Philadelphia Union II is postseason bound! The team earned a spot in the MLS NEXT Playoffs for the second year in a row after handily defeating New York Red Bulls II 3-1 on Sunday afternoon.
With the win, Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc’s squad became the second team in the East and the fifth team overall to earn back-to-back playoff berths, establishing their reputation as one of the strongest young squad’s in the league.
“When you think of the playoffs, it's a new season. We're certainly very proud of what this team has done this year, second year in a row making it to the playoffs in the two year existence of MLS NEXT Pro and we're very, very pleased with that,” Le Blanc said on Monday.
Next up for the Boys in Blue is a Sunday night matchup against New England Revolution II at Gillette Stadium, where they’ll take on Head Coach Clint Peay’s team for their fourth head-to-head in 2023. Union II has yet to claim a win against the New England side, but this time when they take to the pitch, it’ll be win or go home.
While the matchup features the No. 2 against the No. 7 seed, it wasn't that straight forward with the league allowing higher seeds to select their own opponents in the first and second rounds. New England Revolution II selected Philadelphia Union II on Monday afternoon and after the announcement, LeBlanc shared his immediate thoughts on what’s to come for his group.
“New England is going to be a challenge. An older, mature team. Very well coached. I just think that our guys will be certainly looking forward to the challenge and it’ll be a very, very difficult game, but it's the playoffs and you can kind of throw out what's happened from previous matches and just look forward to the next one.”
Philadelphia Union has displayed dominance within Major League Soccer across the organization this season, becoming the only club in the Eastern Conference to have both the first and second teams qualify for both the MLS and MLS NEXT Pro playoffs in the last two years. The success is a testament to the steadfast commitment of leadership, including LeBlanc, to the organization’s core principles, one of which being development within.
“For us to go out into this platform and compete, staying true to what our principles are as an organization by utilizing young players and putting them in scenarios where they're going to develop and ultimately for the second year in a row produce, just speaks volumes to the commitment that we have to developing players from within,” LeBlanc said.
“That structure obviously comes from the top down from Ernst [Tanner], through Jim [Curtin], Tommy [Wilson] and into the second team. It serves as a really good measurement of not only our ability to produce players and to put players in these situations, but for our players to thrive and develop.”
Earning a spot in the postseason is a well-deserved accomplishment for Union II, but LeBlanc’s focus has remained the same. Throughout the year, he’s emphasized the importance of development, citing it as the main agent in shaping the team's favorable outcomes.
“We talked about winning being an important part of the development process, but certainly not sacrificing the development for just the wins and proving that we can do both. So when you think about the pillars and the foundations of what we try to accomplish within this club, seeing it bear fruit at the professional level is certainly great and incredible for our fans, for our ownership ,for our sporting side of things, the technical staff, everybody involved. We can take a lot of pride in what these young guys have done all year long.”
The team’s success hasn’t come without its share of challenges – the team hasn’t had a consistent lineup all season. The roster has faced near-constant fluctuation for a host of reasons, from players helping to propel the first team through their strenuous schedule, earning spots on college rosters, contributing to the Philadelphia Union Academy’s premiere youth squads, and even getting called up to United States Youth National Team squads.
“That volatility makes it a little bit of a challenge to put all the puzzle pieces together at the same time week in and week out. We have the most demanding first team schedule in the history of this club, and that certainly limits the availability from week to week of some of our young first team professionals that are needed to be in the first team, whether it be for training or for matches. We have the number one academy on the other side of us that has ambitions to win Generation adidas Cups and win MLS NEXT cups and they've done both of those things over the last year and a half as well.”
“Consistency was hard to find, but we never really changed who we were, and the results may have gone up and down. But I think the process always stayed the same.”
Despite the often need for adjustment, Union II carved their unique path toward becoming a playoff team in MLS NEXT Pro two years in a row.
Their months-long journey will culminate in their first postseason match on October 1st at 8 pm on the road – mark your calendars to watch LeBlanc and his group battle in a Sunday night showdown on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV!