Philadelphia Union II opened up their MLS NEXTPro campaign with a 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati 2 at Subaru Park last Sunday. It was goals from Union II midfielder Carlos Paternina and Jesus Bueno that ensured all three points for the Boys in Blue too. The game was heavily impacted by some First Team reserve players. The likes of Freese, Real, Sorenson, Turner, and Bueno, all put their stamp on the match with hard-nosed play and confidence that you would expect from the more senior players. But it wasn’t just the play of First Team reserves that stood out.
Jackson Gilman and Boubacar Diallo both started the match and played very well. With the likes of Frankie Westfield, and Ian Abbey also making their club debuts in the second half as important substitutes to see out the clean sheet at home.
These players are not signed to professional contracts but are allowed to feature in the new league’s matches thanks to the league's incorporation of a maximum of five MLS NEXT Academy players being allowed on the field at a time.
Union II Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc had high praise when asked about the academy player's performance on Sunday.
“Bouba has impressed because he’s a tall left-footed player, who does a lot of little things really well, a bit of a swiss army knife in the midfield, he can play a number of different roles for us.” LeBlanc said during his press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “ He’s got some really good footwork defending tendencies that I really like. He wants to play in our style of play within our midfield and I think he has adapted to a lot of what we ask our midfielders in terms of the high speed running and the pressing, he’s the type of player that I think grows on you as the game goes on.”
Union II defender Nathan Nkanji was paired up with Gilman in the middle of the defense in the inaugural contest and also received some praise from Coach LeBlanc as he touched on the importance of their performance and the confidence it will give them.
“Jackson has had the benefit of a year now to really work at it and adapt, and Nathan is a bit of a cinderella story,” LeBlanc said. “They both have come a really long way, and both have a long way to go, but that’s what this project is about it’s about learning and teaching them. We don’t speak a whole lot about winning but these guys care about winning. Because it's the culture that they have grown up in here at the academy.”
"These guys love this club and the academy backbone that we have can’t be underestimated or undervalued because it is the backbone of the second team, and even though we are in a pro league, these academy amateurs, are a big piece of what we do and we couldn’t do what we do on the second team without them.”
Union II are back in action this weekend when they travel to Miami for their first-ever road game. Make sure to tune in on Sunday evening at 6 p.m. ET on MLNextPro.com to catch more of the Union’s next generation of talent as they rep the U!