Union II

Union II opens 2024 with 2-1 win over Toronto FC II


Philadelphia Union II turned up the defensive pressure to start their 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season with a 2-1 comeback win over Toronto FC II on Sunday afternoon.

Union II’s first contest of the 2024 season saw the club’s philosophy on the pitch at the opening whistle with four members from the first team in the Starting XI for Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc. Alongside Olwethu Makhanya, Jamir Berdecio, Sanders Ngabo and Nick Pariano, Academy players Francis Westfield and Edward Davis III got the MLS NEXT Pro start. Union II forward Sal Olivas celebrated his own highlight moment of his young professional career with his first MLS NEXT Pro start coming in the 2024 opener.

Union II earned the scoring chance of the contest in the 10th minute with a dangerous free kick opportunity outside the Toronto 18-yard-box. Captain Kyle Tucker delivered the service to the far post but the visitors cleared it away. Moments later it was Toronto with a dangerous chance of their own with a threaded ball to spring Julian Altobelli into open space. Andrew Rick timed his run perfectly off the line to make himself big and stop the chipped effort from the visiting side.

Toronto again launched a counter against Union II’s press with quick passing sequence sending Jesús Batiz thorugh on the left side. Again Rick was calm beyond his years with a perfectly placed block to prevent a goal and a rebound. Buoyed by the big defensive stops at the back, Union II nearly found the back of the net with a pair of chances from Olivas. Off a corner kick in the 18th minute, Tucker ripped a cross that connected with the 17-year-old but the quick shot was blocked near the penalty spot. Less than a minute it was David Vazquez with excellent service on the left side toward Olivas with a redirected flick just missing the far post.

Union II’s captain Kyle Tucker thought he had Union II’s opening goal of the season in the 25th minute with a perfectly placed free kick from 30 yards out. The midfielder struck it perfectly but the celebrations were cut short as the referee whistled the play off for interference to negate the Union II goal.

Just before the break both teams made valiant efforts for the first official goal of the match with Vazquez finding space on the left flank before whipping a cross into the box for Davis II that was cleared out. Toronto FC struck on the counter in the 41st minute as Altobelli threaded a ball to Batiz who converted on his second chance of the afternoon to make it 1-0 in favor of the visiting side.

Union II came out of half on the front foot with even more defensive pressure to force mistakes from Toronto FC. Just two minutes after the resumption of play, Philly nearly did just that as Davis III sent a cross into the box intended for Olivas that was blocked by Toronto FC II defender Lazar Stefanovic and crashed off the post and out.

In the 51st minute, Union II found its equalizing goal with some set piece magic between a pair of Union Academy teammates. After earning a corner with a quick attack, Vazquez served up a perfectly placed volley into the box that Westfield got a header on first to float it into the back of the net.

Three minutes later Union II found itself in the lead courtesy of that synchronized pressure from the front three. As Toronto sought to slow down the match, they turned to backline passes that saw Olivas, Vazquez and Davis seek out. A back pass to the keeper forced an arrant clearance that Davis intercepted inside the 18. A quick move later set up the Union Academy forward’s first-ever MLS NEXT Pro goal to make it 2-1 in favor of Union II.

With a lead in front of the vocal Bridge Brigade, Union II kept the Canadian side pinned on their half of the field. Vazquez and Westfield combined again in the 70th minute after an interception in the midfield quickly put the ball at Vazquez’s feet. The 18-year-old patiently waited for the overlapping run to lead his teammate into the box but the left-footed shot dipped wide of the far post.

Union II continues its homestand to begin the 2024 season next weekend when it plays host to New England Revolution II on Sunday, March 24th. Kick off from Subaru Park is set for 3PM ET with tickets for the match available for purchase by clicking here.