Ugly is a good word to describe the Philadelphia Union’s preseason opener, a 3-1 loss. The Union began preseason training last week and have been in Florida since Monday. The team has been focusing on small-sided drills rather than full field scrimmages. The good news is that it was just the first preseason match. And it was an important match for the opposition, the Jacksonville Armada. Jacksonville is an expansion team in the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL). This was the first competitive match in club history. The match saw an NASL preseason record crowd of 13,934 at EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As you would expect in an early preseason match the game was chaotic but was played at a fast pace, with both teams getting quality chances. Jim Curtin made mass substitutions every thirty minutes. It is easier to mention who didn’t play than who played. The unlucky (or lucky, depending on your perspective) few were Danny Cruz, Conor Casey, Eric Bird, Rais M’Bolhi, Academy player Derrick Jones and trialist goalkeeper Zak Downes. There were very few positives to take from the match. Here are the ones I could see:
- It was the preseason opener and the multiple substitutions didn’t allow the Union to get settled.
- Andrew Wenger scored a nice goal off a nice pass from Sheanon Williams.
- Andrew Simmons made a rookie mistake that led to the third goal, a penalty kick just before halftime. The good news is that it was just a rookie mistake and it wasn’t out of laziness, he was trying to get back into the play and was just a bit late. With more experience he will know he had another defender right there and the late tackle would be unnecessary.
- The team created multiple chances but their timing was just a bit off, something you would expect from the first match.
- Jimmy McLaughlin and Zach Pfeffer were active and played well.
- Among the trialists, Greek left back Petros Kanakoudis and Cameroonian midfielder Eric Ayuk showed they had potential. Ayuk in particular showed speed and looked confident, but spent too much time trying trick plays when the simple lay would have worked better. Ayuk has a decent chance of making this team.
- Former Union draft pick Aodhan Quinn was one of the better players tonight, and the best midfield combination of the night was Fred and Michael Lahoud. Yes, really.
- One last piece of good news, Austin Berry is alive! Berry played the final thirty minutes partnered with Richie Marquez. That pair was probably also the best defensive combination for the Union.
Now there were also many negatives which could be cause for concern, but let’s not get too carried away. However, here were the things that were bad:
- The timing in the offensive third was off. There were many chances but the final pass or cross was lacking. Timing will come but they can’t wait forever.
- The defense in the opening thirty minutes was horrible. It appears even worse when three of the starters were named Maurice Edu, Ethan White and Sheanon Williams.
- The left side, especially left back, is still in bad shape. Rookie Raymond Lee was exposed repeatedly.
- Brian Carroll should never, ever take another shot for the Union. That’s even if he does see the field again. He missed a wide open net that would have tied the game but he shanked it wide left.
- Of all the potential starters that played, only Andrew Wenger and Vincent Nogueira looked ready for the season to start. Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis were decent but the Union needed more from them.
- Even in your first preseason game, when your best players are the ones buried deep on the depth chart and the fans pray never see minutes during the season, you have a problem.
Having said all of that, seriously, it is not time to panic. Yes it was bad and looked even worse watching it. But training camp has really just started and this is the time to experiment and give some young players a chance to show what they have. In a halftime interview, Jim Curtin didn’t seem very happy but tried to give the first half performance a positive spin. This bodes well for the team because it shows that the coach knew even under the circumstances of the game the performance was unacceptable. The question is, will he hold them accountable? Also, reinforcements are coming. With Carlos Valdes now on loan to Nacional of Uruguay, it appears the Union are close to signing his replacement. That would be 6’5 center back Steven Vitoria, born in Canada to Portuguese parents and currently with Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. There are also rumors of an attacking player being signed soon as well. The Union next play Tampa Bay on Tuesday in Clearwater.