Union match reports

Preseason match report: Tampa Bay Rowdies 0-1 Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union opened their 2017 Suncoast Invitation preseason tournament with a 1-0 win over the host Tampa Bay Rowdies in St. Petersburg, Florida Saturday evening.

Jim Curtin selected a mix of veterans and new names for the start. Andre Blake defended the net behind Ray Gaddis, SuperDraft pick Jack Elliot, Richie Marquez, and Fabinho. Derrick Jones and Haris Medunjanin sat behind Alejandro Bedoya, with Fabian Herbers and Marcus Epps providing width behind CJ Sapong in the expected 4-2-3-1 shape.

Tampa Bay countered with a similar 4-2-3-1 that looked to choke the center of the pitch and force the Union away from new signing Medunjanin.

First half

Former Union attacker Leo Fernandes nearly set up a surprise opener for Tampa Bay in the second minute, but Andre Blake beat trialist Paterson to the ball.

The home side kept the pressure on the Union, but former England international Joe Cole’s poor free kick relieved pressure following an Alejandro Bedoya foul just outside Tampa’s final third. Still, the Union struggled to string together coherent play. CJ Sapong’s loose touch was collected by Haris Medunjanin, but soon Derrick Jones’ loose back pass put the Rowdies back on the front foot.

In the seventh minute, the Union finally made a foray deep into the Tampa Bay half. Medunjanin’s line-breaking ball through the center flicked from Sapong to Bedoya, and the attacking midfielder drove at the home defense. As Sapong sprinted into the box, Bedoya laid the ball in front of him, but a late — and questionable — tackle took the ball away the striker’s foot.

Philadelphia was finding space up the right as Fabian Herbers dragged his man inside to create a lane for Ray Gaddis. The fullback cut inside his man deep in Tampa’s half and found Herbers at the top corner of the box, but the attacker’s deep cross was chaotically cleared for a corner that the Union could not convert.

The early moments of the match highlighted both the promise and growing pains ahead for Derrick Jones. After beginning with a poor giveaway and some loose touches, the young midfielder began to find more of the ball and spread it around well. In the 12th minute, Bedoya dropped the ball back to Jones for an open look on net, but the defense-first middie blazed his shot well over the bar.

It was also clear from the start that Philly’s route to success ran directly through the large and impressively skilled frame of Haris Medunjanin. Though preferring his left foot, Medunjanin broadcast a stunning display of passing prowess across the pitch. Long, early passes deep into the box fell to Herbers’ chest while quick turns under pressure opened up short, dinked connectors through the lines in the middle.

As the first twenty minutes drew to a close, Fabinho went down under a hard aerial challenge at the back post. As he was treated, the Rowdies transitioned quickly through Darwin Jones up the right, and only a pair of swift recovery runs from Gaddis and Medunjanin prevented a clear look at goal.

As the match wore on, Philadelphia increasingly controlled the ball but seemed intent on creating as many chances for Tampa Bay as for themselves. A poor Fabinho pass to Medunjanin nearly let the Rowdies in at the Union defense before the home side nearly caught the Union out with a good move up the left.

In the 31st minute, Medunjanin got too cute bringing down an aerial ball and sent the ball to the feet of Paterson. He rounded the defense but Blake beat him to the free ball.

Three minutes later, Tampa Bay was breaking up the left again, with a tight exchange near midfield releasing Darwin Jones behind Gaddis; a Richie Marquez slide tackle put out the fire.

The Union showcased their transition game in the 39th as Medunjanin’s wonderful early outlet pass sent Herbers on the break. The second year man drove hard at net but lifted his shot disappointingly high.

The yin and yang of Sapong came to the fore as the half ended. Medunjanin attempted to guide Sapong around his man with a fine pass, but the striker moved the wrong way. Sapong recovered by using an impressive mix of balance and strength to awkwardly move himself between the defender and the ball, earning a free kick just outside the box. Bedoya stepped to the ball and clobbered it into the wall to end the opening forty-five.

Medunjanin and Herbers were the standout players going forward throughout the half, with the former dictating play and the latter showing impressive creativity in his movement and aggression with the ball. Defensively, Ray Gaddis struggled to contain Darwin Jones, though he often found himself with little support. Marcus Epps never found the game, but in his few moments on the ball he showcased both patience on the ball and a notable lack of polish. CJ Sapong was predictably physical but — again predictably, unfortunately — lacked end product. Derrick Jones and Alejandro Bedoya grew into the game, and the latter produced a big chance for Epps in the 43rd minute with incisive movement that led to a blast over the bar from the rookie.

Overall, the most memorable aspect of the first half was the unapologetic physicality on display from both sides. Indeed, Bedoya, Herbers, and Jones were often deep in tangles of bodies.

Second half

The second half opened with one change for the Rowdies and eight for the Union. Chris Pontius replaced Bedoya as captain and moved outside so Ilson Jr. could slot into the attacking midfield role. Adam Najem took up the other winger role behind Charlie Davies. Derrick Jones remained in the center but now he was flanked by Warren Creavalle. Keegan Rosenberry, Ken Tribbett, and Giliano Wijnaldum joined the back line around Elliot.

Philadelphia continued to attack up the right — even though they had an entirely new right side. Rosenberry connected well with Pontius but his cross was just in front of the charging Najem. Minutes later, it was Najem’s turn to break up the wing, but his cross was blocked out for a corner.

In the 54th minute, Najem committed a foul 35 yards from goal. Michael Nanchoff surprisingly chose to shoot, providing a useful example for dictionary writers to use with “ill-advised.”

A minute later, Davies earned a foul deep on the left, but Ilson Jr.’s kick was easily cleared.

The match was opening up, and Joe Cole opened the field for Darnell King, but his lofted cross from the left was easily claimed by Blake.

In the 60th minute, Tribbett earned a deserved caution for hauling down Leo Fernandes after the former Union man beat him to a poor pass from Jones.

Eerily familiar issues poppoed up for the Union as the half progressed. Most notably, advancing the ball through the center became rare, even with Najem tucking inside and acting almost as a fourth central midfielder. Wijnaldum provided a far calmer presence on the ball than Fabinho, but he did not offer the same strong running up the flank.

In the 68th minute, Tampa Bay dropped off Ilson Jr., and after he drove into the final third, the ball found Najem’s feet near the top of the box. The rookie flared a soft looping ball to the back post that was easily cleared. The Rowdies immediately broke the other way, and Wijnaldum showed excellent awareness to snuff out the attack. The Dutch man was quickly down the wing on the next attack, but lifted his cross beyond the far post.

In the 70th minute, Pontius executed a deft turn to drive into the box on his left, but he drove his shot directly into the keeper’s arms.

A minute later, Jones received a justified caution for slinging his man down in the center of the pitch. Tampa Bay respected the theme of the night with yet another poor set piece delivery.

In the 73rd minute Derrick Jones was in the book again, but this time for scoring the night’s opener. A brutal pass from the back into the middle of the field was easily picked off by the young midfielder, and he continued his run as Chris Pontius knocked the loose ball into his path. With time on his side, Jones shimmied in front of the goalie before rounding him to the right and slotting the ball home.

Three minutes later, Jones made way for Brian Carroll. Anthony Fontana also joined the fray as Najem’s night ended.

Tampa Bay was clearly tiring, though they maintained a high line and gambled often against the speed of Davies. In the 80th minute, Fontana nearly willed the match to life with a darting give and go through the center. The ball sat up for the youngster’s left foot, but he well-struck drive was directly at the goalie.

Fontana continued to make an impression when he zipped onto Ilson Jr.’s tall pass behind the defense on the right. A double team cleared the danger, but Fontana’s deep runs were pinning the Rowdies midfield back.

In the 84th minute, Tampa Bay’s Jamie Collins was sent off for using a poor choice of words with the assistant referee. Jim Curtin indicated he had no issue with the home side replacing their ejected player, so the Rowdies added Kyle Carr to their back four.

Late Tampa Bay substitute Morrell nearly evened the scoreline in the last minute when he stormed from right to left and forced Blake into a stunning save near the top right corner.

Moments later, the match drew to a close. Jim Curtin indicated that he was happy with the team’s play, though he was hoping for more chance creation (ten penalty box entry passes per half was the goal).

The Union next play against Montreal Impact on February 22 at 7pm EST.

18 Comments

  1. Speculation on why we saw no Simpson, Onyewu, or Alberg? Puzzling… hopefully nothing concerning for any of those guys

    • The team warmed up pretty much in the two units that played each half. Alberg, Simpson, and Fafa warmed up together off to the side so guessing it was planned. Not sure what was up with Onyewu. He went straight to the bench during warm-ups and came out just before kickoff in street clothes.

  2. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Perhaps because I anticipated it, I thought Adam Najem was the #10 from the beginning of the 2nd half.
    .
    The smoothest cleanest half of soccer they have played was against Chicago in the first half.
    .
    I thought Bedoya was playing pretty well from the beginning. They seemed to be emphasizing both the nine and the ten high pressing defensively. And Sapong was checking back to the ball starting from deeper the midfielder, almost no striker and double attacking center mids.
    .
    I think Wijnaldum did well but is a year away from replacing Fabinho. There is depth there now, though.
    .
    That Anthony Fontana got 15 minutes as a 17 year-old is interesting.
    .
    That Jack Elliott played ninety reflects, I hope that Gooch is 34 going on 35 in May.
    .
    That Aaron Jones did not see the field says he is hurt or he is headed for the Steel. The Steel need depth at flank back to deal with call-ups.
    .
    In case you missed it, Auston Trusty did not see the field in Costa Rica. According to reports.
    .
    A double pivot of Edu and Medunjanin behind Bedoya or Alberg holds some interest. Bedoya needs call-up cover as well.
    .
    Could Elliott replace Tribbett?

    • Elliott looked like Bambi on ice. If by “replace Tribbett” you mean as the CB we hope doesn’t play this season,sure. He needs a year or two on the farm.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Love your visual analogy, agree with it, but would ask how many mistakes were made in the goal mouth? I do think I remember one badly ill-advised pass, along with failures to get onto far post deliveries on corner kicks, and a well-conceived, imperfectly executed long pass for a striker.

        • OSC, your memory matches mine. Elliott is slight of frame, but made no dangerous mistakes… a trend Tribbett has unfortunately continued with last night’s game.

        • Did you see when he took on three defenders and tried to dribble through them 15 yards into their half? It looked awesome right up to the point he was stripped and the counter started.

          • Lesson learned I’m sure.
            .
            What he got away with in college he might get punished for at the pro level.
            .
            But I agree with OSC and MD, while he looked sloppy he did not make any real mistakes. Plus he played a few nice balls on the ground that bypassed the midfield. He is a rookie, mistakes will happen, but if he can pack on some muscle and get some experience with BSFC, I can see him making it at the MLS level.

  3. Thanks to the Rowdies announcers I don’t know if I have been pronouncing tribbet wrong the whole time.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I have too. There is a pronounciation guide somewhere on the Union website that puts emphasis on the first syllable of his surname, not the second. This old dog has to learn a new trick.

  4. Free kicks made me want Alberg. Medujanin is the most exciting addition to this team. I think he’s better than Noguiera because Noguiera was deeply committed to the switch and possession, whereas Medujanin is seems to be committed to incision. Medujanin prolly does not have the tiny frenchman’s tank but he has the acumen to pop up in the right places defensively. I think this bodes well for the all zolos everywhere.

  5. The thing that worries me most at this point is the inability of the team to maintain possession and build up an attack, especially against a lower division team.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      The line-up was a juggled improvisation designed to achieve these:
      .
      1. Rest some key people who probably needed it,
      2. Get conditioning minutes for the second stringers, without disrespecting the opponent,
      3. Get a final evaluative read before final roster decisions that must be made no later than March 2, and
      4. Reward the first Academy boy to earn game minutes on a preseason pitch with another appearance.

  6. I was at the game last night, sitting a half dozen rows behind the Union bench. Want to share a few observations from the sideline possibly not picked up on the stream. First, last night was a double header and the ticket covers both games so I caught the 2nd half of DC-Montreal. I had completely forgotten Seba signed with DC and it was jarring to see him wearing the black and red. In his 30 minute shift he got into it pretty good with ref twice (once in English, once in French) and got into a little scrum after a hard foul occurred… I miss him.

    Oh well, back to the Union. Richie was really vocal, directing the entire back line. Blake was here and there calling things out as well, but Richie was clearly leading the defensive unit. Pretty much constant communication, especially with Fabinho. Nice to see him taking a leadership role.

    Having seen it up close and personal, I can say for sure that the reports of Ilsinho losing weight are true. I was in attendance for his preseason debut last year when he was very clearly not in shape. “Barrel-chested” was the term I heard several times last year, but almost a year later to the day and he looks like a different person.

    Derrick Jones had his own personal cheering section when we exited the game after scoring. The U18s are in Florida for a GA tournament, so what appeared to be the full squad was in the crowd and gave a few extra loud cheers as Jones made his way to the bench. Nice to see the youngsters recognize the contribution of the guy who was in their position just two years ago.

    And finally, the was a good bit of humor in the stands from a Rowdies supporter who chose to heckle Joe Cole pretty much the entire time he was on the field. After about 10 minutes of play and his first run towards goal, Cole was doubled over, looking exhausted. The heckler proceeded to accuse Cole of excessive intake of bangers and mash. What followed was 45+ minutes of food and fat jokes. Low hanging fruit, but still effective and often times humorous.

  7. Even against the Rowdies, the lack of a true 6 was an apparent issue. This team is going to be easy to beat on the counter given how slow Haris is and the lack of a 6 to put out fires. A truly fantastic offseason in terms of player transactions, but failing to sign a new 6 is an unbelievable mistake. First half of the season is going to be rough unless Edu gets back faster or they make a move for a 6.

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