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Union II: Olney, Vazquez, and MLS NEXT Pro expansion for 2024

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union II Communications

Philadelphia Union II announced Tuesday the signing of midfielder C. J. Olney to an MLS NEXT Pro professional contract and that he will be added to Union II’s active roster immediately. No one who followed Union II during the 2023 season can be surprised.

Olney made 24 appearances for Union II during the team’s 30 matches in 2023 — 28 regular-season games, the Wrexham friendly, and the New England playoff match. Every appearance was a start. He totaled 1,972 minutes overall. In the MLS NEXT Pro regular season, he had four goals, eight assists, and a team-leading 39 key passes.

The achievements are impressive, especially since the young midfielder is 16.9 years old and was playing against young adults. He turns 17 in December. He appeared with Union II a few times in 2022 as a 15-year-old.

The signing likely occurred now to avert interest from elsewhere — although that inference is unconfirmed. It allows him to finish his academic studies at YSC Academy, which is now in the old power station on the Union’s campus in Chester. This also positions him to work toward a homegrown contract with the first team in the future.

By the end of 2023, the youngster had the engine to play full 90s of minutes. He integrated seamlessly with first-team attackers and mids, who would come down for games with the second team, on both sides of the ball. If 2024’s preseason follows Jim Curtin’s usual patterns, he might travel south to Clearwater for phase one of the sojourn in Florida.

Olney’s signing with Union II preserves an open roster slot for the first team. The preservation could make an extra depth-piece roster slot available to the Union as they face the possibility of a second consecutive 50-game season.

Olney’s next obvious developmental step is to practice with the first team regularly. As far as is known, that is not regulated by any agency beyond the Union itself and can occur whenever the technical staff judge he is ready, without regard to his contract details.

David Vazquez with the USMNT

Philadelphia Union Academy Amateur David Vazquez is with the USMNT at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Indonesia. Philadelphia Union II professional Sal Olivas is also in Indonesia as an alternate.

This chart shows Vazquez’s game activities:

Player Opponent Day/Date Score Role Min
Match One
Vazquez South Korea U 12-Nov W 3-1 Start 69
Match Two
Vazquez Burkina Faso W 15-Nov W 2-1 sub 33
Match Three
France S 18-Nov

There are six groups. The knockout stage begins with a round of 16. All first place, all second place, and the top four third-place teams advance to the knockouts.

With the victory over Burkina Faso, the US has qualified for the knockout round and will finish either first or second, depending on their results against France — who holds a one-goal edge on goal difference going into the match. Goal difference would be the tie-breaker should the match end in a draw making both teams level on seven points.

If the US were to finish second, they would play the winner of Group F, perhaps Germany, on Tuesday, Nov. 21. If first, Wednesday, Nov. 22, against Group D’s second-place finisher, perhaps Argentina.

MLS NEXT Pro Squad Additions

MLS NEXT Pro announced Wednesday afternoon that Chattanooga FC, formerly of the third division NISL, would be joining as an independent side for 2024. Chattanooga will join the previously announced Carolina Core as an addition.

Chattanooga has existed for 15 years, unlike Carolina which is being created from scratch.

That brings the number of teams for 2024 to 29. Conference and division alignments, regular season start and end dates, numbers of regular-season games, and other basic details that will necessarily change because of the additions will be announced in the future.


  1. Why is MLS so fond of having an odd number of teams? From here it looks like everyone involved in the upper levels of MLS is an idiot.

  2. Tim what is your take on relegation is it imminent and is it something good for the sport.

    • Realistic Sarcasm says:

      Please also share your thoughts on Santa Claus, Batman, and the Hobbit.

    • Santo—It’s a good and viable question just not for MLS.
      The current league structure and Division 1 exceptionalism will never see pro / rel. It is beyond the Worldview of those in charge. Which is fine.
      That does not mean US Soccer will never see it however. USL has a business plan and the merger with CBS Sports is helpful… in evolving that plan.
      If and when USL is granted Division 1 access… all bets are off with the MLS single entity McFranchise dominance over the US Soccer landscape.
      There is much work to do. But the work can and just may be done…
      …Promotion Relegation is not just about 3 teams up – three teams down…. it’s not just about 30 First Team’s which often becomes the mainstay argument by those in favor of the current model.
      Many many more First Teams will spring up in an open pyramid and this will hyperjump our player development, and most importantly our culture for the game– which is integral- it is about development throughout a pyramid unlike what we are seeing currently. It is also about an open market where anyone has access to that market… which unfortunately is the US way in it’s business but not its sports. I imagine this is nothing new I am writing.
      I’ve set a personal intention for USL to be granted D1 status and I hope it happens… someday— soon.

    • Santo, just saw your question (FRi, 17-Nov.)
      El Pachyderm has paid more attention and given more thought to relegation than have I.
      I would add these two points to those he has presented.
      Recently joined MLS owners have paid over $100 million in entry fees. And expansion sides — St. Louis being the exception — often sit at the bottom, (see, FC Cincinnati, wooden spoon, three straight.)
      Relegation will not be acceptable to ownership until a few decades after expansion has stopped.
      Casual American sports fans do not understand promotion and relegation. Casual American sports fans are the group both MLS and Apple TV are trying to attract. “Pro-Rel” will not happen until the audience for soccer is much more established, numerous, and broad than it is now.

      • USL is unlikely to be granted D 1 status until the upgrade their ownerships’ financial strength, stadium sizes, and quality of teams on the pitch.
        That latter will be the hardest. The most fundamental is speed at which the game is being played.
        I used to watch the Union on Saturday nights and Bethlehem Steel FC on Sunday afternoons, both live in person. The speed contrast was always jarring for the first ten minutes on Sunday.
        My eyeballs are reinforced by what we know of Ernst Tanner’s criteria for eligibility to become a professional. Ground covered, total numbers of sprints, the speed of those sprints. He determines these I presume from data generated from the videotaping or other visual recordings of each and every practice. I have seen both first team and second team practices being taped. I suspect but do not know that at least the older academy teams are similarly taped.
        To back my point, how often does the USL advance past MLS in the open cup? And are those advances sustained sequences of wins, or are they one-offs?

      • And there lies one of the major issues. How do you attract casual fans when you put half the games behind a paywall and most of the rest are still on Apple where even though they are free, no one who doesn’t already subscribe to Apple is going to random flip through the channels and find a game.

  3. Owners have to vote for relegation, I assume, so unless “Grabmoremoney” offers a ransom to the 30 current owners, ain’t gonna happen… pipe dream… long shot… ice in hell!

  4. Thanks Pachyderm and Peter for the information. It is amazing to me how much talent the system produces, we are exporting players to Europe. The quality is quite good, the USA will the be team to beat in world cup.
    This brings me to believe that a second tier league may be possible because the talent pool is growing. I also read that gridiron variety football ownership is investing more on football because the former is no longer growing.

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