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Match Report: Philadelphia 0-1 Aston Villa

Photo: Earl Gardner

Nathan Delfouneso’s goal late in the first half was all Aston Villa would need to see off the Philadelphia Union 1-0 in a spirited friendly Wednesday at PPL Park.

In a first half where both teams controlled play for extended periods, Villa had the better of the chances on Zac MacMath’s net before Delfouneso’s opener pushed the visitors into the lead in the 43rd minute.

The second half featured ten changes for the home side. The Union fought back well but could not find an equalizer despite a number of chances against US international Brad Guzan, who was in net days after signing a new deal with the Birmingham club.

First Half

In the midst of the busiest part of their season, coach John Hackworth chose to give a much deserved rest to many of his attacking players. He kept the back line intact though, with the one exception being Raymon Gaddis replacing Sheanon Williams in front of Zac MacMath. Roger Torres and homegrown player Zach Pfeffer ran the midfield in front of Gabriel Gomez, with the Union’s other two homegrown players Cristhian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughlin working the wings. The Union’s regular super-sub, Antoine Hoppenot, was asked to lead the offensive line.

The match nearly got off to the worst possible start for the Union when Matthew Lowton’s teasing cross was redirected on frame by new Villa signing Brett Holman. Zac MacMath was perfectly positioned however, stunningly clawing the ball off the goal line and pouncing on the rebound.

Quick to recover, the Union hit back through Hoppenot, who retrieved the ball after James Collins muffed his clearance of Hoppenot’s original cutback. With traffic in the box, Hoppenot was unable to get a clear shot away and the chance went begging.

Unfazed by the quality of the competition, the Union settled into a comfortable passing rhythm, with Torres and Gomez pulling the strings as the Union built through the midfield. The defense was forced to work quickly out of the back. With Aston Villa pressing high, the Union midfield found plenty of space in the center of the park, and as the minutes wore on, they continued to grow in confidence.

It was Aston Villa however who would have the next chance, however, with Delfouneso nipping in behind Valdes after the Union captain misjudged his header. Fortunately for the Union, MacMath was sharp again, sticking out a toe to keep the scoresheet blank.

The Union continued to press forward with Farfan and Gaddis applying high pressure up the wings and offering support to Hernandez and McLaughlin, respectively. Struggling with a significant height deficit against Collins, Hoppenot began to show wider to face up the defender.

Using his speed to get around the Villa center back, Hoppenot put the ball into the center of the area. After the initial cross was intercepted, Farfan picked the scraps, only to see his shot blocked. The Union continued to knock on the door, passing the ball around the perimeter of Guzan’s box, but when play broke down, Darren Bent led the counterattack.

Finding space to run, Bent played in Delfouneso, but the striker could not get his shot on target when Amobi Okugo slid across, blocking the effort from close range. Okugo had to be sharp minutes later when Karim El Ahmadi caught Pfeffer in possession and looked to have a clear path to MacMath’s net. Recovering quickly, Okugo managed to slide in and again snuff out a dangerous chance for the Villans.

As the match wore towards the half, the Union again began to measure their passing, working the ball in and out of the midfield, but they were unable to carve out any clear cut chances. Continuing to look dangerous on the counter, Aston Villa finally found a breakthrough two minutes before halftime.

Claiming the ball in his box, MacMath tried to spark the attack quickly, but his poorly struck clearance returned it to directly to Aston Villa. Gaddis had a chance to control the ball when Villa brought it back forward, but when his touch was heavy, Stephen Warnock pounced on the ball, releasing Delfouneso. With the Union defense having lost their shape, the England youth international had time to pick out the far corner, powering his shot past MacMath and sending Aston Villa into the locker room with a one goal advantage.

Second Half

Coming out after the break the Union made four substitutions, bringing Chase Harrison, Greg Jordan, Sheanon Williams and Porfirio Lopez in for MacMath, Okugo, Valdes and Farfan. In the half’s early minutes, the Union looked to readjust their new personnel, and neither side was able to earn an advantage.

The changes continued to come fast and furious for both teams. After Hackworth brought in Keon Daniel, Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, Lionard Pajoy and Josue Martinez in the 61st minute, the Union began to find the intensity they had enjoyed early in the match.

Martinez’s fresh legs immediately caused problems for the Aston Villa defense when he got in behind Collins, but the young Costa Rican elected to put his head to Daniel’s cross rather than bring it down and lost the chance. The Union were on the front foot with the pressure of Pajoy and Martinez, but coach Paul Lambert’s substitutes were able to set the offside trap for the aggressive Union forwards, earning back-to-back whistles and slowing the Union’s momentum.

Still, Pajoy was working hard in midfield and in the 73rd minute won possession and sent Martinez in on Guzan’s goal. Well marshaled by the defense however, Martinez failed to shoot until the angle was too tight, raking his attempt across the face of goal.

With their sights set on an equalizer, the Union continued to apply pressure. Greg Jordan was the next to try his luck when he pounced on a loose ball 25 yards from goal. His strike was clean and strong, but it zipped only inches over the bar of a relieved Guzan. Moments later, Carroll pounced on a weak pass from Chris Herd and, despite an open look from the top of the box, blazed his shot well over.

Aston Villa nearly stole an insurance goal after they broke on the counterattack with the Union stranded forward, but a vital tackle from Jordan allowed Harrison to race off his line to claim.

When Martinez was cut down just outside the box in the 89th minute, the Union had a dangerous opportunity for a free kick. There would be no equalizer however, as Pajoy struck the ball into the wall. The Union’s heavy protests for a handball were waved away.

The Union nearly conceded in the dying moments when a sloppy turnover from Keon Daniel sent Gabriel Agbonlahor the other way. Touching the ball around Lopez, Harrison bravely intervened, sliding in to touch the ball away from the onrushing Villa striker. With Harrison stranded at the edge of his box, Charles N’Zogbia had a chance to tuck the ball home from 20 yards, but Harrison got down quickly to his left for the splendid double save.

With an away game at Red Bull Arena on Saturday at 2:30, the Union face another quick turnaround as they bid for their fourth MLS victory on the trot.

Philadelphia Union

Zac MacMath (Chase Harrison ’46); Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo (Sheanon Williams ’46), Carlos Valdes (Greg Jordan ’46), Gabriel Farfan (Porfirio Lopez ’46); Cristhian Hernandez (Lionard Pajoy ’61), Gabriel Gomez (Brian Carroll ’61), Zach Pfeffer (Chris Albright ’78), Roger Torres (Michael Lahoud ’61), Jimmy McLaughlin (Keon Daniel ’61); Antoine Hoppenot (Josue Martinez ’61)

Aston Villa

Brad Guzan; Matthew Lowton (Eric Lichaj ’60), Ciaran Clark (Nathan Baker ’66), James Collins (Richard Dunne ’66), Stephen Warnock (Enda Stevens ’60); Barry Bannan (Fabian Delph ’57), Stephen Ireland (Charles N’Zogbia ’46), Karim El Ahmadi (Chris Herd ’57), Brett Holman (Gary Gardner ’60); Darren Bent (Gabriel Agbonlahor ’53), Nathan Delfouneso (Andreas Weimann ’53)

Unused Substitutes: Andy Marshall, Samir Carruthers

Scoring Summary

43 – AVFC: Delfouneso (Warnock)

Discipline Summary

14 – PHI: Okugo (caution)

62 – AVFC: Collins (caution)

90 – PHI: Jordan (caution)

20 Comments

  1. So what we learned from this is that Perlaza is higher up on the shitlist than Lopez. At least Lopez can make it onto the field.

    • My thoughts exactly! In a game that featured so many of our young players, this would have been a perfect opportunity for Perlaza to get on the field and get some minutes. The fact that he wasn’t shows that Hack hasn’t seen anything that warrants him being on the squad. Good trade, Nowak!

  2. JediLos117 says:

    I hate mid season friendlies.

  3. It was a friendly, so I won’t get too into the outcome. Definitely a bigger crowd than the USOC match. Thought a late-arriving River End did the Union proud (just prior to kick-off, I thought the club seats might have a bigger showing than TRE – shame on me).

    Watching the game, the U held their own well against an AV squad that played almost all of their big guns, unlike Celtic or Everton. The size and “thickness” of the AV players was shocking – they looked like linebackers compared to our boys.

    I thought Jimmy Mac looked good — by FAR the best of our home grown players. Just needed to shoot (looked afraid to try his left foot). Jordan also played well as a sub at both CB and CM. Pfeffer and Torres (did he have a broken right foot, b/c he was afraid to play a ball with it) were awful, and got to play the most to fully and completely display their sucktitude.

    Both ZacMac and Chase game up with some very solid saves in goal. AV could have easily had 3 or 4 goals.

    Overall, I thought the Union likely earned some well-deserved respect with their showing.

    • I disagree with your statement about Jordan in part. Back at CB he was fine defensively, but his distribution was pretty awful. When he moved up to midfield, he played much more comfortably, and you could tell that was his natural position. Overall, I was surprised to see any of our normal starters log any minutes whatsoever. And as was said above, Perlaza is way low in the pecking order to not even make it as a substitute …

  4. Jeremy L. says:

    Am I right that this is the Union’s first friendly loss at PPL?

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Yes, first friendly loss at PPL and first loss to a non MLS team (USOC wins over Rochester and Harrisburg) weren’t friendlies but were against non MLS teams. I expect Union to lose again next month in the River Cup now that the Union staff got rid of their best player….

    • Correct. They did lose to Man U but that was at the Linc.

  5. santas grotto says:

    I know its only a friendly but in comparing it to the game last year v. Everton it was a pretty tame affair. Agree with the comment about size. Our young players looked well like young players against grown men. I disagree on McLaughlin. I thought he was okay but each time he came down the wing he ignored Gaddis’ overlap and tried to force the ball through the middle. No need to force it everytime. I also disagree with Jordan having a good game at CB. He was slow, out of position more than once and his distribution was shocking. The reality is some of these young guys are not used to this pace so this is a good learning experience. Someone buy Pfeffer some weights and giftcards to a grocery store. Lightweight. Final thought, MacMath and Harrison were outstanding.

  6. Very disappointed in Pfeffer, he showed absolutely nothing. In a couple years he will not have the novelty of youth and by then he better be able to back up his game or else why are we investing in him?

    • LOL at having a go at Pfeffer, who was playing against EPL quality players at a young age. Being so young, he has a lot to learn, but has already shown some quality in games he has played. He will start to bulk up a bit as he gets older, and will learn how to deal with going up against bigger players who have more quality than the “big guys” he played against as a schoolboy.

      So – for those that were there and saw it, who would have impressed Villa enough that they would be interested in taking them over? MacMath maybe?

      • Probably no one, unless they thought someone like McLaughlin had some potential for the future.

      • Or Okugo. He showed something. But there really weren’t standouts.

      • I agree, I thought all the young guys looked good(when judging by young talent standards) I would like to see Jim m. Work on his left foot, but over all I think they did well. Yes they were under sized, but jack Mac is just growing into his man body and he is a few years older than some of them.

      • When it comes to Pfeffer I’m not expecting someone of his age to be extremely polished, but I would like to see hints of quality play and I wouldn’t expect him to be intimidated by an EPL side in a friendly.

        Its really great that a highschool kid can be offered a professional contract to play soccer in the US. And I think it is exactly what the sport needs here. Based on his performance yesterday, I’m not hopeful that there is ton of talent there though. I didn’t see him do anything at all on the ball, and he appeared disengaged with the game around him. He appeared indifferent to challenging balls and covered very little pitch offensively or defensively while playing a central position in the midfield. Right now he looks like someone that excelled extremely well against kids his age but lacks tools for a higher level.

        He’s been with the organization for a while now, has played in youth national team squads and has trained in international programs. My expectation is that this would translate into glimpses of what is to come. Keep in mind he is 17 now, which is just 2 years younger than Jack Mack is now and 2 years younger than Mwanga when he was a number 1 overall draft pick. In comparison to international players think about Oxlade Chamberlain who was 17 when signing for Arsenal– while not a regular starter he certainly was never intimidated and showed a ton of talent immediately.

        So yeah Pfeffer is a kid, but I really am hopeful that he is not complacent about the opportunity in front of him. He makes more $$ right now than Garfan. He has an opportunity to develop with a professional club outside of college soccer which is awesome. I am hopeful that the U18 player pool in the USA have players worthy of this kind of investment. I’m concerned about US soccer organizations ability to always identify these youth players that may have the best potential. And while yesterday gives me just one game of evidence, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but his performance has added to my concern.

        Sorry for the long answer, I just wanted to add context to my post since I wasn’t trying to take a cheap shot at a kid though it could have been taken that way.

      • I think your context is a little skewed. Zach after a season and a half with the club is still the youngest player to ever play for them, meaning today he is still younger than Jack was when he started, which was still a year younger than Amobi, 2 yrs younger than Danny and MacMath, 3 yrs younger than Sheannon and 6 yrs younger than the Farfans. He showed some glimpses last year in MLS games of talent and this year his reserve games have been reviewed as good. Last night he probably just had a bad game, it is pretty unfair that we make assumptions about these young guys who only get to play in front of fans once or twice in a year. I also would assume Zach was not on the same page as his teammates as he just came back from the Academy Playoffs with FC Delco, this kid in a two week span played for FC Delco against the likes of CASL, Baltimore Bays and NC Fusion to playing against Stoke CIty of the EPL Starters.

        Any comparison to Alex Oxlade Chamberlin is silly, looking for glimpse of talent in Zach and then comparing him to a world class player who is only 19 is crazy.

    • Sean Doyle says:

      I’ll admit I was disappointed with Pfeffer’s play as well. However, Pfeffer hasn’t had many minutes of late. IIRC, his last match was against Reading United on June 9th, so clearly he wasn’t sharp. I’m not ready to give up on him after one poor match against a Premier League opponent.

  7. My disappointment with all the youth was the lack of courage to shoot. mcglaughlin had at least two trips near/in the box. no shots from either despite no pressure he didn’t dribble into. pfeefer had at least one if not two opportunities to shoot which he did not take advantage of. too many extra dribbles crossovers, backheels juggles from the youth. The thing that surprised me is most young kids who excel shoot too often from too far out and need reigned in.
    Lack of courage and confidence is supposed to plague the older/veteran player.

    overall good showing from macmath and okugo and I think someone wrote their names down last night and will keep a far eye on their development.
    lets get the red bulls
    Le toux if you are listening can you pick up a small ankle injury and sit out this weekend so I don’t have to root against you personally just yet.

  8. I thought the friendly was a good time. It’s cool to see an EPL club in our backyard. The MLS is almost 100 years benind in terms of soccer culture. The EPL is coming here to tune up, so we are getting some respect. I know they are not doing it for free. But both sides get a chance to work reserve type players and see them play at a different level than their norm. And we don’t have to buy plane tickets.

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