Nelson Pierre wanted that goal.

The uber-talented Union II striker hasn’t found the finishing touch often in 2022, but he rose early and showed a veteran’s touch to nod home his side’s tally against Chicago Fire FC II last weekend. As Philadelphia Union II sit halfway up the standings at the midway point of the MLS Next Pro season, they can rightly feel that the continued development of Pierre, high-ceiling attacker Bajung Darboe, and a developing shape in defensive transitions has them in position to chase the top of the conference.

However, NYCFC II will prove an exceptionally difficult opponent, and Philly may be without some of its regular starters.

Pierre, Darboe, and emerging right back Frank Westfield — who served the delicious ball in to Pierre against Fire FC II — are all eligible to compete in the MLS NEXT tournament taking place this weekend, and if they travel with the Union U-17s, Marlon LeBlanc will need to fill gaps in a team already made thin by the absence of four Union Homegrowns on USYNT U-20 duty. LeBlanc may call on Union players that only take on light minutes in the Union-NYCFC match on Sunday, but those players will not be as integrated into his squad and defensive transitions could suffer.

As a club built to thrive in transition, Philly’s MLS and MLSNextPro squads are best when they develop consistency as a group. That has been more difficult for Union II this year, but some of those difficulties have been covered up by the intelligence and development of the young squad at LeBlanc’s disposal. Additionally, players like Juan Perdomo have shown flashes of game-changing ability that simply need to come out more often as the year goes on.

A final plus for Union II is the likely availability of Matt Freese. Union II goalie Brooks Thompson is a strong goalkeeper, but Freese has been one of the standouts in net across MLSNextPro this season. His confidence and emerging leadership help organize a back line that’s often in flux as Cole Turner, Anton Sorensen, and Brandan Craig cycle between the first team and second team.

Union II meets high-scoring NYCFC II at 7:00 p.m. ET at Subaru Park on Monday, June 27. Season ticket members get free access to up to three Union II matches in 2022, and all matches are streamed live on MLSNextPro.com.