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Union preseason observations: Torres, lineups, more

Photo: Earl Gardner

A few thoughts about Philadelphia Union and MLS this preseason.

Ready? Go.

Will Roger Torres win a starting job?

Everyone is raving about Roger Torres, and rightly so. He’s been the best player on the field in every game he’s played this preseason. He’s even playing defense.

But will Torres actually win a starting job? Probably not.

Torres is stuck in the unenviable position of basically competing for the center attacking midfield role against the player Union manager John Hackworth wants to build his team around, Michael Farfan.

True, Torres can play left midfield, but he isn’t fast enough to be much more than average there and tends to drift to the center when deployed outside. He belongs in the center of the pitch, where he’s playing terrifically this preseason.

For those who want to see Farfan return to a wing, the preseason play of Torres helps make the case. But two or three games of good play from Torres probably won’t be enough to convince Union management to unsettle Farfan with another position switch to make room for Torres.

Come mid-season, if the Union attack is still missing something and Torres has played well as a substitute and spot starter, maybe then Hackworth will consider returning Farfan to a flank. But not till then.

Will anyone win a starting job in preseason?

If Torres can’t win a starting job with his play, then who can?

It looks like the back five will remain largely the same as last year, with Jeff Parke replacing Carlos Valdes at center back and Amobi Okugo starting next to him instead of at midfield, where he has yet to feature in a preseason game.

Captain Brian Carroll and Michael Farfan look set to man the center, while Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux and Conor Casey are probably competing for two starting forward roles in a 4-4-2 diamond. (Of them, Casey has looked the best, though like most of you, I didn’t see the blacked out Montreal game.)

The wide midfield roles could also remain the same, with Keon Daniel and Danny Cruz each taking a spot on opening day, unless Hackworth finds a way to shoehorn Casey, McInerney and Le Toux into the lineup at once.

Regardless, it doesn’t look like someone will come out of training camp having earned a starting role based solely on his training camp performance. Then again, surprises can be pleasant.

Hackworth’s use of the preseason

This is Hackworth’s first preseason as manager, and he clearly uses the preseason differently than his predecessor, Peter Nowak. (No, that isn’t a wisecrack about secret camps in third world countries, secret trialists or secret handshakes. Really.) Hackworth has brought numerous players in on trial, and his preseason seems to be more about building a broader base of talent than positional battles for starting jobs.

Bringing in so many trialists has pros and cons.

On the plus side, you obviously get to evaluate more roster options. Greek international Pantelis Kafes, trialist Matt Kassel, and draftee Don Anding impressed against Toronto, while fellow draftee Leo Fernandes dropped jaws with his goal against Orlando.

On the down side, some players simply don’t get enough game time to show what they can do. How much have you seen of Alex Mendoza, Stephen Okai, and Jordi Vidal? Very little. How about Damani Richards? Did he really sign with the club, or was that just a rumor? Bulgarian striker Georgi Hristov is on trial with the Union but so far has played less than 45 minutes in actual games.

So when you’re all excited about Kafes solidifying central midfield in two months, don’t get too mad if Vidal or Okai pops up in someone else’s starting lineup.

Agbossoumonde’s gifts to the Union

The Union scored three goals against Toronto on Saturday, and they all came thanks to center back Gale Agbossoumonde. Antoine Hoppenot made “Boss” his female dog on the first goal, Torres put him in the highlights on the second, and then the young center back watched Kassel’s left-footed drive whiz right past him for the third.

So while it’s nice to see the Union scoring pretty goals, they all have the caveat that the same guy got smoked on each.

If Agbossoumonde starts in front of Danny Califf on opening day, Califf ought to be asking which soccer god’s corn flakes he pissed in last year. Even if you think Califf is washed up (which he’s not), there’s no way Agbossoumonde is starting quality yet, based on Saturday’s performance.

Brazilians really do love Orlando

I couldn’t help but laugh after reading about the Orlando soccer club’s new investor, Brazilian businessman Flavio Augusto da Silva.

No, not because someone with deep pockets is investing in the club, with plans to take it to MLS. Orlando, New York City, San Antonio and probably San Diego are the best markets for a new (or relocated) MLS club to set up shop.

It’s just that his observation was hilariously true when he said, “…we chose Orlando because, first of all, Brazilians love Orlando.”

When certain Brazilian family members of mine come to the U.S., do they first think about visiting us?


They go to Disney World. (And New York to shop.) And then tell us after the fact! Over and over and over again.

Brazil’s economy is booming. The newly emerged upper middle class needs somewhere to piss their money away. And loads them (beyond just my in-laws) repeatedly do it at … Disney World. Really. Goofy apparently has it going on with the Brazilians.

So yeah, I laughed. And then I laughed some more when I realized da Silva actually listed that as his first reason for investing in Orlando.

Yes, it looks like a Mickey Mouse operation already.


  1. On the Torres front, I don’t want to start calling for Hack’s head before the season even starts, but is he blind!?!?!
    Not only does Torres have skill no one else on this team has, our winger options are very substandard. Cruz is a skillless American, Daniel has been 100% meh. Marfan would be the perfect fit for a wide spot. He can take people on and provide a wide threat we never really had.
    I hate to be one of those guys, but sometimes I wonder why coaches seem so oblivious to the best course of action.

    • Well, one thing to consider too is that Torres has yet to play 90 minutes in a regular season game. He hasn’t shown yet he’s a 90-minute player. (I mentioned this in a previous column, just not this one.) I don’t think Hack is blind. I think he’s probably going to be cautious with moving Marfan from position to position again. Torres needs to show he’s for real (i.e. fit, consistent, and playing defense) over an extended period first.

    • Hackworth is really going to have to prove he can think on his feet and outside of the box. My fear is that he has tunnel vision when it comes to certain players. Torres should start. Torres makes everyone around him better. I love Michael Farfan but sometimes he plays himself right into a box. Torres’ ability to pick out players and read plays is superior when he’s on his game. Cruz and Hoppenot have exactly the same skill set which is all desperate and out of control. If they could work on basic skills and harness their energy they could really work out with the Union. Hoppenot showed a little something against Toronto but needs to build on that performance. Cruz is needs to player smarter not harder. What the point of winning the ball and then immediately turning it over or losing control. Neither is a starter.

    • Torres has had a nice preseason…which in itself isnt really saying much. Looked good against Orlando but was the assist deliberate or a hopeful aimless chip into the box?
      My biggest concern remains the same from last year and since the beginning. Torres is tiny and the MLS remains a tough strong league. There are a boatload of concerns about his ability to go 90, a CAM has to go 90. Didnt anybody notice how late in Orlando City match he was outmuscled by a smaller OC player and knocked over?
      As such, M. Farfan remains the ideal choice and Torres will be effective as an impact sub…but the little guy has got fire and desire, should make sub list every game day.

      • Ha! my wife and I always think it’s hillarious when the Union would have a corner to defend and Torres would be on the post. It’s kinda the equivilent of having my Union Garden Gnome cover the back side post.

      • I love that gnome!

  2. When I was in Disney World a few years ago in January. It had to be like 75% Brazilians. They’re a fun group, at least haha.

    • That’s hilarious. Or, at least I find this hilarious. Seriously, some of my extended family don’t know where anything in the U.S. is other than New York and Orlando. (Even Los Angeles is a geographic mystery!) It makes me feel good — errr, less bad — about the U.S. education system. 😉

  3. Thats because no one in american sports (myself included) has the ability to look past favoritism, fan opinion and loyalty to pick the best 11 players. What makes sir alex so incredibly great is that he week in and week out picks the best players for that match without thought towards will I hurt chicharitos feelings, what will de gea think if I pull him. Its just your playing well or not. and if not you sit, move or get replaced. no feelings, just football. Until we do this and believe me for me its hard we will struggle to be successful. no one should feel automatic to the starting 11.

  4. I have no faith in hackworth to start the best players or even develop a working strategy. I hope I am wrong

  5. If alex is the kid from Mexico he is no longer with the club

  6. Dan, I think your right on and all of us basically know that the starting lineup will be:
    Williams, Okugo, Parke, G. Farfan, Carroll(C), Cruz, M. Farfan, Daniel, Le Toux and Casey.
    Maybe Jack instead of Casey.
    Im not sure that’s the best option and we all know where our weaknesses are…PPL’s sunny side is gonna be busy this year.

  7. Why would Cruz start? I don’t think he has ever played well.

    • Agreed. I’ve not cared much for him from day one. I don’t understand why he always gets a free pass. His hustle is always mentioned as a virtue but it seems like aimless running to me. Like many people accused Seba of during his slump in the first half of season 2. I don’t think Cruz is as fast as he appears when those stubby little legs start churning. But the real problem is when he does beat an opponent to the ball, his touch is horrible. He has zero dribbling ability and his shots are pretty poor too. I also think he turns the ball over as much as Lahoud. The difference seems to be Lahoud’s give aways are often bad ideas while Cruz’s are badly executed.

      • I feel the same way about Daniel. Never understood why he got so much love. Those guys are the clear weakness on our squad — especially given that they have to cover when the backs go forward. Would also much prefer Kafes to Carroll, but that ain’t happening.

  8. What’s up with Soumare? He certainly looked fit. His ball control is exactly what Hack needs to play the game on the ground. He is a former defender of the year in MLS and he has great size. So what’s missing? Why is he not starting at CB, moving Okugo to DMF and bumping BC to the bench… or did I just answer my own question?

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Carroll has been given the arm band. He is starting. I do agree with what you are saying though.

      As someone else above said, I don’t want to call for Hack’s head before the season, but it really looks like he is going to start all the guys he should sit… and vice versa.

  9. I’m also curious about Soumare. If he is fit, would it be unreasonable to play a 4-2-2-2 with Soumare at Okugo’s CB position, Okugo-Carrol dmids, Torres-Marfan, and either two of Casey, Le Toux, or Jack Mac up top

    • James Korman says:


    • If you want to move in that direction a 4-2-3-1 would be a better option, and put Casey alone up top with Marfan-Torres-Le Toux across the midfield. Pairing Marfan and Torres together in the middle like that will leave one if not both wings wide open, as Torres tends to drift into the middle and that will either push Marfan out wide or farther up the pitch. But switching to a 3-1 up top allows Le Toux to roam the wing and drift inside as needed to help Casey, it parks Torres in the middle of the pitch where he belongs and Marfan can roam the other wing and drift inside to help Torres if needed. Casey can play alone up top, assuming he is fit.

    • The last thing I want to see the Union do is go back to using two defensive mids… Anyone remember the Great Carroll/Miglioranzi Debacle of 2011? I do! No disrespect to Amobi, but I think it’s been hashed out time and again on PSP that Carroll is a more effective defensive mid when he plays by himself.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Carroll is more effective when playing the loan CDM. Amobi is a better player than Carroll, at any position on the pitch. It would make sense to play your best players. So, why would Carroll get the nod?

      • Because Carroll is the captain… If that wasn’t the case I’m sure Amobi would be the first choice CDM.

      • Or at least he’d get a crack at it.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Sadly, that is the reason. Carroll is the (default) captain of the Union. Makes me question Hackworth’s judgement as a professional manager. He should start his best XI.

  10. I would love to see a 4-1-3-2 with ONE CDM( being who ever it will be) Torres Marfan and another midfielder( would love it to be Garfan if we can get a LB to replace him) and then 2 of either Le2 jack Mack or Casey. Allowing the CDM to stay home and the 3 mids to roam and interchange like hack says he wants. Just a thought and dream

  11. I certainly hope you are wrong about Cruz being a regular starter.

  12. The Black Hand says:

    If there was one thing that was painfully obvious last season, it was the fact that the Union were in desperate need of quality play in the midfield. It was painful to watch, on far too many occasions. Why would repeating this seem logical in Hackworth’s “system”? There was not even a hint of effectiveness coming from the Union’s middle third; leaving nothing to build upon. It’s disappointing to see that our manager might not make necessary adjustments, aside from labeling Adu a villain and banishing him from the club. The likes of Cruz, Lahoud, Carroll, Daniel, etc…, do nothing to establish confidence. Torres’ early form offers some optimism. He is creative and shows vision. Farfan has shown best on the wing. Why not try to develop those two players, and many others, at the positions where they have the most strength? Kafes has the most experience playing (WELL) at a high level. Why not utilize that? Why are underperforming players solidified in the starting XI? Why Hack…Why???

    • Well, Kafes is a wild card. He could end up moving on to trial for another MLS club, as others have done with other clubs (i.e. trialing for multiple MLS teams). We just don’t know yet.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Would that be the player’s choice, or the Union’s choice not to sign him?

      • Unless he had a precipitous drop in form (due to, e.g., a bad knee) or wants a ridiculous wage (which I doubt), I can’t see how we can let Kafes slip through our fingers. Would be lunacy, IMO.

      • The Black Hand says:


      • Could be either. MLS rules complicate a lot of things. Take Mikael Silvestre. He trialed with Seattle, who had his discovery rights, and Portland, and he just signed with Portland. There’s another one recently, Nigel Reo-Coker, who (supposedly) wants to play for Vancouver, but Portland has his discovery rights, so it’s (supposedly) holding things up.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Does another club hold Kafes’ discovery rights?

  13. The Black Hand says:

    Williams G. Farfan
    Farfan LeToux

    -Could provide a balanced look at midfield. Okugo and Kafes (from what I have read) are capable offensively and the presence of both would make up for Torres’ lack of defense. Offensively, Torres will have a bit of freedom and multiple options to distribute to attackers. Williams and G. Farfan would make up width, playing as wingbacks.

  14. The Black Hand says:

    Williams————————G. Farfan-
    ——Farfan ————LeToux———-

  15. While I agree what you say is the likeliest outcome, it is still just speculation. I will reserve my judgement until I see the opening day line-up, as I still have faith that Hackworth will put his best XI on the field that day. We have at least 38 games (hopefully – 34 league, 4+ open cup games) to play, plus friendlies, so Torres not starting on the 2nd isn’t the end of the world, but he should be the 1st player off that bench if we need to kick start the offense.

  16. It’s almost 100% certain Hackworth is going with that lineup listed in the article. Even though literally EVERYONE thinks Cruz is just a runner and hustler with poor touch, a poor mans Le toux if you will, and Keon Daniel is consistently blah, never really giving the ball away like Lahoud or Cruz but never making anything happen either.

    I think the single biggest problem the Union face this year is Brian Carroll. No one wants to say it, bc we all love his character and effort, but he should no longer be starting. Okugo is clearly the better option, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone argue against that anywhere. They should let Parke/Casey/Le toux head that experienced leader role, and let Marfan and Okugo work into the future leaders. BC just doesn’t have enough speed to make up for what he doesn’t bring anymore.

    Also, why is it the “giving Marfan the keys” means he MUST play CAM? Can’t he play the wing and have a great effect on the game as well? I feel like Marfan has this skill that we’ve all seen, but really he’s never put it together into any meaningful stats. Realistically he will look and perform MUCH better on the wing with Okugo, Le toux and Torres pairing with him, than he will trying to spray the ball out wide to the likes of Daniel or Cruz. This all just seems crazy to me.

    Preferred lineup. 4-4-2.
    Williams, Parke, Soumare, Garfan
    Marfan, Okugo, Torres, Le toux
    Casey, JacMac

    • The Black Hand says:

      I think that “giving Marfan the keys” means making him the 10 and running the offense through him. I agree that Marfan is effective on the wing and should be played there, not at the CAM. He just seems to get lost in the center if the pitch. We need to get some effective play out of our midfield. Not the jumbled mess we endured last year. I would love to see Lahoud or Cruz swapped out for a Justin Mapp type player. He was a poised midfielder, even if he only had one foot.

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