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Union II start 2024 campaign with a come-from-behind win over Toronto



Photo by Don Robson

Coming off an up-and-down 2023 MLS Next Pro season, Marlon LeBlanc’s Union II side was focused on becoming a more consistent squad in 2024. However, due to the nature of constant departures and newcomers in MLS reserve squads, that task was never going to be an easy one. Prior to the opener against Toronto FC II, Union II announced a starting lineup with several new faces in the XI including homegrown Nick Pariano out of Duke University, loanee Jamir Berdecio from Club Deportivo Oriente Petrolero in Bolivia and new signing Sanders Ngabo from Lyngby FC in Denmark.

Despite the new faces and lack of chemistry playing together, Union II came out and looked like the better side early in their season opener. And in the 24th minute, the boys in blue looked like they had their first goal of the season. They drew a foul in a dangerous position about 25 yards from the Toronto goal, leading to a screamer of a strike from midfielder and captain Kyle Tucker. His right footed curling free kick flew past Toronto goalkeeper Abraham Rodriguez and into the back of the net. However, due to Frankie Westfield running near the Toronto wall before the free kick was taken, the goal was waved off.

Then, things took a turn. In the 41st minute, Toronto’s Julian Altobelli played a beautiful pass in behind the Union II backline right into the path of Jesus Batiz who slotted the ball between Andrew Rick’s legs to put Toronto in front. The goal was the third time of the half that Batiz had found space behind the Union II defense, and this time, he made them pay. Union II were forced to go into the halftime locker room down a goal.

In the second half, Marlon LeBlanc’s lads came out firing. In the 47th minute, a Union II cross hit a Toronto defender and rattled off the left post. A sign of things to come. Then in the 51st minute, from a David Vazquez corner, Frankie Westfield sent a strong glancing header into the back of the Toronto net to level the match at one goal a piece. Just three minutes later, Union II deployed an all-hands on deck press that forced Toronto keeper Abraham Rodriguez into a bad pass directly into the feet of Eddy Davis III, who deftly dribbled around Rodriguez and slotted the ball home to give Union II their first lead of the 2024 season.

In reality, Union II could and probably should have had 4 or 5 goals on the day, as Sal Olivas had a pair of chances late in the match from point blank range that missed the mark. Fortunately, with the way Frankie Westfield and David Vazquez were creating chances both from the left wing and down the middle of the field, there should be plenty of goal scoring opportunities for Olivas and the rest of the Union II frontline going forward.

When the full time whistle blew, Union II had their first victory of the 2024 MLS Next Pro season. LeBlanc will probably be hoping to tidy up defensively, but all in all, he has to be happy with his side’s start to the season. Union II’s next match will be March 24 against the side that knocked them out of the MLS Next Pro Playoffs a season ago: New England Revolution II. Time for revenge.

Hunter is a writer/contributor for Philadelphia Soccer Now/Brotherly Game covering Union post-game analysis, MLS league-wide news and other stories from the world of footy. He has been covering the Union since 2021.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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