After a four-match stretch where the Union went up against the Costa Rican U-23 national team, some semi-pro nobodies, and two professional soccer teams, they have been crowned the champions of preseason soccer in Bradenton, Florida.
The Union took on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night, after marching through the group stage with relative ease. Of course, two of the teams they faced were hardly MLS quality, but they did manage to pull out a victory against a talented Columbus side.
Jim Curtin trotted out a strong starting XI, lining them up in a 4-1-3-2 that looked more like a 4-2-2-2. Vincent Nogueira started alongside Maurice Edu in midfield, and Conor Casey was Fernando Aristeguieta's strike partner.
The Union were eager to get the ball to Andrew Wenger early and often, and he made something of his extra touches. In the 2nd minute, he took the ball down the left flank before cutting back onto his right foot on the corner of the 18-yard box and firing. The shot took a deflection, and looped over a helpless Robles, whose night only got worse.
The Red Bulls dominated play after the goal, attacking the right side occupied by Sheanon Williams and Sebastien Le Toux. Mike Grella, who has spent much of his career in England, did well to get in behind Williams on numerous occasions, but came away with nothing to show for his efforts.
For the half hour following the opening goal, the Union's defense stood firm. The Red Bulls looked likely to score a goal, but all of their forays into the box were repelled, either by Steven Vitoria or Rais M'Bolhi, both of whom were magnificent on Saturday. Philadelphia's attack; however, never really got moving. Possession was overlooked as M'Bolhi and the backline looked upfield whenever they found the ball at their feet. Knockdowns from Casey and Aristeguieta were almost always intercepted by a player with two bulls on his shirt, and then the cycle would repeat.
A free kick in the 32nd minute doubled the Union's lead, as Fernando Aristeguieta whipped a header at Luis Robles, who fumbled the ball into his own net.
The Union grabbed their best goal of the night with only a minute left in the first half. Vincent Nogueira kickstarted a lethal, five-pass counter attack that moved the ball from the Union's defensive third to the back of New York's goal in fifteen seconds. In the final pass of the sequence, Conor Casey searched out Andrew Wenger on the left flank, as he did many times that night. Wenger, in a fashion reminiscent of his opener, dribbled down the left side, before cutting onto his right and rolling a shot past Robles. Casey dummied the ball, which found the net after tapping the inside of the post.
The Union chose to have some mercy in the second half, opting to give their defenders a bit more work. The Red Bulls attacked for much of the last 45 minutes, but the results did not change from the first 45. A well-organized backline and excellent play from Maurice Edu and Rais M'Bolhi kept New York off the scoreboard despite multiple chances for the boys from Harrison. M'Bolhi, who was the man of the match despite Wenger's brace, made a jaw-dropping kick save after coming of his line, then caught a wide-open shot from point blank range a moment later.
The Red Bulls eventually scored in the 81st minute, as sub Sal Zizzo delivered a perfect ball to 2014 Golden Boot Winner Bradley Wright-Phillips. BWP didn't even break stride as he stroked home New York's first. The Red Bulls fought hard for another in the ten minutes that followed, but they were unsuccessful. When the final whistle blew, the Union were the 2015 IMG Suncoast Pro Soccer Classic Champions.
Union fans and players alike delighted in the club's first trophy.
Wenger may or may not be trying to lick the 2015 IMG Suncoast Pro Soccer Classic Trophy. Who can blame him?
Thankfully, someone made Chaco put clothes on (and probably wash his hands) before letting him handle the Big Check.
The half of the Union roster that did not participate in the match flew back to PHL. Look how happy your dad Brian Carroll is!
WILD SCENES ON BROAD STREET, AS CROWDS GATHER TO CELEBRATE THE IMG SUNCOAST PRO SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP pic.twitter.com/bCsyTIrxfn— The Brotherly Game (@BrotherlyGame) March 1, 2015
Union fans flocked to Broad Street after the final whistle blew, rejoicing in the fact that the IMG Suncoast Pro Soccer Classic Championship Trophy would make its home in Philadelphia until next February.
The Warm-up Kit Fiasco
Since the Union's primary kit was too similar to New York's, and because the away kit has not yet been released, the Boys in Blue were temporarily the Boys in Gray. The Union wore bare practice kits with no names or numbers on the back. Ryan Sudol, the play-by-play guy on Saturday, was incredibly salty, as he had no way of knowing who the hell anyone was. Each Union goal or substitution was met with enough salt to melt all the snow on the Schuylkill Expressway, as he declared that he would wait for the PA announcer to reveal the names of the players involved.
Hey @PhilaUnion do you know how hard it is to broadcast a game when your players are wearing practice jerseys and no numbers?!— Ryan Sudol (@Sudsanity) March 1, 2015
He got some schtick from fans on Twitter, but it was all in good fun. His lightheartedness contributed to what was a very fun night for Union fans, all of whom eagerly await the start to a promising 2015 Major League Soccer season.