Defenses from the Philadelphia Union and University of South Florida men’s soccer won the evening in a rain-soaked scoreless draw Saturday night in Clearwater, Florida.
Coming off a 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls to open their preseason slate where they created a slew of chances early and held a three-goal lead until a couple mistakes late, the Union fell a little bit flat.
“It brings us back down to earth a little bit after what was almost too good of a Red Bull performance,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the match at Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex. “Overall though, still happy with the defensive pressure, the sliding and covering for each other. Staying nice and connected, that part was solid.”
While no official stats were kept for the match, the Union kept the ball on USF’s side of the pitch for a majority of the night. Whenever USF was able to sneak away for a run, it was quickly snuffed out.
Curtin used his team’s new-look 4-4-2 against USF like they did against New York — pairing Fafa Picault with Sergio Santos up top to start the game — but with less success this time around.
“It’s a version of a 4-4-2 that can quickly morph into getting more guys forward fast,” Curtin said. “It’s kind of a diamond in midfield right now and the guys have responded really well with it.”
When Curtin’s gameplan worked and players did get forward fast, nobody was able to find the back of the net. Santos had a backdoor header opportunity near the end of the first half but missed less than a foot left of the goalpost.
Shortly after, rain started pouring. The rain didn’t affect play as much as the condition of the pitch. Puddles of water littered the field in Clearwater, sometimes causing the ball to stop in the middle of a pass.
“Obviously, the elements played a role, the field kind of flooded a little bit, so we weren’t able to pass and move like we had hoped but at the same time, it’s preseason,” Curtin said.
After the weather passed, the puddles still remained, but the Union kept threatening to score. Cory Burke had two chances to find a winner, but USF’s defense — which featured Union Academy and YSC Academy grad Fred Gil at left back — and keeper Harrison Devenish-Meares kept the boys in blue off the board.
“[USF’s] goalkeeper was busy tonight, he made probably five or six great saves,” Curtin said. “Their defenders made some really good defensive plays in the box whether it was getting a block or closing space down quickly because we have some forwards that are a real handful.”
Brenden Aaronson started as the No. 10 in midfield and did his part to get the forwards their scoring opportunities. He took most of the corner kicks and set pieces while he was on the pitch. The 18-year-old from Medford, N.J. found himself in a unique situation in Friday’s match against a college team — playing against opponents close to his own age. In addition to Gil, Aaronson also got to face another academy grad in the opposing team’s midfield in Philadelphia native Josue Monge.
“Brenden is playing against guys his own age, he’s obviously an incredibly talented player, a guy we have very high hopes for the club and has a really bright future,” Curtin said.
Saturday marked the second time the two teams have met. The Union won 5-1 last preseason, but were unable to find a similar rhythm to their offense this time around on the water-logged pitch.
“That was the message to all of our guys to raise their level, not to have it drop because we’re playing against a college team,” Curtin said. “We didn’t do a great job of that tonight, I felt that maybe Red Bull brings the best out of us, so we were up for the intensity of that and maybe had a little bit of a let down tonight.”
Fabinho, Aurelien Collin, Jack Elliott and Olivier Mbaizo started the night on the back line in front of Carlos Miguel Coronel in goal. Matthew Real, Steel FC defender Ben Ofeimu, Ray Gaddis and Andre Blake checked in after the break.
“Defensively, we’ve been solid,” Curtin said. “Still have to clean some things up with the ball and our movements but, overall, happy with where we’re at but still have a lot of work to do.”
The Union will return to the pitch Wednesday to take on USL Championship team Birmingham Legion for their final scrimmage in the first of two training stints in Florida.
Philadelphia Union Lineup
Carlos Miguel Coronel (Andre Blake), Fabinho (Matthew Real), Aurelien Collin (Ben Ofeimu), Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo (Raymon Gaddis), Derrick Jones (Michee Ngalina), Warren Creavalle (Haris Medunjanin), Alejandro Bedoya (Anthony Fontana), Brenden Aaronson (Ilsinho), Fafa Picault (David Accam, Kacper Przybylko), Sergio Santos (CJ Sapong, Cory Burke)