The Union opened up the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational--not to be confused with the Suncoast Pro Soccer Classic, of which the Union are defending champions--with a draw versus I-95 rival D.C. United. Sebastien Le Toux's early goal as canceled out by Fabian Espindola's penalty nearly 50 minutes later. The game was as physical as all games between these two teams, with the five yellow cards issued serving as evidence of that.
Starting XI: Blake; Fabinho, Tribbett, Marquez, Rosenberry; Nogueira, Alberg; Pontius, Barnetta, Le Toux; Sapong pic.twitter.com/mCDeOYk04L— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) February 17, 2016
The Union sent out a lineup very similar to last Thursday's, with Roland Alberg and CJ Sapong replacing Leo Fernandes and Fabian Herbers, respectively. We can expect to see most of these guys on the field in Dallas come the season opener.
Le Toux opened up the scoring in the seventh minute, slotting home a shot from Sapong that had bounced off the crossbar. Sapong's first-time effort was set up by former DCU forward Chris Pontius, who received a ball from Fabinho after storming up the left channel.
Though the goal itself may have been a little fortunate, the build-up was magnificently executed. When Fabinho received the ball on the left touchline, he looked for a forward pass, as he did many times for the Union last season, perhaps to a fault. His through ball found as Pontius he ran through the space in between Sean Franklin and Steven Birnbaum. With his first touch, Pontius slid the ball to Sapong as he made a hard, near-post run, which Bobby Boswell did well enough to track. Sapong's lunging effort beat Dykstra but cannoned off the bar. Le Toux and Tranquillo Barnetta both followed the play into the box, and the former was able to finish. The Union will be hoping to replicate that kind of execution and effort this season.
For the remainder of the first 45 minutes, DCU pressed the hell out of the Union, restraining them to their own half. The Union did manage to get forward on occasion, mostly finding success on the left side that produced the opening goal. DC also managed to get some looks at goal as a result of their pressure, pouncing on sloppy passes from hurried Union players. They failed to capitalize on such opportunities though, and went into halftime down a goal.
Oh yea, and this happened.
Brian Carroll, Ilsinho, and Leo Fernandes entered at the half, and Jim Curtin sent in seven more subs at the hour mark. In the last half hour, the lineup looked like this: Blake; Washington, Anderson, Yaro, Creavalle; Carroll, Fernandes, Ilsinho; Restrepo, Herbers, Ayuk.
DC equalized in the 56th, when Espindola converted from the penalty spot. Patrick Nyarko earned the penalty after Chris Pontius took him down on the endline. Nyarko had just gotten past Fabinho when Pontius stepped in and tripped him up. Espindola's penalty wasn't perfection, but it managed to sneak by Andre Blake either way. The Jamaican guessed correctly, diving left and getting a hand on the ball, but Espindola's effort still crossed the line.
United's press persisted for much of the second half, though the Union were more successful in maintaining possession in the opposing half regardless. Fabian Herbers had a pair of chances thanks to Walter Restrepo and Ilsinho, who looked sharp once again his second half appearance. DC goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra did well to deny the German on both tries.
- Ken Tribbett earned yet another start alongside Richie Marquez in the center of defense on Wednesday. Coming into preseason, it looked as though Anderson Conceição and Joshua Yaro would compete for that spot. Tribbett, who signed for Bethlehem Steel in late January, was an afterthought. Preseason starts don't necessarily equate to regular season starts, but it's surprising to say the least.
- Roland Alberg and Vincent Nogueira started in less-than-familiar roles once again today. Alberg, who Curtin said he sees as more of a #10, played as more of an #8. Nogueira has excelled at the #8 in his Union career, but he served as the side's most defensive midfielder today. This is surely a product of Maurice Edu's injury, but the odd configuration is also due to Curtin's desire to integrate Alberg into the squad and the Union's lack of quality defensive midfield depth. We're still not sure how exactly Alberg will fit into this team, and the Union aren't really helping us out. It seems like his time alongside Nogueira in central midfield is merely a way to get him minutes. With Brian Carroll, Warren Creavalle, and an out-of-position Leo Fernandes as alternatives, starting Alberg for chemistry purposes may be the best option.
- Ray Gaddis did not appear in today's match. Warren Creavalle replaced Keegan Rosenberry at right back when the substitutes entered the game. This could signify a long fall down the depth chart, or it could just be an injury. It could also be nothing at all. Preseason!