UnionII-Preview-July18

Since a heartbreaking defeat to Toronto FC II back on June 11, Philadelphia Union II have been fighting to regain their early season form. An up-and-down May led into the Toronto match in which a last minute winner saw Philly leave without a point they had earned through solid counterattacking play and Matt Freese’s heroics. 

A 1-1 draw against Chicago followed, and then two blowout defeats to NYCFC II and RNY FC. Now, with the MLS Next Cup and U-20 Concacaf tournament in the rearview window, head coach Marlon LeBlanc should have a deeper group to pull from when Toronto visits Subaru Park on Monday, July 18. 

Key for LeBlanc will be getting his talented attack back on the scoresheet. Since May 16, Union II have only scored once despite creating a handful of good looks each match. One reason the attack may be stuttering is Chris Donovan’s move to the first team. After an impressive start to the Union II campaign, Donovan was quickly elevated to the Union roster, giving Jim Curtin another quick attacker who can play well with his back to goal. 

That has left raw, young forwards like Nelson Pierre and Jose Riasco to shoulder the load for Union II, and they have yet to fully connect with the distributors in the middle of the park. Bajung Darboe has often sat in that attacking midfield role, but when Carlos Paternina steps into the center the link to the strikers doesn’t strengthen. It’s likely a matter of time and reps since these remain high-level talents that can dominate their respective age groups. 

For instance, Frank Westfield joined the Union U17s for their MLS Next Cup final and stepped straight into the first XI. He will likely be back in the Union II defense on Monday alongside Brandan Craig. With Stuart Findlay looking for a move abroad, Craig’s development with Union II becomes even more important. Philly has produced two Homegrown center backs that have made the move to Europe now that Auston Trusty is bound for Arsenal. Craig’s imperiousness with the USYNT U-20s pointed to his potential. But without the outlier athleticism that helped Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty recover from mistakes as they adjusted to the speed of MLS play, Craig needs to be locked in every time he steps onto a pro pitch. As a former USYNT captain, there is little doubt he will find consistency, and Union II appearances will accelerate that development. 

Catch Craig and the rest of the Union’s next generation of stars when they take to the Subaru Park pitch on Monday at 6:00 p.m. ET against Toronto. Tickets are available now clicking here and the match is the MLS Next Pro Match of the Week, which means it will be streamed on MLSNEXTPro.com with enhanced production values.