In their penultimate preseason match, Philadelphia Union finally saw the much anticipated arrival of their offense, with the team putting three goals past a hapless Toronto FC side. The final 3-0 scoreline could easily have been slanted further in the Union’s favor, as Roger Torres, for the third time in as many games, raised his hand as the Union’s most natural and creative playmaker.
It was fancy footwork from another of the team’s young stars, Antoine Hoppenot, that got the Union off and running, however. Having received the ball from Michael Lahoud, the French-born forward knifed through three defenders before slotting beyond a helpless Joe Bendik with his left foot. As the half neared its conclusion, Hoppenot turned provider. Working in close quarters in the Toronto box, he played in Roger Torres whose cut back dribble saw him breeze past would-be tacklers, allowing him the simplest of finishes from close range.
Union trialist Matt Kassel settled the contest five minutes into the second half when he had two attempts from distance following a cleared corner kick. Staying with the play after his initial effort was blocked, Kassel’s second low drive from distance surprised Bendik, and the keeper could do little to keep it out as it nestled inside of his near post.
After having tallied only once in their first three preseason matches, their three-goal outburst was vital, with only a final preseason grudge match against DC United standing between the Union and their home opener on March 2.
After being left out against Montreal as an injury precaution, Amobi Okugo led the Union back four in front of Chris Konopka, partnering with veteran Chris Albright between trialist Matt Kassel at right back and Superdraft pick Don Anding on the other flank. Michael Lahoud and Greek international Pantelis Kafes shielded the back line, giving free reign for Roger Torres and Keon Daniel to support the forward pairing of Conor Casey and Antoine Hoppenot.
Coming out of the gate, Toronto looked to press high against a Union side that initially looked timid as they developed chemistry at the back. Okugo had to make an important intervention when Emory Welshman and Taylor Morgan streamed into the Union box early in the match.
But inside of five minutes, the Union found their shape, and the quick ball movement of Torres, Kafes and Lahoud had Toronto chasing. All three figured prominently in the build-up on eight minutes, with Lahoud serving up the final ball to Hoppenot. His first touch put him past two defenders before his speed sent him past Gale Agbossoumonde. With only the keeper to beat, Hoppenot did well to use his left foot, striking across his body and Bednik’s fingertips unable to nestle the ball inside the near post.
An early goal was just the shot of confidence the Union needed, and Kafes could have doubled the advantage minutes later. Torres fed Anding racing up the touchline. The cutback ball found its way to the former AEK Athens man, but Kafes could not keep his shot on target.
Between Kafes and Lahoud in midfield, and Okugo and Albright at the back, there were few holes through for Toronto. When they found themselves stymied in the 16th minute, Torres was quick to spring the counter attack, though Casey was lacking for pace after being set free. Minutes later, Welshman looked to have teed up Toronto’s opener, only to see Lahoud and Okugo swarm to the defensive rescue.
With the Union narrow through the middle, the speedy Anding had the wing to use as his personal race track, and fellow speedster Ashton Bennett was struggling to keep pace as Daniel repeatedly put the rookie into space. On the opposite flank, Kassel marauded forward as he teamed with Hoppenot to give the Toronto defense an additional headache.
Anding’s pressure was telling on the left flank, with both Daniel and Torres setting him free to win corner kicks and deliver dangerous service into the box. When Daniel found himself on the endline in the 40th minute, he found Anding, whose cross was knocked into the path of Torres by Casey. On this instance, the Colombian’s technique failed him.
Moments later, Torres would redeem himself. Racing in from the left flank, Hoppenot’s pass beat Richard Eckersley to set the table for Torres. There was still plenty of work to do, but Torres’ hard cutback saw him leave Agbossoumonde in his wake, allowing him to power past Bednik from close range, sending the Union into the locker room with a two-goal cushion.
The Union were straight back on the front foot coming out in the second half, with strong work from the trialist Kafes setting up Anding for a drive, which Agbossoumonde did well to head clear. With numbers forward for a corner, it was the other Union trialist, Kassel, who notched the Union’s third goal on 51 minutes.
When Torres’ corner kick was only partially cleared, Kassel pounced, striking a low powerful drive into the sea of advancing legs. Staying with the play after his deflected shot caromed back to him, Kassel’s second effort found its way through the defense and beyond Bednik to settling the contest.
Toronto looked to hit back immediately, but composed play from both Albright and Okugo ensured their efforts came to naught.
Still buzzing up front, Hoppenot nearly bagged a brace in the 61st minute after a smart exchange of passes put him in on Bednik. But with his weight unbalanced, Hoppenot was unable to keep his effort on target.
The Union were still chasing back defensively, putting in the hard work to maintain and regather possession late into the match, when John Hackworth decided to change his lines. The introduction of an entirely new side for the final quarter of an hour served to disturb the attacking flow that had been established in the first 75 minutes, but Toronto was unable to take advantage, and the Union coasted home with the comfortable 3-0 victory.
Two more preseason contests stand ahead of the Union, a midweek fixture against DC United on Wednesday and a preview of the home opener next Saturday against Sporting KC just a week before the two teams meet again at PPL Park for the start of the 2013 season. The club will look to build on the positive momentum forged against Toronto before returning north to conclude their preseason preparations.
Chris Konopka (Chase Harrison ’67); Matt Kassel (Jimmy McLaughlin ’76), Chris Albright (Greg Jordan ’66), Amobi Okugo (Eric Schoenle ’76), Don Anding (Damani Richards ’76); Keon Daniel (Alex Mendoza ’76), Roger Torres (Leo Fernandes ’76), Michael Lahoud (Stephen Okai ’76), Pantelis Kafes (Jordi Vidal ’76), Conor Casey (Georgi Hristov ’76), Antoine Hoppenot (Chandler Hoffman ’76)
Joe Bendik; Richard Eckersley (Daniel Fabrizi 74’); Gale Agbossoumonde (Derrick Bassi 69’), Darren O’Dea (Danny Califf 69’); Darel Russell; Ashton Bennett (Reggie Lambe 65’), Jeremy Hall (Kyle Bekker 65’), Terry Dunfield (Henrik Robstad 65’), Emery Welshman (Andrew Wiedeman 65’); Luis Silva (Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault 74’), Taylor Morgan (Justin Braun 72’)
8 – PHI: Hoppenot (Lahoud)
40 – PHI: Torres (Hoppenot)
51 – PHI: Kassel