Leo Fernandes marked his first Union appearance with a stylish goal to save his side and earn a 1-1 draw against the Orlando City Lions.
In their first preseason match of the 2013 season, the Union were ill-prepared for Orlando City’s high pressure attack. They struggled to contain the high-flying duo of Dennis Chin and Long Tan while reverting to the long ball tactics of years past, looking every bit a side playing their first competitive match of the season.
Orlando City grabbed a deserved opener in the 54th minute, though it came from a Union error. Attempting a short goal kick, Zac MacMath’s poor ball put Union captain Brian Carroll under pressure. Carroll’s heavy touch failed to help matters, and he was easily dispossessed, with a quick pass releasing Chin to round MacMath and slot home from an acute angle.
On the 60-minute mark, coach John Hackworth rang the changes and swapped 10 men. The move shocked his team into life. Roger Torres was the offensive catalyst, and after forcing the best out of goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo with a long-distance shot, he turned provider. Receiving Torres’ clever chip on his chest, 2013 supplemental draft pick Fernandes turned quickly and banged his shot past Gallardo to secure the draw for the Union.
With his first opportunity to craft a lineup in 2013, Hackworth went traditional. Jeff Parke joined last year’s starters Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo and Gabriel Farfan to compose the backline of the Union’s 4-4-2. Captain Brian Carroll anchored the midfield, with Michael Farfan running the attack between Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz. Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey comprised the forward pairing.
Little went right for Union in the early going with the defense looking confused and disjointed, despite Parke being the only replacement from the line that played together through much of 2012. A Williams turnover in the 7th minute could have led to immediate trouble, if not for Gabe Farfan’s defensive pressure at the final moment.
Okugo and Parke were spread wide, unsettling the middle of the pitch, forcing the fullbacks into crucial recovering tackles. First Farfan knifed in to stop an Orlando City break before Williams caught up to Tan who had been played in on MacMath’s goal.
In the 14th minute, the Union finally had their first look at goal, but after getting himself into a dangerous position, Le Toux snatched at his shot, scuffing it well wide.
Clumsy touches, specifically from Le Toux and Carroll, saw the Union conceding possession often, but Williams was twice in the right place to make clearing defensive headers.
Breaking back at Orlando City, Gabe Farfan drove into the center of park, only to be felled by Freddie Braun, who earned a yellow card for his troubles. Michael Farfan stepped up for the free kick and rather than hooking the ball into the box, drove a low ball straight at Gallardo. Only the slightest touch would have opened the scoring, but the Union attackers failed to react and the chance went begging.
The Lions continued to raise the tempo and, finding space to operate in midfield, raced at the Union defense with every opportunity. Chin would have thought he was through on 33 minutes, but Parke proved his quality with an excellent recovery.
With the midfield opening up in both directions, Michael Farfan found the time to chip over the top for Casey, but Gallardo was first to the ball, which hung for a fraction too long. Casey showed his mobility minutes later as he got himself into a wide position, but his cross just eluded Le Toux.
The final ball continued to elude the Union when Okugo sent Michael Farfan on a run forward. Threading the needle through Orlando City’s defense, Cruz made a mess of the cross, putting it behind for a goal kick.
Farfan then tried his luck from distance as the half wore down but saw his powerful effort rise just over the bar.
With no halftime subs, Michael Farfan picked up where he left off in the first half and nearly created the Union’s opener. Picking off a pass in his attacking third, his cross was on target for Le Toux, who swung his leg, but failed to make contact.
Despite their erratic performance, the Union were beginning to find the front foot, and they should have been in the lead minutes later. Finding space to run at the center of the defense, Cruz unleashed a strong drive from 30 yards out which beat Gallardo, but rebounded heavily off the post. The chance was still there, however, with Le Toux bearing down on the empty net, but the striker somehow managed to get his touch wrong with the goal begging.
It would prove costly for the visitors when Orlando City found the opener minutes later. MacMath seemed to hesitate as he weighed up whether to play the ball short to the retreating Carroll, but once the ball was played it always looked like trouble. Receiving the ball 20 yard from his own goal, Carroll’s strong touch took him back into his own box where he was quickly swarmed over, conceding possession while still trying to settle the pass. Once Chin was released there was little for MacMath to do and he rounded the third year man with ease, remaining composed to slide the ball home from the tight angle.
Following the goal, Orlando City had their tails up searching for a second. Brushing off Carroll’s challenge, the Lions stormed through the Union defense, but fortunately the service into the box yielded a tame header that MacMath easily saved.
Having seen enough, Hackworth removed all of his outfield players. Retaining the 4-4-2 formation, Bakary Soumare led a backline comprised of Ray Gaddis and rookies Eric Schoenle and Damani Richards. Greg Jordan took over for Carroll with Roger Torres pulling the strings inside of Leo Fernandes and trialist Jordi Vidal. Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot looked to breach the Orlando City defense where Casey and Le Toux had failed.
Slowly, the Union grew back into the game, with Roger Torres looking eager and sharp on the ball. With a passing fluency missing from the starters, the Union midfield maintained possession and began to probe the Lions flanks.
Torres nearly tied the match in the 70th minute when he let fly from distance after being released by Hoppenot. The shot had power and movement, but Gallardo was able to fight off the effort.
The Union pressure was taking its toll and patrolling the midfield, Torres was beginning to find gaps in the Lions defense. In the 74th minute, Torres put Vidal up the left flank, where the trialist won a corner. Nothing came of the free kick, but before Orlando City could clear their lines, Torres found Fernandes in the box. Vidal fought hard to keep the play alive, doing just enough to keep the ball rolling, and Torres’ first-time contact with the outside-of-his-boot flick landed where Fernandes could control with his chest before lashing home the equalizer on the turn.
Suddenly, the momentum was turned, and the Union surged forward seeking a winner. McInerney would have delivered the victory were it not for more excellent goalkeeping from Gallardo. Fernandes did well to put Hoppenot into space, sending him and McInerney in on Gallardo. But with a simple tap-in beckoning, Hoppenot underhit his pass, allowing the goalkeeper to smother the danger away.
With time running short, the Union continued to press for the match winner when Torres picked out the streaking McInerney racing into the box. McInerney’s unselfish layoff set the table for a dream debut for Fernandes, but the brace was not on the cards and his shot was blocked at close range.
The Union next take the field on Wednesday, 13 February, when they meet the Columbus Crew at 1:00 pm (MLSsoccer.com, PhiladelphiaUnion.com).
Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams (Ray Gaddis ’61), Amobi Okugo (Bakary Soumare ’61), Jeff Parke (Eric Schoenle’61), Gabriel Farfan (Shaun Francis ’61); Danny Cruz (Leo Fernandes ’61), Brian Carroll (Greg Jordan ’61), Michael Farfan (Roger Torres ’61), Keon Daniel (Jordi Vidal ’61); Conor Casey (Jack McInerney ’61), Sebastien Le Toux (Antoine Hoppenot ’61)
Orlando City Lions
Miguel Gallardo; Brian Fekete, Rob Valentino, Kieron Bernard, Bryan Burke; James O’Connor, Freddie Braun , Jamie Watson, Keammar Daley; Dennis Chin, Long Tan
54: OCL – Chin
76: PHI – Fernandes (Torres)
22: OCL – Braun (caution)
33: PHI – Cruz (caution)