February is here and Philadelphia Union is starting off the month in Chester after 12 days in Florida for it's first leg of preseason. The first of their two trips to the sunshine state this month was a busy one, featuring a packed agenda split between training days and friendly matches.
The squad is home for three days of in-market training and media day, but they’ll be back in the air early Monday morning for leg two. Here's what you missed ↓
Working hard in week one
Week one kicked off with twice daily training at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex, where Curtin led high intensity training in the morning from 10 a.m. until noon, then individualized skills training in the evening. This schedule continued throughout the week leading up to their first game against CR Flamengo at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on Sunday, January 21st, which ended in a 2-0 loss.
Andre Blake, Jack Elliott, and Jakob Glesnes were among the leaders during the first week training, setting an example for the contingent of new faces who joined the team on the trip. Among the lot were offseason signings Sanders Ngabo, Nick Pariano, Isaiah LeFlore, and Jamir Berdecio, academy products Frankie Westfield, Neil Pierre, CJ Olney, Andrew Rick and David Vazquez, plus 2024 MLS SuperDraft pick Francesco Montali.
Getting game ready
The second week, which saw the return of Daniel Gazdag, Jack McGlynn, and Nate Harriel, featured two more friendlies, this time against Major League Soccer opponents in Austin FC and NYCFC. The team picked up a draw and win respectively, with the latter proving the most successful with goals from all corners of the roster. In that final fixture before heading back to Philadelphia for media day and in-market training, Philadelphia handily defeated NYCFC 3-1 thanks to goals from five-year MLS veteran Julian Carranza, Homegrown Nate Harriel, and academy product Frankie Westfield.
“The first phase of preseason has gone very well, we really had some good games, starting with the Flamengo game, which was a really high level game. From there, we improved a little bit I thought against Austin in terms of our chance creation. Look, we know we're going to be a very strong and stable defensive team. To hit the back of the net three times and really win the transitions which is our kind of bread and butter was really good to see," Head Coach Jim Curtin said.
When it wasn't gameday, the team held training in the morning and film sessions in the afternoon, with opportunities for cold and hot tub recovery scattered between. The team earned a day off on Wednesday following the Austin match, giving the group a chance to soak up brief moments of sun at the beach, play mini-golf, or explore Clearwater.
Some position groups started on the lighter side in terms of depth due to the late arrivals of José Martinez, Gazdag, Harriel, and McGlynn plus Mikael Uhre's absence because international travel, but it allowed opportunity for quite a few players to step into larger roles.
- Standing at 6-foot-5, 16-year-old academy defender Neil Pierre impressed on defense, finding minutes against Flamengo and Austin FC. He had the chance to learn from some of Major League Soccer’s best and most experienced, playing alongside Elliott and Glesnes during games and at training.
- 19-year-old Homegrown midfielder Quinn Sullivan started all three preseason games. He lined up in his preferred midfield spot, which is one he’s had to compete for as of late. In his time on the field, his hustle was noticeable and he got on the stat sheet with an assist to Julian Carranza against Austin FC.
- 23-year-old Homegrown midfielder Jeremy Rafanello made his presence known in training with quite a few bangers, similar to the many he netted for Union II during the 2024 season. Last year while contributing to Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc’s MLS NEXT Pro side, he was second in goal production with nine goals through 18 games played.
- Julian Carranza, as expected, starred in preseason play in great form, scoring in both games he appeared in. He notched the first Union goal of the year against Austin FC with a back-heeled shot, then ran onto a pass from Nate Harriel for another against NYCFC.
Union II will join Philadelphia Union for their next stint in Florida, but part of the first team’s focus will likely be their Concacaf Champions Cup matchup at Deportivo Saprissa on February 20th. The match is an important one, as the team with the most aggregate goals between two matches (one home and one away) will move on to the next round.
“We'll be back in Philly to see some family, get a little bit of rest and recovery,still obviously train there for about a week and then the clock's ticking to that Saprissa game,” Curtin said.
“That's what we're excited about. That's what our fans are excited about. We know we have a really strong team, but we know that's going to be a difficult test. So, every minute we get with each other, we have to maximize at this stage of things.”