Union match reports

Preseason Recap: Philadelphia Union 1-0 Toronto FC

Philadelphia Union capped a long winter of preseason with a victory in sunny Florida on Saturday, a strike from C.J. Sapong providing the difference in a 1-0 win over Toronto FC.

The win is the third straight clean sheet for the Blue and Gold heading into the 2016 MLS campaign.

First Half

Jim Curtin made a number of changes to the team that started in midweek against the Red Bulls. Andre Blake got the start in goal, while Anderson came into central defense for Joshua Yaro. Leo Fernandes started over Sebastien Le Toux on the right wing, and Sapong returned to the side as the lone striker. Expected starters Tranquilo Barnetta and Richie Marquez were left on the bench with minor knocks.

Ilsinho nearly opened the scoring in the first minute, when he picked off a pass along the Toronto FC backline and fizzed a low diagonal shot off the inside of the post.

A fairly even first 20 minutes were punctuated by Blake showing why he’s finally the unquestioned no. 1 keeper. Blake pulled off a pair of stunning, athletic saves, including one against the reigning MLS MVP, Giovinco, to keep the score level.

The Union enjoyed the majority of the possession in the second part of the half, punctuated by somehow failing to score in the 34th minute. A great cutback by Sapong found Brian Carroll at the top of the 18, who drove a shot at goal. Taking a deflection on the way in, Clint Irwin was somehow able to get a hand on the ball and flick it off the crossbar.

The final solid chance of the half came when Carroll intercepted a pass the final third and spread the ball to Keegan Rosenberry. Rosenberry whipped in a low cross, beating Irwin, but neither Fernandes nor Sapong nor Chris Pontius were able to put a boot on the ball. The half ended all even at 0-0.

Second Half

Making no changes at the half, Jim Curtin’s boys started the half brightly. Leo Fernandes had a clear penalty shout in the 56th minute, but the referee chose to wave play on.

It was C.J. Sapong who broke the deadlock in the 60th minute. After a terrible turnover by Toronto, Carroll fed the ball to the striker on a breakaway. Sapong held off a defender while bearing down on goal and finished with a precise, powerful shot into the far corner of Irwin’s net. It was a super moment of quality for the striker.

Giovinco nearly leveled the match just four minutes later, scything through a mass of Union defenders in the box, but his hard shot clanged off the post. Jonathan Osorio found the other post barely two minutes later, as the Union responded shakily to taking the lead.

As Toronto began a bevy of substitutions, Philadelphia did well to see out the game. Sebastien Le Toux came in for Ilsinho with 15 minutes to go and was lively in the final third. Andre Blake came off his line several times to claim long passes from the Reds, and the Union worked hard to keep the ball in possession.

A great block in the 18 yard box in the game’s final seconds snuffed out the last chance of the game for Toronto, capping the Union’s first preseason victory over an MLS side.

Next up? Major League Soccer is back, as the Union will take on FC Dallas next Sunday.

Quick Thoughts

  • The Union want to have much more of the ball this year than last, when they were often outpossessed. Today’s game was a mixed bag in that regard. Though Philadelphia certainly had a lot of the ball, often they had little to show for in terms of incisive attacks.
  • The attack was deeply lopsided in the first half. On the right side, Leo Fernandes and Keegan Rosenberry found themselves unable to penetrate the Toronto defense; in fact, they were nearly invisible for much of the first half. Fernandes really grew into the game in the second half, however. Meanwhile, Fabinho enjoyed another strong game on the left side, and Chris Pontius got into the attack more than he had in previous efforts.
  • Brian Carroll and Vincent Nogueira had a clean game in the center of the park. The two of them continue to show a good understanding of both one another and the game as a whole. Their play was key to maintaining possession — and it was a Carroll interception that led to the game’s lone goal.
  • Speaking of that goal, it was a really excellent finish by C.J. Sapong, capping a really solid game by the striker. Sapong’s hold up play has been great all preseason, and his game tonight combined a willingness to do the dirty work with some moments of great offensive understanding. Positive signs.
  • Ilsinho took a chill pill after Wednesday night’s bizarre performance, and it’s a good thing he did. The Brazilian’s lively play set up a number of chances, but even more encouraging was his demonstrated willingness to track back on defense and to take players on with the ball at his feet. His occasional roasting of hapless Toronto defenders were some of the highlights of the evening.
  • In addition to Andre Blake’s two outstanding saves in the first half, his commanding of the backline was encouraging. The livestream camera caught him a number of times directing his center backs how to defend the omnipresent threat of Giovinco.
  • Though the Union should generally be encouraged by their performance, it must be said that Toronto FC were underwhelming. Offensively, they had few ideas other than “fling the ball at Giovinco,” and they were often sloppy in the back.
  • Curtin’s halftime comments and substitution patterns suggested that he’s planning on using this lineup against FC Dallas in the season opener. Consider, for a moment, how unexpected some of these choices would be. The Union started two guys who weren’t signed at the start of camp, a draft pick, and a defensive midfielder who many thought long past his prime. On the bench are two international signings, the team’s 2015 minutes leader, and last year’s center back. Part of this, of course, is injury-related, as Mo Edu has missed all of preseason and Ray Gaddis, Barnetta, and Marquez have been dealing with minor knocks. It will be very interesting to see which direction the manager chooses to go when the season kicks off next Sunday.

Philadelphia Union
Andre Blake; Fabinho, Ken Tribbett, Anderson, Keegan Rosenberry; Brian Carroll, Vincent Nogueira; Chris Pontius, Ilsinho (Sebastien Le Toux 75′), Leo Fernandes; C.J. Sapong.

Toronto FC
Irwin; Morrow (Morgan 63′), Moor, Perquis (Williams 63′), Bloom (Hagglund 77′); Cheyrou (Babouli 46′), Bradley, Johnson (Chapman 68′); Osorio, Giovinco, Endoh (Lovitz 78′).

Scoring Summary
PHI – C.J. Sapong, 60′

Discipline Summary
TOR – Michael Bradley (caution, foul) 33′
TOR – Mark Bloom (caution, foul) 38′
TOR – Drew Moor (caution, foul) 79′


  1. Yeah, it’s preseason, but you can see the difference already. This quality of depth, overall, did not exist before. What a difference three months makes.

    • azog d'filer says:


    • I still don’t have huge hopes, but only in the sense that I’m keeping expectations in check. But yeah, you can see better quality all over the field this year.
      If Curtin can get them to keep their shape a little better from the jump, this will be a fun year.
      *All opinions to be revisited after Dallas.

  2. Hoping Marquez, Barnetta, and Gaddis are all OK to go next weekend.

    • Gaddis is never going to be as good as Rosenberry. How do people not realize this?

    • Darth Harvey says:

      Agree on two outta three

      I have thought this about Gaddis since the beginning of last season…”thanks but no thanks”

      no offense, can’t jump, gets beat back shoulder, overly reliant on speed…. but I’m told he’s a good 1v1 defender.

      thank you for your service Raymo… you were a good soldier during a war being fought with toothpicks against tanks, but the union are trying to step into the 21st century.

    • You gotta love Ray like we loved Danny Cruz.
      Not the highest of quality in the technical ability, but above and beyond in the effort category.

      As the quality of the game continues to improve, those outside defenders NEED to progress with their touch. Rosenberry seems to be the manifestation of this for the union.

  3. old soccer coach says:

    I would suggest that we saw the starting lineup for the Dallas game. Curtin’s comment to the sideline reporter emphasized getting the Union players to 90 minutes of conditioning, and everyone but Ilsinho played the full game. It seems to me you do that with the side that is going to have to play ninety against Dallas.
    Peter Andrews has paid better attention than I, having noticed minor knocks for Barnetta and Marquez. I am grateful for the information.
    The two observations I would add are that the Union’s pace and pressure, from minute one to minute sixty-five or seventy, was clearly superior to Toronto’s and it protected the defence effectively, together with the corollary that when they wore down Toronto become dangerous. The second point was that Ilsinho was effective against an MLS defense; Red Bulls pressure threw him off, but it has done so to many other players and sides.
    Vincent Nogueira was ranging far forward into the attack with much more frequency than in past seasons, effectively in my judgment. His range and energy are phenomenal.
    Brian Carroll is picking up his game, but the pace and precisiion are really stretching him to his limits.
    It looks as though improvisational position shifting will not be the first response to an emerging situation that is less than nominal. Instead, the next man in the supporting rank will step in. That’s a significant change. It both makes the assumption that they are able to do so, and it forces the personnel people to produce a roster that meets the assumption, a real challenge working within a salary cap.
    Last thought. In the scrimmage earlier this morning for 60 minutes against Montreal, with a back line of Missimo, Gaddis, Akinyode and Washington (I am assuming that Gaddis and Akinyode were the center backs) they kept a clean sheet. That’s four in a row since Espindola’s PK in the preseasoner against DC. Conclusive? by no stretch! Hopeful? perhaps cautiously so.

  4. Mickey Goldmill says:

    You were my eyes and ears folks… sounds like the team is playing a better brand of football which is all I can ask.
    I’m ready.
    As the season kicks off anew… el Pachyderm signing off.
    Look at me I’m stickin’ with the Union. Look at me I’m stickin’ with the Union. Till the day I die.

    • “The worst thing that happened to you, that can happen to any fighter: you got civilized.” (Mickey Goldmill)

    • old soccer coach says:

      Thank you, Hopkins, MD, for explaining enough of the Mickey Goldmill reference so that those who know nothing of it can have a vague understanding instead of blank wall incomprehension.
      We will miss the righteous trumpet of the Mighty Elephant laying waste to the jungle of incompetence and ignorance. May the watering holes be overflowing and the browsing beyond lush!

      • Made me smile. By the way, I’ve always enjoyed your writing and historical perspective. Always thoughtful. Thank you, sir.

    • old soccer coach says:

      It was a better brand on the particular day. There were only flashes of it here and there against NYRB high- pressure-cum-ankle-chopping. And I agree with Peter Andrews that Toronto was underwhelming.
      Understandably, for presumed reasons of convenience and expense, we do not train in preseason against Western Conference sides. Dallas away will teach us quite a bit about what we have, as will Seattle away on April 16th. This season we get to see for ourselves against the Galaxy.

  5. New to commenting on this page, but have enjoyed reading it for a while. An interesting and encouraging thought to me…

    Initially was very perplexed that supposed major contributors like Barnetta / Marquez / Gaddis seem to not be getting a lot of time these past few matches, but the “minor knocks” would explain that, and depending on how they recover and get fit, maybe this really was quite close to the starting lineup against Dallas. It would be unfortunate to see them start without Barnetta especially, as well as Marquez and Gaddis, but then I realized:

    This team still looked very functional and competitive without three major contributors on the field. They didn’t seem to struggle with their absence that much. You still saw a pretty nice, coherent system going on. How different is that from last year when you missed one, two, or more big players and it just seemed to fall to pieces.. Pretty much the whole time.. Always this sense of dread that we were one injury from…well not gaining the momentum that we never really had..

    It’s early, but you just see depth, depth, depth. It feels like each player on this roster you can count on to make a solid contribution. Did not have anywhere close to that feeling last year where there seemed to be just so many poor patches to ugly holes. That’s a good thing! Am I overstating it a bit? Possibly Earnie-Euphoria. We’ll see where it leads. To me, nothing but good signs, just a matter of timing being unknown.

    Thanks for the enjoyable stuff all.

    • Welcome! Glad you commented. Yes, my thoughts, too.
      A plan and depth assembled to the plan make good company.

      • Thanks! Yup, when you think about it, you can’t really have depth without a plan. If there’s no plan, it’s just a bunch of parts thrown together.

        Need to make “In Earnie We Trust” a tifo this year

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Please don’t! It reminds some of us of the “In Nowak We Trust” mantra of a few years ago.

  6. Well the preseason comes to its end! Thanks to all the PSP staff and the comenters to this site for making it bearable. All the best to you all for the up coming season. I’ll miss Pachy…but hope Micky will rant on in his place! That guy loves an under dog!!

  7. Say it so Elephant?! Hopefully Mickey up to the task 🙂
    Union did well today. Excited for Sunday vs Dallas. So happy the season is back!!

  8. Someone please remind Andre Blake about the six second rule. We get the Geiger Show week 1.

  9. My first and main thought… Man it feels good to have a keeper who can steal games for us. I can’t wait to watch him grow and dominate, very exciting. Plus he’s our own, and young.
    Does anyone know what the deal is with Alberg? I was really looking forward to him but he seems to be slightly out of favor.
    We seem to have many many midfielders, and Le Toux will be the default backup to Sapping/Herbers, but will all 8 defenders be on the roster or will anyone of these guys start the year at BSFC?

    • old soccer coach says:

      We share that curiosity about how the BSFC connection will work, Great One. That particular poor horse has been beaten several times by me, so I won’t do it again.
      All eight defenders ARE on the roster as per the MLS website last night 48 hours before roster compliance day.
      The real question is how fluid is the flow between the two teams. Our first real opportunity to learn anything for ourselves is to go down to the stadium a week from right now (Sunday AM) and watch BSFC scrimmage Syracuse (I assume) University’s spring program side, driving like bats from Hades to get home for the Union game. I would guess that if we see players like Yaro and Washington appear in that game at the beginning, it is strongly suggestive that Jim Curtin and Brendan Burke believe there is a way for players to play some games with BSFC without becoming unavailable for duty with the Union when necessary. If such players do not appear at all, it will suggest that the teams are quite separated. If they appear at the end in garbage time for conditioning and game filler, conclusions will be less strongly supported, but lean towards the “quite separate” pole of the potential dichotomy.
      I hope I manage to get there.

      • I agree regarding fluidity. Something struck me as tribbett having to sign again with the union as being a little weird. If the movement was free flowing, could he not have stayed on BSFC books?

      • My assumption there was that player movement back and forth must be easier and more fluid when in the form of loaning out a Union player, versus having to “acquire” a BSFC player when needed.

      • old soccer coach says:

        to Play in an MLS game after March 1st, by their roster rules as posted on their website, a player must be listed on an MLS roster. there is a throwaway reference to extreme hardship some where there that allows the inference that it is intended primarily for goal-keeper injuries.
        while making the analogy when being as ignorant of the rules controlling MLS-USL fluidity as I am is highly dangerous, when the Phillies bring up someone not on their 40 man roster from Lehigh Valley, they have to make space among the forty and they have to sign him to a major league contract. But if the player is on the forty-man roster and has a season left in which the option to move between the majors and the minors remains, he can come and go among the various clubs as desired, with the restriction that he cannot be called up and sent back down and called up a second time until ten days have passed..
        We will probably learn the rules through experience, as we all have for baseball. Those of us who trust the MLS head office to make it up as it goes along, changing to accomodate favorited ownership at all times (see Chicago Fire and Jermaine Jones)want to see things in writing, but written documents for the basis of newspaper reporting, lawsuits, and equal treatment under law. Heaven forfend that the Union be equal to the Revs and the Galaxy.

  10. Was happy Sapong managed to score. We’re going to need a lot more of that.
    I have been concerned about not seeing Barnetta or Alberg. But as said by many here, the depth this team has this season is a nice change from last year.
    Agree that Brian Carroll seems stretched to his limit. There’s no way Barnetta is not a better open, so he must be injured.
    Looking forward to Game 1!

    • I favor Barnetta as well, but realistically they play different positions. All of our center mids seem to have been lumped into one pool even if they be 6’s 8’s or 10’s.

      Carroll doesn’t seem over matched to me. Just like before, don’t expect him to create ANY type of offense. But, he has been a great screen in front of the young back line, making interceptions and tackles in the middle of the park and playing the simple pass to facilitate some possession. Barnetta is a creator, not a defender (just a creator that isn’t NEARLY as defensively lazy as Maidana).

      Once the season starts, I’d love to have a 1 or 2 goal lead in the 70th, then bring BC off the bench to kill the game. He’s got a place in our squad still

    • old soccer coach says:

      That Brian Carroll is a back-up defensive center midfielder while Tranquillo Barnetta is one of the attacking ones and that Carroll played ahead of Barnetta, or Alberg, or Fernandes, all of whom are better soccer players than Carroll athletically and technically but perhaps not mentally, is why I draw the conclusion that improvisational position switching has been replaced by calling up the next player training in the particular spot.
      I would expect that if in turn #2 goes down, then we might see improvisational position switching by necessity, unless someone at BSFC is ready for promotion. Of course Warren Creavalle is showing himself to be a versatile substitute.
      This team is better equipped to handle three games in eight days with a West Coast Red Eye special in the middle.

    • Good points gonzhao and OSC. Makes sense. And yes, it’s nice the team is more than a man deep at almost every position.

  11. Lucky Striker says:

    Wow. Take a weekend off and come back to the demise of Mr. Ear Elephant.

    Never forget him……………

    • I suspect El P will return only if the conditions that spawned his initial appearance deteriorate to that point again.
      May it never happen.

    • the surly cantankerousness seemed not to befit the gentle nature of one of God’s noblest beasts.
      Vision. Philosophy. Plan.
      Culture of clever.
      Song remains the same….

      • old soccer coach says:

        Ah, the dulcet, though faraway, tones of an elephant trumpeting as he moves away through the jungle.
        I doubt that Roman legionnaires at the Crossing of the Trebbia, Lake Trasimene, or Cannae thought Hannibal’s Pachyderms gentle by the way. Nor earlier those who fought against Pyrrhus during his three wars earlier in the third century in Italy! They helped Pyrrhus win the first two, although he lost a lot of valuable mercenary hoplites doing so. Only in the third war at the battle of Beneventum did the Romans manage to negate the elephants as the ancient world’s equivalent of the battlefield tank.

  12. I have 3 major questions:

    -Wasn’t able to catch the first game of the preseason: what is the deal with alberg? I know a few here have asked about him, but i haven’t been able to find if he is expected to start/play.

    – I have seen some posts (and listened to nonsensical streaming commentators) suggest that Le Toux should/will be starting on the wing. Do people actually think this should be?

    – Not being able to catch the first game my last question goes to the back four. Minus a “minor knock” is Marquez actually projected to pair with Anderson? or should we expect Anderson/Tribbett? Same for the Gaddis/Rosenberry position.

    • – I think Fernandes beat Alberg out in training camp. Alberg might be first off the bench, at least early on.
      – No, le Toux shouldn’t be in the starting XI. He should play all the Open Cup games, spot starts when we need depth, and the last home game as a tribute.
      – I’d expect Rosenberry is starting Week 1. Not sure about center back — I think Marquez starts at Dallas, unless Curtin can put a leash on Tribbett and keep him from wandering off upfield.

      • Thanks for the response! I was in the dark with Alberg!

        As to your second two responses, i agree 100% My only question is: I feel like it would be easy to look at the pace of the Dallas wings and default to RG. I don’t think that would be beneficial considering to direction the club is going. This same reason is why i would think we will see Marquez: discipline and “experience” (i guess he has infinitely more experience at the MLS level proportionally to Tribbett at this point.) to help out the rookie in the wide slot.

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