When Sven Gartung was named the second head coach of Philadelphia Union II in February, he knew that the club would be one of the youngest in the USL Championship. However, the opportunities Gartung planned to present to Union Academy players have become necessities after a rash of early-season injuries to key pieces of the Union II roster. The head coach addressed those injuries as the chances they present to the next generation of academy talent ahead of Saturday’s match at Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
“Shanyder Borgelin has a broken foot and had surgery so he’s out for quite some time,” Gartung said during his weekly press teleconference. “Zach Zandi is out; he’s torn his tendon in his ankle. Issa Rayyan and Nathan Harriel - they had concussions from Saturday so with them we have to take it on a daily basis. Saed Diaz is out as he has some issues with an adductor muscle. Yomi Scintu came back from his MRI and I haven’t gotten the results but he is probably out with what I hope isn’t a torn meniscus.”
Should Rayyan and Harriel remain out, fully half of Gartung’s signed USL Championship roster would be unavailable against the Riverhounds. Coupled with an 0-3-1 start, Gartung admitted that the team is in a difficult position, but he is still focusing on the progress Academy players can make with the experience available to them.
“It’s not getting easier,” Gartung admitted. “It was challenging from the first day that I arrived but now with these injuries it is even more challenging to find the right pieces to withstand the pressure that is coming up. As you can imagine I’m thinking a lot about what is the right formation, the right mixture of players and how we can resist over a period of time plus organize our attack with these guys missing. We have to come up with alternatives and that is basically what I’m doing 24/7.
“I told the boys after Hartford that I was proud of them and I was proud to be on the sidelines on Saturday as I saw how hard they worked and getting better at being able to resist opposing teams for 90 minutes. They gave Hartford a hard time until the very end but the fact that they kept on working until the final whistle pushing for an equalizer was great.”
The club typically integrates Union Academy players in stages. introduction to training sessions precedes full-time training, followed by short substitute appearances and full starts. Now young players are being asked to step up without the benefit of that pathway. While it takes time for new pieces to be added there is already established chemistry for Union Academy players who have played together for years against their peers.
“I think it will help them that they know each other so they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses but on the other hand you need them to open up for the existing players on the squad because you want them to be part of the overall team,” Gartung said. “There are always exchanges of information from older players to younger players and that’s an important part that you want to become a homogenous group.”
Gartung will have a full week of training before his club embarks on yet another busy three-game span that’ll last nine days against the same three teams they’ve lost to. This weekend’s road trip to Pittsburgh will be followed up with home matches against New York Red Bulls II and Hartford Athletic. While Gartung hopes for more progress and results, he also hopes that the list of unavailable players decreases too.
Union II faces off against the Riverhounds on Saturday, August 1. Kick off from Highmark Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.