In a meeting of the 2014 MLS Offseason Champions®©™, neither the Philadelphia Union nor Toronto FC seemed ready for the regular season to start. Both winless in the 2014 Disney Pro Soccer Classic, the teams played out a relatively tame 0–0 draw on Wednesday.
Union manager John Hackworth said after the game, “Just like in most of these preseason games you see some very good things, and those moments you have to be able to build on and be able to sustain those positives over longer periods of time. Clearly, we have some things we still need to improve on but I thought today we created enough chances to easily put one or two in the back of the net today.”
The first half was uneventful, with both teams still firmly in preseason mode.
The starting lineups, however, were much more like what they are likely to field on opening day. With new Union acquisition Austin Berry only just arrived, Aaron Wheeler started at center back with Amobi Okugo, flanked by Fabinho and Sheanon Williams and backstopped by Zac MacMath in goal. Ahead, Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu held down the middle, with Chaco Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Sebastien Le Toux looking to attack with Jack McInerney.
Conor Casey, Antoine Hoppenot, Michael Lahoud, Richie Marquez, and Pedro Ribeiro were all unavailable as they recover from various knocks. Andre Blake was unavailable after leaving camp today to join the Jamaican national team for a pair of friendlies against Barbados and St. Lucia.
Neither team looked very settled in the opening stages, with Toronto’s best chances coming from Union giveaways. Michael Bradley, the biggest offseason signing in MLS, was unsurprisingly active, popping up everywhere between the boxes. For the Union, Edu was quiet, but Nogueira was lively, always looking to get on the ball.
The first good Union build-up came in the 17th minute, with a crossfield ball from Nogueira on the left to Maidana on the right. Maidana played in Williams on the overlap, and Williams’s cross found Le Toux at the near post, only to see Toronto goalkeeper Julio Cesar put the shot out for a corner. Unfortunately for the Union, Williams appeared to injure himself on the play and was replaced by Ray Gaddis.
The Union’s midfield was very fluid, with all three attackers swapping positions at will. The movement gave Toronto difficulty in marking, but was also gave the Union players problems with their spacing, resulting in few coherent moves. Toronto’s main weapons were the passing of Bradley and counterattacks from Union turnovers, of which there were too many.
The half came to a close with a decent chance for Edu, who had a swipe at a volley from the top of the Toronto box, but his shot flew high. The teams went to the break scoreless.
The second half was played at a slightly higher pace. The teams were almost unchanged to start, with Toronto making one sub, bringing on Ashton Morgan for Justin Morrow, who had injured himself late in the first in a collision with McInerney. The Union’s possession game improved in the early going. A series of good crosses from Fabinho and then good interplay between Maidana, Edu, and Carroll led to a string of Union corners, but none were converted into decent chances.
Around the hour mark, the game grew stretched, with both teams capitalizing on turnovers to race forward. First the Union, then Toronto, had free kicks from just outside the box, but neither drew saves from the keepers. Dwayne DeRosario had a good opportunity inside the Union box, but his shot was tame.
The game settled down, with the Union relatively comfortable but creating little. On 69 minutes, Danny Cruz replaced Maidana. On 73, Leo Fernandes replaced Le Toux. Austin Berry had already come on, back in the 60th.
The game looked like it would peter out with little further action, but Fernandes had two very good shooting opportunities in the 89th minute, both following good passing from Edu and Nogueira. Toronto keeper Julio Cesar covered both, and the game ended scoreless.
Vincent Nogueira: The best new signing for the Union might be the least heralded, as Nogueira was consistently the best midfield player for Philadelphia. Not only did he constantly seek the ball and look for attacking opportunities, but he was committed defensively for the whole game. He’s one to watch.
Attacking tactics: As noted above, the midfield’s movement created opportunities, but it was also disorganized. The Union did not look as if they had a coherent offensive gameplan, though they found Fabinho frequently on the left wing for dangerous crosses. The added danger he provides on the left seems to have pushed him in front of Gaddis for the starting left back spot.
Turnovers: Aside from lacking an attacking idea, the biggest problem for the Union was turnovers. Nearly all of Toronto’s chances, such as they were, came from poor Union passing. The team would do well to learn each others’ habits before trying to do too much.
Leo Fernandes: Fernandes has looked much better in preseason than he did during 2013. His use of the ball is smarter and more incisive, and he plays with an on-ball creativity that few of the other Union players possess. That said, most Union fans would have liked to see Pedro Ribeiro get some minutes.
Where are the goals? The Union are much better in possession than they were last season but have yet to consistently create quality chances for shots from open play. Jack McInerney was fairly isolated for much of the game and had few chances to get a shot on goal. That has to change for the Union to be successful.
TFC: Morgan (caution) 55’
PHI: Okugo (caution) 63’
PHI: Carroll (caution) 71’
MacMath, Fabinho, Wheeler (Berry 65’), Okugo, Williams (Gaddis 19’), Carroll, Edu, Maidana (Cruz 67’), Nogueira, Le Toux (Fernandes 74’), McInerney
Cesar, Morrow (Morgan 45’), Henry, Caldwell, Hagglund, Rey (Aparicio 84’), Osorio, Bradley, Jackson (Bekker 80’), DeRosario (Lambe 70’), Weideman