There were no losers in navy and gold on Saturday afternoon when the Union notched their first preseason victory of 2013, a comprehensive 3-0 victory over perennial bottom-dwellers Toronto FC. Friday night’s contest against Montreal Impact may have been blacked out for viewers in the northeast, with reports suggesting that was probably for the best, but the Union showed no signs of a hangover less than 24 hours later.
1. Roger Torres
At the moment, Torres is simply in a class of his own. Turning in his third Man of the Match caliber performance in as many appearances, Torres again looked incredibly sharp in possession. Picking out the right pass with impressive regularity, his defensive work was almost as laudable. Gale Agbossoumonde will still be shaking his head at the ease with which Torres cut past him to double the Union’s advantage in the 40th minute. Union fans will be hoping that John Hackworth finally sees fit to plug Torres into the starting XI.
2. Antoine Hoppenot
Hoppenot’s touch in the attacking third has been the solitary major criticism of the Princeton product since his explosion onto the MLS scene in 2012. If Saturday’s performance is any indication, he has been working on it. The footwork involved in receiving a Michael Lahoud pass and shifting his weight before skipping past three defenders to fire home with his less preferred left foot was nothing short of excellent. In providing the final pass for Torres in the 40th minute, his touch was also on song, his quick-moving feet did enough to freeze Richard Eckersley, allowing him time and space to slide the ball into Torres’ stride. Could have grabbed a brace for himself following an excellent one-two interchange with Conor Casey, but found himself just a hair off balance, sending his shot into the bleachers.
3. Don Anding
His defensive positioning still needs plenty of work, as few MLS sides will be pushovers on the level of Toronto, but Anding’s attacking credentials cannot be questioned. Overlapping Keon Daniel and Torres with constant aggression, Anding’s service into the box was solid, in addition to winning multiple corner kicks for his side. After a weak showing against Columbus, Saturday’s performance offers fans far more insight into why the Union coaching staff used their first pick in the Superdraft to select the speedster.
4. Amobi Okugo
Left out on Friday night as a precautionary measure following a minor thigh injury, Okugo looked 100 percent healthy against Toronto. His passing and positional play were both spot on as he paired with Chris Albright, forming a partnership that deprived Toronto of any chance of a clean look on goal. Playing on the less familiar left side of the center back pairing, Okugo looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet, eating up chunks of ground as he strode forward, daring Toronto to apply pressure. They did not, and he used the extra time to fire in crisp passes to Torres and Co.
5. Chris Albright
Center back may represent the final stop on Albright’s 10-station tour of all the outfield positions in MLS, and the Union veteran took to it well. Powerful and commanding in the air, he was a rock against Toronto’s set pieces, showed good vision to distribute the ball out of the back, and covered well for Kassel when he pushed forward. After a 2012 where he was simply too slow to feature as an outside back, Albright may turn into consistent cover in the middle of the park in 2013. Either way, his leadership on and off the pitch is sterling and cannot be undervalued.
6. Pantelis Kafes
How he arrived with the Union remains a mystery, but one thing is certain: Kafes showed better chemistry with his adjacent teammates—Kassel, Lahoud, Albright, Torres and Hoppenot—in one appearance than many of the “A” side players have after playing together for years. Also, it’s pretty hard to discount all that international experience both for club (Olympiacos and AEK Athens) and country (Greece). Whether he will win a contract and what his role will be remains to be determined, but as far as first looks go, it was a good one.
7. Michael Lahoud
Often beat up for his erratic passing and unforced errors, Lahoud deserves credit as a standout performer against Toronto. He moved the ball, and himself, with pace and accuracy, arriving at the right time to win the ball and set Torres and the offense galloping forward. The quality of the opponent may have played a part in his sharp performance, but you can only play against what’s in front of you, and Lahoud was very strong on Saturday.
8. Matt Kassel
Still on trial with the Union after flirting with the the team through the second half of 2012, the 23-year-old Kassel got a start in a new position, right back. It will not help his stock that the Union already have Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis installed there on the depth chart, but Kassel showed coach Hackworth his versatility and soccer IQ. Slotting seamlessly into the defense, Kassel moved forward with pace, looking to overlap Hoppenot often, while appearing very comfortable and confident in possession. He showed his offensive prowess with a cracking finish from distance, tallying the Union’s third goal to put the game beyond reach for TFC.