A missed penalty kick and a terrible giveaway on the back line were the difference between a 2-1 win and a 2-1 loss for the Philadelphia Union in their first game of the Suncoast Invitational Tournament on Saturday.
CJ Sapong had his penalty kick saved in the 30th minute after he drew a foul in the box from Ulises Segura. DC United goalkeeper Steve Clark got a hand on the shot and deflected off the underside of the bar and out.
It would have put the Union on level terms after a brutal opening 15 minutes that saw Darren Mattocks threaten on a number of counter attacks sprung by poor turnovers and then head home a whipped in cross from Zoltan Stieber at the far post in the 14th minute.
Instead, it gave the Union nothing to show for having the better run of play in the final half hour of the half.
It also meant that when Richie Marquez gave the ball away on an ill-advised pass in the dying moments of the match and it was quickly deposited into the back of the net by Luciano Acosta in the 89th minute the Union left the pitch at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida with a loss.
Losing a preseason game, of course, is hardly a big deal.
The Suncoast trophy means more to the host Tampa Bay Rowdies than anyone else. But losing the way they did — snatching a loss from the claws of a draw — will do little to comfort the diehards already disgusted and skeptical of a relatively quiet offseason.
The two non-homegrown additions to the first team roster did, however, impress on Saturday.
David Accam was lively and more or less running through DC United defenders trying to produce a goal for the blue and gold but too often he was left to do the heavy lifting on his own. His best scoring opportunity came when Mendunjanin delivered a long ball he was able to track down and beat Clark to, but his attempt on an empty net was cleared away by Steve Birnbaum.
Cory Burke, whose signing from Bethlehem Steel FC was the team’s first offseason addition, was a substitute for a substitute, entering for Jay Simpson in the 75th minute. He scored his team-leading fourth goal of preseason when Adam Najem delivered a cross he headed home to even the score at 1-1 in the 88th minute.
Najem’s assist made up for an earlier game-changing missed opportunity. The second-year midfielder missed a sitter served up nicely by Fafa Picault with an on-target angled pass from near the end line. Right back Keegan Rosenberry, who came on for starter Ray Gaddis at halftime, started the play and certainly didn’t hurt his case for regaining the starting right back spot with his overall performance on the night.
His fellow substitute at the other outside back position, homegrown Matt Real, also showed well in his first team debut.
“I only got 30 minutes but that’s plenty of time for me to showcase what I can do,” said Real, who has been slowed in preseason with an ankle injury. “The guys really helped me on the field with my first MLS minutes. They helped me feel comfortable, they helped me get into the game with my first couple passes and from there on it was second nature.”
Head coach Jim Curtin said he was pleased with the overall performance, particularly with the pressing and how the group reacted to turnovers.
“I thought Bedoya was very strong offensively and defensively,” Curtin said. “You saw David Accam’s best performance where he was very lively and I thought all of our homegrowns stepped up in good spots and did a good job.”
Lineup: John McCarthy (Jake McGuire), Fabinho (Matt Real), Auston Trusty (Richie Marquez), Jack Elliott (Joshua Yaro), Ray Gaddis (Keegan Rosenberry), Haris Medunjanin (Derrick Jones), Alejandro Bedoya (Warren Creavalle), Anthony Fontana (Adam Najem), David Accam (Marcus Epps), CJ Sapong (Jay Simpson, Cory Burke), Fabian Herbers (Fara Picault)
The Union return to action on Wednesday night with a 7 p.m. match against Montreal Impact at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater. They finish the Suncoast Invitational against the host Tampa Bay Rowdies on February 24 at 7 p.m.