-right-back-up” behind Nathan Harriel if Olivier Mbaizo leaves as expected at the end of the season. He must learn still to cope better with wingers who have outstanding pace and feet, as a recent match against Revolution II demonstrated.

In the first stage of 2023’s  preseason in Clearwater, he made up first-team practice numbers covering absences, so the first team has had a look.  Were he interested, many other MLS NEXT Pro sides would sign him as he is more than capable at that level. Several other Union Academy graduates who did not make the Union itself are now playing in Major League Soccer at both second and first team levels.

Westfield may not be an obvious overseas sell-on candidate necessarily. But he could easily develop into a solid MLS utility player.And his “addytood” is top-flight Philly. We have observed directly that he HATES losing in a full field scrimmage in practice. A better player to exemplify and transmit the organization’s preferred professional culture is hard to imagine.

C. J. Olney

Were other organizations to display serious interest in poaching him, the organization should sign C. J. Olney preemptively. Otherwise, his age may allow delay. Ground coverage, stamina, repeated frequency of sprints, sprint speed itself, soccer IQ, and technical skill all qualify him to be a Union organization professional.

When Union II’s offense has been heavily populated with short-term first-team reserves for specific games, Olney meshes with them seamlessly. He auditioned at first team practice as Leagues Cup was beginning and was listed on the Union’s 30-man Leagues Cup club master list. Once Union II’s league season is over we expect he will begin practicing with them full time.

Whether a signing occurs this year or next, he is a serious prospect to become a professional probably as a first team Homegrown player.

David Vazquez

Corresponding to the emergence of Rojas as a single six David Vazquez has changed positions from shuttling mid to attacking mid. He is a candidate for promotion at either spot. But two-way attacking mids are harder to find so we focus on that possibility.

Earlier in the season he proved — and improved — his endurance playing as a deep understudy to Alejandro Bedoya’s slot. His defensive chops were satisfactorily enough to switch to understudying the Union’s favorite Magyar.

His first half of ball-stripping and chance-creating against New England II on Sunday, August 27 was Gazdag-like and a revelation. That day on offense he combined easily with reserve first-teamers Donovan and Rafanello who were in front of him. The fluidity has continued when the combination has re-occurred.

He is part of the USYNT U17s roster that has recently played a tournament in Czechia and should go to the 2023 FIFA U17 World Cup in Indonesia in November. It is worth noting that youth national team duty does not seem to maintain his Union II 90-minute match fitness level, in spite of the other values that such time away creates.

Like Olney, he auditioned at first-team practice as Leagues Cup began. Like Olney he was listed on the Union’s 30-man Leagues Cup club master list. Like Olney we expect that once the MLS NEXT Pro season ends, he may begin to practice with the first team full time.  And, like Olney he will probably become a first-team home grown player late this fall or during the offseason.

Appendix

For those who prefer the names arranged in a visual approximation of the actual tactical shape, we attempt that here. Ages are rounded up or down to the nearest tenth of a year.

4-1-2-1-2 “narrow diamond”
Striker Striker
Nelson Pierre, 18.5 Quinn Sullivan, 19.5
Sal Olivas, 17.2   Edward Davis*, 17.3
Attacking Mid
David Vazquez*, 17.6
Left Mid Right Mid
C. J. Olney*, 16.8 Antonios Horozoglou*, 17.2
Defensive Mid
Carlos Rojas, 19.7
Left Back Alex Perez*, 17.4 Right Back
Jack Andrus, 17.7 Francis Westfield*, 17.7
  Gavin Wetzel*, 17.0
Left Center Back Right Center Back
Brandan Craig, 19.5 Olwethu Makhanya, 19.4
Neil Pierre, 15.9
Daniel Kreuger*, 17.7
Goal Keeper
Andrew Rick, 17.6
Gavin Atkinson*, 16.4
Jonathan Evans*, 17.2

Antonios Horozoglou has not yet appeared or dressed for a Union II match. He has been a fixture at practice since the Academy’s new cycle has begun. Nor has Jack Andrus, who is still practicing and getting some minutes with the Union Development Squad.

2 Comments

  1. Great post, Tim. I’ve really enjoyed watching Union 2. I’ve come away most impressed with Olney who seems like a natural fit with the first team’s style of play.

    I do like that Sullivan has been getting reps at that right shuttler role at U2 which allowed him to put that experience to good use on Wed night in CLT.

    Overall, there’s a lot of young talent here. Just not sure what will be the next step for some given how hard it is to break into the first team.

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