Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union
Wednesday’s match against Montreal served as the fans’ first real chance to see a full-strength Union side against MLS competition. As with any preseason match, there were bright spots and rough patches (including the broadcast). Preseason can be tricky so you don’t want to be too overly critical of any one player in particular as the team gathers its legs under it.
Fabian Herbers and Ilson Jr.
Fabian Herbers took a beating early from Impact defender Hassoun Camara on the unfamiliar left wing, but responded on both sides of the ball. Herbers regularly combined well with Fabinho and drove directly at the Montreal defense. He did work defensively, too, providing pressure and cutting off link-up play along the wing. His finishing touch under pressure still needs some work, but if he finds some composure we can expect a big season from the young German.
O Jogador Formerly Known As Ilsinho put on his usual display of ridiculous dribbling. Of course, he scored that cracker of an opener from a good 25 yards out, but there was a lot more to like. Ilson Jr. combined well with Alejandro Bedoya and even put in a decent defensive shift. Can he do it for 90 minutes? Probably not. So it will be interesting to see how Curtin stacks the depth chart on the right wing with Herbers.
Gooch had a solid game. He was composed on the ball, didn’t look off pace, and brought much-needed tenacity and, dare I say, dark arts to a Union back line in need of bite. Montreal isn’t the quickest team, and he didn’t have to deal with the Impact’s usual starting striker Matteo Mancosu, so the jury is still out on whether he can handle a lightning fast front line like, say, Vancouver on turf.
Within the first half-hour of the match, Union fans were already complaining about Simpson on Twitter. Easy, y’all. Simpson was by no means perfect, but last night we saw the skill set Simpson brings that separates him from C.J. Sapong.
While his touch failed him a few times, Simpson offers excellent vision and playmaking ability that Sapong simply does not possess. The Londoner combined well with the Union’s midfield and opened up several scoring chances for his teammates. He did not see nearly enough of the ball in dangerous positions, but once he does, expect the goals to come in.
The second round draft pick looks to be an absolute steal for the Union right now. Epps is quick, confident and aggressive on the ball, and, most importantly, possesses a terrific soccer IQ. He consistently made intelligent, intuitive, and dangerous runs that posed problems for the Montreal defense throughout the second half. As mentioned earlier, however, the Union have an abundance of riches on the wings, so expect Epps to bide his time with Bethlehem for the majority of 2017 before cracking the Union 18 next year.
Ah, Kenny, you know we didn’t want to put you here! The Union defender was once again the victim of his own poor marking on the first goal and well-intended bad luck on the second. Of course, he provided the assist off the corner for Sapong’s goal, but it’s not enough to get him out of the dog house. So long as Joshua Yaro remains injured, there remains a large chasm between the first and second team center back pairings.
Split between Alejandro Bedoya and Roland Alberg, the No. 10 role was just too ineffective offensively for the Union. Bedoya did well to combine with Ilson Jr. and Simpson a few times, while Alberg had a few scoring opportunities, but it’s hard to ignore the creative gap at the forefront of the Union’s spine. Whether it’s Bedoya or Alberg, the Union need their No. 10 to have more space and time on the ball. When you look at the top 10’s in the league – Kljestan, Lodeiro, Valeri, Diaz, Feilhaber, Higuain – they all have the time and space to pick out intricate passes that break lines and set up goals.
Offensive insufficiency aside, there’s plenty to like about how Curtin is positioning the 10s defensively. Both Bedoya and Alberg were upfield providing pressure alongside their striker counterparts. While it gave Montreal plenty of back line possession in the first half, much of it was non-threatening.
In the last two preseason matches we have yet to see anything from Wijnaldum that indicates he is heir apparent to Fabinho. While he wasn’t tested too much defensively, he looks surprisingly shaky on the ball and disinclined to push very high offensively. I’ll give him a pass for being with a new team and a new league, but we need to see way more from the Dutchman before handing the left back position to him this season or next.
Maybe this Derrick Jones in the starting lineup thing isn’t a preseason experiment. And you know what, that’s cool. After earning Stock Falling last match (deserved, mind you, despite the goal), Jones didn’t necessarily wow in this game. That said, the Union have a real lack of pace and athleticism in their starting 11. Jones is rangy, inclined to make big challenges, and willing to foray into the attacking third. In between the hustle-happy Bedoya and Pirlo-esque moniker of Haris Medunjanin, the Union need someone to close down attackers and force pressure in the middle of the field. Jones can be that guy.
Does he need work? Oh, yes. Jones had a few bright moments Wednesday night, but he must be more composed on the ball, calculate his challenges, and most importantly, figure out his positioning alongside Medunjanin. Despite his inexperience, giving Jones a chance to play this preseason and even start the season opener could pay real dividends for the Union by midseason.