Suncoast Invitational hosts Tampa Bay Rowdies took advantage of shaky defense by Josh Yaro in the middle, scoring two first half goals on their way to a 2-1 victory over the Boys in Blue in the team’s final preseason game Saturday night.
Philadelphia started a completely different lineup from their last match against Montreal Impact, with Andre Blake getting the start in goal and Adam Najem, who was attempting to make a last ditch effort to earn the start against New England, playing in the number 10 position.
The first chance of the game came from Marcus Epps in the 11th minute of play when he cut inside and lofted a shot just outside of the right post. Minutes earlier, Epps creeped in behind the defense but was called offside.
In the 19th minute, Jochen Graf, who terrorized the Union up top, took a ball from Jack Blake and chipped a ball over Andre Blake to put the Rowdies up 1-0. Yaro defended on the play but Graf muscled his way through and managed to catch Blake charging out of the box.
Simpson, who found it difficult to push forward throughout the evening, had a few touches in the box after the 30th minute mark, but could not get a threatening shot on target.
David Najem, the older brother of the Union midfielder, cut through the heart of the Union defense in the 35th minute after a turnover and dished out to Michael Nanchoff for the Rowdies second goal of the game. Yaro again was the primary defender on the play, along with Ray Gaddis.
The start of the second half saw two substitutions for Philly, with Mark McKenzie coming on for Yaro and Cory Burke sliding up top in place of Jay Simpson.
Graf continued to be a nuisance for the secondary in the second half with chances in the 48th and 51st minutes of play.
Burke, who had found the back of the net four times in preseason but missed the Montreal Impact match with a knee injury, nearly scored the first Union goal of the game in the 53rd minute, but was called offside. Matt Real would’ve been credited with the assist had the flag stayed down.
Finally in the 59th minute, the Union made a mass substitution, bringing on their primary starters with the exception of Erik Ayuk, who came in at left back (Fabinho was unavailable due to injury but is expected to start on March 3).
59' - New team, who dis— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) February 25, 2018
Our fresh lineup: Blake; Rosenberry, Elliott, Trusty, Ayuk; Medunjanin, Bedoya; Picault, Fontana, Accam; Sapong
Probably the biggest news with these substitutions, was the guy waiting on the bench sporting some Union gear, Czech Republic midfielder Bořek Dočkal, who has been with the team while awaiting a potential deal to be finalized.
After a few chances coming from the incredibly odd pairing of David Accam and Erik Ayuk on the left side, the Union finally got their first goal of the game in the 84th minute off a nasty free kick delivered by Haris Medunjanin.
“We played a group for the first 60 minutes, I didn’t think they had the best performance,” head coach Jim Curtin after the game. “But at the same time it makes some decisions, we learn some things about the group and clarify some things as we select the starting lineup and also our 18 (for Saturday against New England).”
Goal scorer Medunjanin was critical of the team’s performance, noting that it was “an unnecessary loss to this USL team” and preached that the team needs to play together in order to be successful in the upcoming season.
“If we don’t play together and we don’t fight together we are an average team,” Medunjanin said.
Philadelphia kick off the 2018 season against New England Revolution at Talen Energy Stadium at 7 p.m. EST.