Philadelphia Union II provided one of the most impressive storylines in MLS NEXT Pro last season. After an inconsistent start, Marlon LeBlanc’s side found focus and dropped the small mistakes that cost them points early. Unlikely goalscorers like Matt Real and Jesus Bueno stepped up, and the Union’s strong Homegrown core pushed the Union II roster to level up their games. They did, and the team made the playoffs and pushed Toronto FC II to the brink in a 1-0 road loss.
A few names from that playoff match return: Holding midfielder Maike Villero proved a versatile player and re-upped with Union II recently. Boubacar Diallo is also back, along with Nathan Nkanji and Jose Riasco. Stefan Stojanovic, who didn’t start that match, was drafted by the Union but will play for Union II again this year.
Importantly, though, Union II will be without Matt Freese in 2023. The former Union goalkeeper moved to NYCFC this offseason in search of starting minutes, and last year he was a big, big piece of Union II’s run up the standings. Brooks Thompson and new Union draftee Holden Trent will be between the sticks this year and they need to show their shot stopping bonafides as well as become strong organizers if the team’s young roster is going to prevent goals.
Against Orlando City B, Union II is also going to be without Union Homegrown Brandan Craig. The young center back is not just a great leader, having worn the captain’s armband at numerous US Soccer youth levels, but he delivers an exceptional set piece. Filling his void will be big for LeBlanc.
Orlando City B comes in with a slew of new faces, but a strong goalkeeper returning in net. Javier Otero was last season’s April Goalkeeper of the Month and led MLS NEXT Pro in saves in 2022. But Orlando was very top-heavy with Jack Lynn dominating the goalscoring and Cristofer Acuna the only real provider. New signings Juninho and Franco Perez are meant to diversify the Lions means of attacking, and the club is looking for a leap from Alejandro Granados after the academy prospect signed with the MLS NEXT Pro club in the offseason.
Union II opens their season at 3pm ET on March 26 against Orlando City B at Subaru Park. Tickets for the match are still available and fans can tune in to the action at MLSNEXTPro.com.