Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC
C.J. Sapong scored two goals to lead Philadelphia Union to a 3-1 win over Bethlehem Steel FC in a friendly Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.
Sapong scored in the 44th and 58th minutes, while Ilsinho picked up the third goal to overcome a 1-0 deficit that had been initiated by a Seku Conneh goal in the 12th minute.
The match, labeled as “an extended training session” by the Union, functioned as a final preseason preparation for Bethlehem, who open their USL regular season later this week, and a means of staying sharp during an off week for the Union. As Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke stated after the game, his side was tested by a full-blown Major League Soccer starting team, and the weaknesses discovered, lessons learned, and growth opportunities presented could not have been provided by any USL opponent.
The scoring opened in the 13th minute when Josh Heard won a Steel penalty kick that Conneh converted from the penalty spot.
For the first 40 minutes, the Steel held their older brother organization to a clean sheet while maintaining the lead.
The Union controlled possession during most of those 40 minutes, dominating the center of the center channel as Heard did his overmatched best to contain Bosnian international Haris Medunjanin, improving as the game went on. The Steel defended, won the ball and developed forays forward. Burke’s offensive experiment, starting Seku Conneh at striker with Cory Burke on the right wing, provided the left side of the Union defense with considerable challenge.
But Union pressure began to tell.
Sapong entered the match in the 30th minute, replacing Jay Simpson, and he leveled for the Union 14 minutes later.
Less than two minutes later, a Steel counterattack lost the ball to Keegan Rosenberry, who began to work a sideline combination with Ilsinho. But Ilsinho hung back and forced Rosenberry to find Roland Alberg checking back to the ball. The Steel defenders lost track of the Brazilian, and he then made an unmarked run into the Steel’s backline as the ball returned to Rosenberry. Ilsinho then received a feed from Rosenberry and punished the Steel with a shot on point to take a 2-1 lead in first half stoppage time.
The Steel were gut-punched emotionally by giving up two goals in the last three minutes, as James Chambers pointed out after the game.
The Union substituted eight after halftime. Not only were their legs fresh, but the tactical nuances of how they played were different.
Jack Elliott had started the game next to Richie Marquez at center back, but at halftime, he switched to center midfielder to start the second half. Elliott played an out-and-out double pivot next to Brian Carroll, in contrast to the more staggered, mutual-covering system used earlier by Medunjanin and Derrick Jones.
Also, Adam Najem played attacking center midfield less statically than Roland Alberg, using constant motion rather than the surprise contrast between motion and its absence that Alberg generally provided.
The final goal of the match came within the first six minutes of the second half, and might not have happened in a proper game. Najem stepped forward to deposit an extra ball over the end line during the run of play, removing himself from the consciousness of the Steel defenders. He returned unmarked to an onside position and stung the game ball hard by finding the ball and then Sapong, who then put his second goal past goalkeeper Tomas Romero.
Romero, a YSC Academy player, made several nice saves during the remainder of the match, and Steel emotions began to recover as Union bench legs became less fresh and the game became more back-and-forth. But there were no more goals.
Three Steel things
The Liberian striker: That Seku Conneh had to be subbed off in the first half is a matter of concern to Steel fans, because he and Cory Burke looked good together on the field. After the game, Burke said Conneh “has played his way into the team” this preseason.
The veteran defender: When asked to comment about defender Hugh Roberts, Burke indicated that he was a younger version of last year’s veteran center back Mickey Daly. The difference in age means, according to Burke, that Roberts has the potential to develop the kind of ball distribution and control that may someday enable him to step from USL to a higher level. Roberts himself looks forward to being a veteran able to offer advice and instruction.
A standout game: Burke was especially pleased with Union Academy senior and Wake Forest signee Mark McKenzie at right center back. Several times, McKenzie’s intervention prevented the senior team from producing dangerous strikes on goal. Burke said McKenzie is close to the top of the academy group that will help the Steel this season.
Three Union things
Injury updates: During warmups Josh Yaro took a series of laps outside the pitch at the stadium, confirming reports that he has been cleared to run. Jay Simpson started.
Who did not play: Andre Blake, John McCarthy, Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Warren Creavalle, Alejandro Bedoya, Erik Ayuk, and Chris Pontius.
Jack Elliott: He started ahead of Ken Tribbett in the first half. He then switched to center midfielder for the second half. His teammates clearly expect excellent long distance service from him. Pace may be an issue.
Tomas Romero*; Aaron Jones**, Mark McKenzie*, Hugh Roberts, Charlie Reymann (Matt Mahoney, 75); James Chambers, Josue Monge* (Chris Nanco, 60); Cory Burke (Amoy Brown, 75), Josh Heard, Yosef Samuel (Tony Temple***, 46); Seku Conneh (Justin McMaster, 38, Raul Gonzalez***, 70)
*means Academy — ** means Union loanee — *** means trialist There were no unused subs.
Union 1st half lineup
Jake McGuire; Keegan Rosenberry, Jack Elliott, Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Haris Medunjanin, Derrick Jones; Ilsinho, Roland Alberg, Fafa Picault; Jay Simpson (C.J. Sapong, 31)
Union 2nd half lineup
Jake McGuire; Ray Gaddis, Ken Tribbett, Auston Trusty, Giliano Wijnaldum; Brian Carroll, Jack Elliott; Fabian Herbers, Adam Najem, Marcus Epps; C. J. Sapong (Charlie Davies, 60)
- Steel: Seku Conneh 12th minute PK
- Union: C. J. Sapong 43rd (Ilsinho)
- Union: Ilsinho 45th (Rosenberry)
- Union: C. J. Sapong 52nd (Najem)
No cards were issued.