Union II

Recap | Union II sweep defending MLS Next Pro champions 

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Union II was met with severe storms in the Columbus area on Monday night at their original kick time for their match against Crew 2, but weather couldn’t stifle their plan to best MLS NEXT Pro’s defending league champions for the second time this season. The match was rescheduled for Tuesday, July 25th at 12:30 p.m., ensuing what would become matinee madness ending in a historic 6-2 Union II win.

How it happened

The game started in unpredictable fashion – Crew 2’s starting goalkeeper Stas Lapkes earned a red card in the 6th minute attempting to stop a Union II drive. He committed a ‘last man’ foul, sending him off the pitch for the remainder of the match. Playing shorthanded with just 10 players for more than 80 minutes of a game was an unfavorable reality for the Crew 2, but heightening their disadvantage was the status of their game day roster. The team did not list a backup goalie, therefore requiring them to select a field player to replace their net protector.

Following his ejection, Lapkes was forced to hand his gloves over to midfielder Clay Holstad. According to the game broadcast, Columbus Crew 2’s public relations staff said the 23-year-old had never played goalie in a competitive setting before stepping in on Tuesday.

The Union took advantage of their unforeseeable opportunity early, recording six quick attempts in the first 20 minutes following the personnel change. In the 27th minute their efforts paid off — forward Stefan Stojanovic tapped the ball right past Holstad after receiving a pass from Nelson Pierre.

Columbus Crew 2 responded with a goal of their own six minutes later. A Daniel Krueger penalty gave Noah Fuson an opportunity from the penalty spot, where he equalized the score.

The first half battle was an unrelenting one – Nelson Pierre scored a goal in the 36th in similar fashion to Stojanovic’s opening effort. The lead didn’t hold through the first 45’ though. Fuson refused to wave the white flag, persisting for a brace to close the half, but his shot from the center of the box would become the last offensive success Columbus Crew 2 saw in the match.

The Union reclaimed the lead early in the second thanks to a 49th minute goal from Stefan Stojanovic assisted by CJ Olney. His brace boosted his season total to seven. As for Olney, he’s been an ever-reliable feeder from the midfield with seven assists so far in 2023.

10 minutes later, David Vazquez booted a shot from the top of the box, extending Philadelphia’s lead to 4-2.

The team held tight to their lead until extending it yet again. Crew 2’s inexperienced goalie in Holstad passed between his teammates near his natural spot around center field during the 81st minute. That’s when Juan Castillo saw an opportunity to take the ball, booting it from more than 40 yards out. His attentive play took advantage of Holstad’s distance from the net, Castillo used just enough power for the ball to outpace Holstad, bouncing through the box and into the net before he could regain his position.

Luciano Sanchez bagged one more for the road 10 minutes later in the 91st minute, notching his fifth goal of the season.

Five players scored, three had assists, and nearly all field players on the game day roster made an appearance, making for a true team win for Union II. The victory boosted the team’s points to 30 – which is just four away from Crew II’s fourth place total.

Historic day

Though it was the second time this season that Union II had defeated Columbus Crew 2 in 2023, the match marked quite a few firsts. Defender Neil Pierre earned his first pro start, entering the pitch in the 86th minute. Edward Davis had his debut too, joining in the 77th minute.

Alex Perez recorded his first MLS NEXT Pro assist and Castillo's goal was his first as a pro.

The game’s eight-goal total secured its spot in Union II record books as the highest scoring game in history, and Philadelphia’s six tied for the largest single-game total in club history.

Just the start

The MLS NEXT Pro matinee madness was an exciting preview to a long-awaited week for Union II. On Friday, the squad will take on Wrexham AFC, the third-oldest professional association football team in the world, at Subaru Park for a friendly. Tap here for tickets!