Union II open campaign with win; are they the strongest team in MLS Next Pro?

Philadelphia Union II played in their first MLS Next Pro match this past weekend. A 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati 2 showcased the talent Philadelphia’s second team has. While their result wasn’t the biggest win on the first weekend of Next Pro’s existence, this team seems to be built to win the league!

Union II open campaign
Mandatory Credit: Justin Friedberg

Union II open campaign

Philadelphia Union II opened their inaugural MLS Next Pro Campaign this past Sunday! and it was an interesting showcase of how the Union is going to utilize MLS Next Pro.

On the first matchday, Philly had five first-team players in the starting XI; Matt Freese, Matt Real, Anton Sorrenson, Jesus Bueno, and Cole Turner all got some important playing time. Couple this with promising signings Carlos Paternina, Boubacar Diallo, and Chris Donovan, and academy standouts like Nelson Pierre and Bajung Darboe, and this team is stacked with young talent.

The Union is going to use their second team to be a breeding ground for young promising players to make the most of professional minutes to see if they can make the jump up to the first team, and possibly beyond. This was evident in how they played in their first-ever match!

2-0 Win over FCC 2

Union II got a win over FC Cincinnati 2 this past Sunday. It was clear Union II had a system in place. They ran the same 4-4-2 Diamond that the first team often lines up in, and they bossed the game, without having the majority of possession. Philly only had 42.3% of possession, but this didn’t stop them from getting on the front foot early.

A long throw-in down the left wing saw Chris Donovan get on the ball in behind the Cincy II defense. Donovan put in a good cross toward an onrushing Carlos Paternina. His man slipped and Paternina was all alone with the goalkeeper. Paternina slotted a shot past the onrushing keeper to the low right-hand corner and Union II was up 1-0 just four minutes in.

As the match progressed, FC Cincinnati 2 had a few chances, but it was nothing the U II defense couldn’t handle. Philly was a compact unit that limited Cincy to just two shots. The match was put out of reach in the second half when a good first-team connection made it 2-0.

Cole Turner intercepted a Cincinnati buildup and immediately fired a pass from midfield toward the box. It was intended for Chris Donovan who dummied the ball allowing it to go through his legs and reach an on-rushing Jesus Bueno. Bueno carried the ball into the box and found a way to sneak the ball under the keeper. It was 2-0 Union II in the 58th minute, and they were able to close it out to get their first win.

The first win in Union II history was a good one, but it showcased second-team players to watch this season!

Players to watch

There are a number of very good players on this Union II squad! A lot of them showed very well in the first-ever Union II match. Here are a few players to watch as the season gets started!

  • Carlos Paternina was the star of the game. He had a very good game making it hard for Cincinnati to do anything. Cincinnati 2 wanted to play out of the back and Paternina was everywhere to stop those. He then had great movement to get open and finish the first goal. He could very well be on his way to the reason why the Union II score every match!
  • Chris Donovan was Union II’s best striker on the day. He was able to stretch the FC Cincinnati 2 defense. His assist helped give his team the early lead, and his dummy in the second half provided the second. a pairing of Donovan and newly signed Riasco could tear this league apart.
  • Boubacar Diallo is a young central midfielder who looked like he can boss teams around. His ability to cover ground, defend and then link up the play when Union II counter. He showed some great passes, and could be the reason why a lot of the attacks are started for this team in 2022!
  • Ian Abbey came on for Carlos Paternina and was lively. He’s listed as a forward on the depth chart but played as a pesky number 10 who pressed the crap out of Cincinnati, and was a touch or two away from springing lethal counter attacks.
  • Nathan Nkanji and Jackson Gilman looked sharp as the centerback pairing. We’ll see if these are the boys to hold down the backline this year in MLS Next Pro!
  • Jose Riasco was signed this past week, and the Union reportedly paid $1.5 million for the striker! The goal is for him to play with Union II this year and transition to the first team sooner rather than later. He’s yet to join the team as his visa is getting completed, hopefully this isn’t another of a large string of visa issues the Union has been having!

With this being from just the first game. It’s possible that these players won’t always this good, but if they can find this level of play consistently they really could be. Add to that, that other players will get their first opportunities and could ball out as well, and this team looks to be a scary-good one!

Is this the team to beat in MLS Next Pro?


This Union II team is well put together. The roster rules having no salary cap allows Ernst Tanner to build a young squad of international talent coupled with academy talent. MLS Next Pro really is going to be the link from the Union academy to the first team. Could this mean that Union II will be a contender to win the league?

The team is built to have strong players that can’t break the first-team gameday roster to join in for Union II matchday, has a young core of signings that have aspirations of making it to the first team, and young and hungry academy kids who want to get their first chance to play pro minutes at Subaru Park. Of all the teams in the North East Division, and the Eastern Conference as a whole, this Union II team seems to be the team to beat.

Only time will tell if this team will live up to this hype. They are only one game into a 24 game season, but so far they look like a strong, competitive side pushing for the chance to be called great! Union II’s next match is Sunday, April 3 at 6 pm down in Miami against Inter Miami II. The match will be streamed at MLSNextPro.com!

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Mandatory Credit: Justin Friedberg