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Preview: Union II, the Great Unknown

Preview: Union II, the Great Unknown

There are varying degrees of mystery when it comes to writing a preview. There’s ‘they have a new coach – I don’t know what system they’re going to play’. There’s ‘it’s an expansion team and they’ve got a whole roster of players gathered from elsewhere around the league’. There’s ‘it’s an MLS affiliate team, and so they have a lot of academy players.’ And then there’s the 2020 Philadelphia Union II (the team formerly known as Bethlehem Steel) – a team with more unknowns to it than a room full of theoretical physicists trying to both explain quantum mechanics and flirt with a bunch of instagram models at the same time. In other words, nobody has a clue.

That’s because the few Union II players the Hounds know from 2019 – Olivier Mbaizo, Brenden Aaronson, Michee Ngalina, Mark McKenzie, Jack De Vries, and Anthony Fontana – have all been called up to the Philadelphia Union senior team. The Union are playing in the ‘MLS is Back’ Orlando tournament, inside ‘the bubble’ of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Once those players enter the bubble, they won’t be leaving until the entire team departs, and to my knowledge they won’t be bringing in additional players. That means that, unlike in previous years where unused Union bench and reserve players could get in some run playing for Philly II*, are literally stuck inside the bubble.

The Union called up that large number of players because the MLS is Back tournament allows 5 substitutions and a total gameday-available roster of 23 players; 5 more than the usual 18-man squad.

That makes it hard for me to forecast what the Union will look like, other than to say ‘inexperienced.’

Add to that a new coach, Sven Gartung, who has no track record in North America, and a large roster of new players, and Union II are the Schödingers cat of soccer teams – we won’t know much until we look inside the box /play them.

 

Personnel

We don’t know a lot about the Union, except for one match they played on March 7 against Loudon United which ended in a 0-0 draw. I have taken the liberty of screenshotting the lineup from that day, so that you do not need to click on the link to the incredibly slow USL website. Usually when I click the USL website, I watch a spinning wheel for 3 minutes and then figure out if there is possibly any other way to find out the information, before ultimately giving up altogether.  I suspect when I click a game link for a USL match, an elderly man at a desk in Florida walks down the hall and pulls a manila envelope out of a file cabinet and manually types all the requested data into a file for me. But I digress.

Nine of the 11 starters from that day are still on the Union II’s roster. And only the goalkeeper has significant professional experience.

 

GK Matt Freese is 21 yrs old. After two years at Harvard undergrad, he dropped out to sign a pro contract with the Union. In 2019 he made 6 appearances for Union senior team. He has also been called up to the USMNT U23 squad, so count him as both talented and someone we actually can say we know a little about.

Defender Nathan Harriel is likely one of the most talented players on the squad. He is at least one of the most highly touted players; the 19 yrs old has played for the USMNT U20 player as a right-back. And just Friday, Philly acquired permanent rights to Harriel by swapping a Superdraft pick to ORL for his homegrown rights. So keep an eye on him – he may be going places.

The rest of the defense is very, very young.

Million Evans  is 15 years old, Dante Huckaby is 17 years old, and Ben Ofeimu is the old man at 19 yrs old. Ofeimu made 27 appearances in 2019. Huckaby played 3 matches; Evans made his pro debut in March.

March’s starting midfielders were Cole Turner, Jack De Vries, Axel Picazo and Luis Flores. Turner and De Vries are with the senior team, leaving 19-year-old Picazo and 18-year-old Flores to run the show. The team will likely start Selmir Miscic (17 yrs old), Zack Zandi (23 yrs old), Jack McGlynn (17 yrs old) or Issa Rayyan (19 yrs old). Rayyan impressed me with his play last year – he accelerates well and is tidy with the ball. Overall, the Union academy seems to be quite deep at midfield: Turner, De Vries, Aaronson, and Fontana all came out of the local youth club. Maybe the younger players are going to be a talent dropoff, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Philly seems to have a ‘next man up’ tradition.

The options at striker are less impressive. Shaynder Borgelin, a youth international for Haiti, played 736 minutes in 2019. The 18-year-old had one goal. He’s a big fella though, at 6 foot 5, so the Hounds centerbacks are going to need to keep an eye on him, especially on set pieces. The other starting striker is Yomi Scintu, a 23-year-old from Germany. He played from 2016-2019 for VfB Eichstätt and scored 10 goals. But Eichstätt is in the German 4th div, so either he’s a bargain find or he’s got to level up to make things happen in USL. Any other options are coming out of the academy – they’ll be young and inexperienced, but also looking to impress.

 

Tactical Outlook

Union II played a 4-4-2 in their opener. Other than that, we don’t know much about the club’s tendencies. Coach Sven Gartung‘s last team was the Malaysian Super League team PKNS FC. Suffice it to say my scouting abilities do not extend to obscure Southeast Asian clubs. We’ll know a lot more after this match.

The Union do have a familiar face on the bench: Gavin McInerney was with the Hounds in 2019 as goalkeeper coach before moving on to Philadelphia.

This will be the first of three matches the Riverhounds will play against Union II. So although it’s a big mystery now, there will be a lot more clarity about who and what Union II are after the game that we can use for scouting down the road. I’ll be paying close attention.

Last Week’s Starting Lineup

None

 

Match Information

Date: Saturday, July 18, 2020

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania

Television: 22 The Point

Streaming: ESPN+

Live Statistics: USL Championship Match Center

Live Updates:  PittsburghSoccerNow.com; Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #PHIvPIT

 

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* Once upon a time, dear reader, I would make a ‘Union II, Electric Boogaloo’  reference because it sounds funny. But apparently there’s now a group of white supremacist race riot-inducing traitorous separatists in America who call themselves ‘The Boogaloo’ movement, thereby ruining a perfectly amusing reference to a really bad late 80’s breakdancing movie. 2020 is truly the worst – a year when we absolutely cannot have nice things.

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

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