The Philadelphia Union II have been somewhat clouded in mystery this offseason with their only official activity being the renaming of the team to Union II, a release about what players would be returning to the team and an announcement of a new head coach.
That was of course before this week when the team announced a jersey sponsor and two new signings and held its first training sessions open to local media.
They played several preseason games prior to this week — one at Red Bulls II, two in Florida, a home and home with West Chester United and a closed scrimmage against Hartford Athletic — but very little information has been released about any.
I was at the game at West Chester United last week and attended a training session in Chester on Thursday so I have some ideas about where things are at but there’s still some guesswork involved in analyzing where the team is at heading into the Union’s fifth season in the USL Championship.
Todd Morton is back for his second season with the team after coming in midway through the year from the eventual USL Championship title winners Real Monarchs. The West Chester, Pa. native gives the team some stability and leadership at the back, but will likely split time with first team homegrown Matt Freese (a candidate for Olympic qualifying) as the first choice keeper for the USL Championship season.
Lukas Burns and Ben Martino are the two U19 level goalkeepers who have seen the most looks in training over the past year so they are likely to compete for minutes but U.S. youth international Mitchell Budler, who has battled injuries since arriving in the summer from Shattuck’s-St. Mary’s, and fellow U17 goalkeeper Owen Moore could play their way into the mix as well.
When both are healthy, the first choice center backs will be Ben Ofeimu and Jamoi Topey who present a rather intimidating presence in the back line in terms of height and size. Topey will be looking to further solidify his standing with the Jamaica national team and Ofeimu will want to put some of the struggles of last season behind him but both should get a lot of minutes this season.
Dante Huckaby and Steve Kingue will also get time on the back line. As a 2003-born player, Huckaby is still very young but arguably one of the brightest defensive prospects in the pipeline right now. Kingue was hampered by injuries last season and can play both on the back line and in the midfield so he’ll get minutes in different places this season. Other center back options will include first team homegrown Cole Turner in a pinch and U17 teammates Samuel Jones, who was recently in England with the United States U17s and Brandan Craig, who is starting to settle into the position after being used primarily as a right back earlier in his academy career.
U2 has also been trialing a 16-year-old center back who played in the game against West Chester United and was in the training session I attended this week.
Walter Cortes returning to Costa Rica was a big loss for the club both on and off the field and now that Matt Real is getting a chance to impress with the first team it’s hard to say how much time he will be spending patrolling the left flank. Tyger Evans has shown a lot of improvement in preseason and U.S. youth international Anton Sorenson is in position to press for minutes as well.
Nathan Harriel should start a bulk of the games at right back this season with Issa Rayyan also able to play there when needed. Jack Jasinski started at right back in the game against West Chester United and so he’s also an option there. Depending how things go for Olivier Mbaizo with the first team, he could be coming down to play once again.
Cole Turner worked his way into a USL deal and a first team contract for this season, but he’ll need a lot more seasoning with Union II this season playing in that holding midfield role. As previously mentioned, Kingue can also play in the midfield so he’s available for minutes and there are additional players in the academy who deserve some looks in that 6/8 role. That includes Danny Flores, Adam Lenges and Nick Pariano, who one local coach I’ve talked to considers the best player on a stacked U17 team.
Axel Picazo, who along with Harriel is in a post-grad year with the academy, was really impressive in the minutes I saw him play against West Chester United last week and I’ve been told he’s shown improvement in training as well. Selmir Miscic has struggled to find playing time in USL after signing a pro contract and fitting in the new system presents a challenge but he’ll have a chance to hopefully show his talent more this season. One would assume new signing David Rabadán is being brought in to play right away but I haven’t seen him yet to give any indication of where he’ll fit in in the midfield. U.S. youth international Jack McGlynn, who joined the academy last summer, was signed to a pro deal this week and will provide plenty of versatility with his ability to play multiple midfield positions.
First team homegrown Jack de Vries didn’t play a whole lot last season in USL before earning a first team contract but with minutes hard to come by in the midfield for the first team there should be opportunity for him to impress with Union II. Issa Rayyan had his preseason slowed a bit by injury but did score a goal for the first team in Florida and should be one of the key players in the team, whether that’s at right back, in the midfield or playing forward. Like Morton, Zach Zandi will be one of the veteran leaders of the team who will look to build on a solid rookie season as the regular starter in the 10 and 8 positions. Paxten Aaronson is on a similar path that led his brother to Rookie of the Year finalist last season so it won’t be a surprise if he pushes his way into consideration for minutes.
Yomi Scintu and Saed Diaz are both back after disappointing first seasons with the team. Both dealt with injuries for long stretches of last season, but appear to be healthy and ready to tackle the year. Shanyder Borgelin is showing improvement in front of goal and building his confidence after mixed returns last season in USL play. Rayyan will probably also get minutes as a forward and de Vries could also be used there in addition to being in the midfield. Michee Ngalina is also an option on loan. Patrick Bohui, Aboubacar Camara and Caden Stafford are players with a goal-scoring touch available from the academy ranks.