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Union II play Loudoun United to a scoreless draw on a night of firsts

Union II outshot DC United’s USL Championship team 14-5 but couldn’t produce a winner in their season debut

Photo by Matt Ralph

The Philadelphia Union II opened their first season under their new name on Saturday night in the first official game at the newly renamed Subaru Park and saw debuts for their head coach, starting left back and recently signed 16-year-old midfielder.

It was also a debut for starting midfielder Axel Picazo as team captain in the post-James Chambers era for the club formerly known as Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It felt pretty good, my first cap as captain,” Picazo said. “I think we have a lot of leaders so it’s a matter of who wants it.”

The 18-year-old made 19 appearances and 7 starts in the USL Championship in 2019 but is still an amateur taking a post-grad year in the academy. His performances in preseason earned high marks from new head coach Sven Gartung. He played 90 minutes as one of the 10s in a 4-2-2-2, completing 86 percent of his passes and putting a shot on target.

Another player who emerged in preseason and earned the start — his first in USL Championship — was Harrisburg native Tyger Evans who made his debut at left back.

“It felt great,” Evans said. “The process for me (in preseason) was just work hard, that’s how it was. I went down there, I knew I had to prove what I could do. I want to start, I want to play here so that’s what I did.”

Jack McGlynn made his USL Championship debut off the bench to cap off an eventful week that included the 16-year-old from New York signing his first professional contract. He was a spark off the bench and showed some of the skills that impressed the technical staff in preseason.

“It felt really good to finally get out there and play,” said McGlynn, who was recruited to the academy last summer. “I feel like once I got on the ball I was able to do what I normally do and I just thought it was a normal game.”

All three subs on the night had an impact on the game. Nathan Harriel, who was returning from an injury picked up in preseason with the first team, gave way after the first 45 minutes to Issa Rayyan and Zach Zandi also provided a spark off the bench.

Zandi nearly set up the game winner when he danced down the end line and fed Yomi Scintu for an attempt at the far post that hit the post and stayed out in the 90th minute.

Even with the missed opportunity to take all three points at the end, the result was a positive one for a team that will be perhaps best measured against other MLS 2 squads with a similar approach to fielding a young roster. The max five unsigned academy players played, including Picazo, Evans, Harriel, Dante Huckaby and Danny Flores. First team players Matt Freese, Jack de Vries and Cole Turner also started. The average age of the 14 players who played was 18.57.

“I can’t wait to play the next match and you can see the boys, they’re smiling because they worked hard, and they know what they have achieved,” Gartung said. “They didn’t win but we were on the same level as Loudoun and from that perspective we keep on working for next week and try to adjust a little bit better so that we can hopefully score in the next match.”

The team goes on a two-match road trip to play North Carolina FC (March 14) and Charleston Battery (March 28) before returning home to host Atlanta United 2 on Friday, April 3.