For Pete's Sake

Work to be done in the Union’s last week of preseason

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Union swung by the first day of Phillies spring training in Clearwater yesterday. So did Jason Kelce.

Guess which of the two grabbed the headlines.

That’s no shade toward Kelce, a Philadelphia legend who gives credit to the Union for originating the “no one likes us” chant in this city.

But it is a pretty good metaphor for the Union’s place in the Philadelphia sports scene.

Just in 2018, the Sixers have ripped off ten straight home wins and sent Joel Embiid to the All-Star Game. The Flyers are strangely resurgent, even if they may need to borrow John McCarthy for the stretch run. The Phillies are generating optimism behind their young lineup and possibly psychotic new manager. And the Eagles, of course, won the Super Bowl.

Even when the Union try to grab the spotlight, they’re always playing fifth fiddle. (And they may be even lower than that, if you take a look at the season Villanova basketball is having. But if you think I’m about to wade in to internecine Big Five rivalries…)

So, as they head toward their season opener the Union will continue to fly under the radar.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing, because the team isn’t quite a finished product yet. That doesn’t mean there will be more players incoming. But how exactly the team will line up on opening day — and how that team will play — is still very much in flux.

Two more friendlies against strong competition await the Union this week before they head back to Philadelphia looking to make some noise. Here are the three big storylines to watch as the prestigious Suncoast Invitational draws to a close.

Yep, we’re still talking about the No. 10

Last week’s ill-timed injury to Ilsinho — seriously, I think Nick Fishman put a curse on the poor guy — threw the door wide open for both Anthony Fontana and Adam Najem. With the odds of an outside hire walking into Clearwater decreasing by the minute, the two youngsters are in a pitched battle for the starting role.

Interestingly, the teenaged Fontana got the start on Saturday. But while he didn’t make any major errors, the Delaware native didn’t exert much influence on the match. Najem, on the other hand, looked lively in the final thirty minutes, producing an assist on the Union’s lone goal. Of course, he also managed to blast a sitter well over the bar, so it was a mixed bag for both players.

Najem probably has the slight edge heading into the final week, but with the two players set to split 180 minutes on the pitch this week it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be starting on March 3.

A defense coming into focus

Saturday’s match gave us a sense of the frontrunners in the center back race, while the right back spot is still dead even.

Jack Elliott, last year’s rookie sensation, always had the inside track on one starting spot. Academy product Auston Trusty seems to have seized his chance to take the other. With zero MLS minutes to his name entering the season, Trusty earned the start and looked sturdy in 62 minutes against D.C. United. Later in the match, veteran Richie Marquez gifted D.C. the game-winning goal with a terrible error under little pressure.

Is one error in a preseason match enough to outweigh Marquez’s well-documented abilities? It might be, when the competition is this tight and Trusty’s future is this bright. It also seems like the Union have more young center backs than they can manage, with Mark McKenzie not even seeing minutes on Saturday.

One wonders whether Josh Yaro, who came off the bench on Saturday after losing his place last year with a series of ill-timed errors, might need a change of scenery to further his career. Yaro likely has value within the league that could be used to fill the gaping hole at the No. 10, and a solid veteran defender to replace him would cost the league minimum.

Meanwhile, very little separates Ray Gaddis and Keegan Rosenberry at right back. Both played a half, and while Gaddis got the start Rosenberry won plaudits from our match report for a strong second-half performance. Rosenberry has more upside than Gaddis, but doesn’t have the manager’s trust after a shaky 2017 season. This week gives the Georgetown product two more chances to regain that trust.

David Accam vs. Chris Pontius

They’re not fighting for a position, but David Accam is battling Chris Pontius’s ghost, in a sense. The new winger brings a different set of skills to the position than his predecessor. Where Pontius was aerial dominance and industriousness personified, Accam’s game is built around breakaway speed and classy finishing. He’ll likely be in different spots on the field than Pontius, and will want to do different things with the ball when he gets it.

Still unresolved, then, is how Accam’s talents will change the way the Union attack. In Saturday’s game, the Union dominated play but couldn’t get the end product they wanted until very late in the match. As Curtin plays his starting XI together with more regularity, fans will be watching how offense is created over these next two games. With a pair of speedy wingers in Picault and Accam in the squad, we may see the midfielders — Haris Medunjanin in particular — try to spring them with more through balls.


  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    What if it’s all falling into place? I mean, it’s not, but what if it is?

    • I’m insane. I know I am. By the very definition, I’m insane.
      Yet I will start this season the way I have started all previous seasons: Optimistic until proven otherwise.
      Generally that takes about 2-3 months, tops. But until that point, I’ll hope for the best.
      Who knows? Maybe we just signed the Czech Messi. 😉

    • Said in Gollum’s voice right before crushing a fish and eating it raw? 😉

  2. Then maybe we finish midtable.

  3. Nick Fishman says:

    Let’s hope I didn’t also curse the Dockal move.

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