Preseason / Union

Stock rising/falling: Union 1-0 Rowdies

Photo: Paul Rudderow

With many players carrying over from their NASL team, it’s likely the Tampa Bay Rowdies are going to be a force to be reckoned with in USL, but the gap between levels of the North American soccer pyramid was still very obvious as the Union always looked like they were going to win their first match of the 2017 Rowdies Suncoast Invitational.

Granted, the 1-0 scoreline isn’t quite as definitive as one would like, but it was clear that Jim Curtin picked his lineup with a focus on getting a real look at certain players rather than pushing hard for a win — which is what preseason is for, finding out who is ready for first team minutes and who might need to spend some time with Bethlehem Steel before being seriously considered.

So who impressed, and who needs to keep working? Obviously, we can’t know what Jim Curtin is thinking, but there certainly were a few players who increased their value with this game, while a few others still have work left to do.


Haris Medunjanin

He’s been heralded as the replacement for Vincent Nogueira, but in the public’s first real look at the Bosnian international wearing Union colors, he showed himself to be so much more than that. In just 45 minutes of playing time he supplied the long connecting passes that made Nogueira a crucial part of the Union’s success early in 2016, and he was also providing more defensive support than the Frenchman ever did.

Ray Gaddis

All Day Ray is likely going to struggle to find minutes again this year, but he still put in solid work for the first half of this game. This should silence any fears that the Union are in trouble if Rosenberry isn’t able to repeat his “every minute of every game” performance again this year. Paired with his left side/right side versatility, he’s of serious value as a depth player, though it’s hard not to think that he might deserve more than that.

Adam Najem

The Red Bull Academy product doesn’t appear to be MLS-ready, but he showed himself to be more prepared for the professional game than MLS draftees the same age. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he’d find playing time in the crowded Union midfield, but Bethlehem will be lucky to have him, and the experience could make him into a very valuable acquisition in the years to come.


The announcers should have consulted a pronunciation guide, and the stadium looked like, felt like, and is a converted baseball stadium. But as cheesy as the constant reminders of the Rowdies’ MLS intentions were, they honestly convinced me that it was an expansion bid worth taking very seriously. On top of that, Ralph’s Mob could probably teach some MLS supporters groups a thing or two, considering how vocal their support was at a preseason game for their recently-moved-to-USL team.


Jack Elliott

If Najem showcased how accomplished the MLS academy system has become, Elliott showcased how far many Superdraft players have to go before they’re ready for serious MLS minutes. He didn’t play particularly poorly. In fact, it was obvious he put a lot of thought into his positioning and deserved the time he had on the field Saturday night. But more than a few times, he got caught with the ball at his feet and was quickly dispossessed by a Rowdies player. He could turn out to be a great player, but there’s a lot of work left to do before he can be expected to break into a regular Union rotation.

Derrick Jones

It feels unfair to say this about the man who scored the only goal of the night, but the reality is that goal was more allowed by the Rowdies keeper Akira Fitzgerald than it was scored by Jones. Outside that instance of right-place right-time, he showed himself to need a lot of polish, with sloppy passing and overall poor ball control. This isn’t to say it’s time to give up on Jones. It could be that the nerves of his appearance in a Union uniform prevented him from playing at his best. But he’s got a lot to prove in the next few preseason games if he doesn’t want to spend most of this season still in Bethlehem.

C.J. Sapong

If any Union player needed a statement game it was C.J. Sapong, and he failed to impress in his 45 minutes on the field. Charlie Davies and Jay Simpson are obviously gunning for his spot, and having watched a fair bit of him at St. Pauli, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fafa Picault pushing for playing time there as well. With those wolves at the door, Sapong never posed a serious threat on goal, and the hold up play for which he’s been so rightly praised didn’t even make an appearance this game. It’s indisputable that he’s an asset to the team when he’s on his game, but now that there are several viable alternatives, it’s not clear why the Union should wait for him when he’s off.


  1. Honestly, I have to say that I was much more impressed with Fontana then Najem.

    • Fontana has impressed me the last 2 games. I think the Union are going to be offering him a homegrown spot very soon. Dude seems ready to play at MLS level already. It’s a beautiful thing.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        The “go-no go” date on a Fontana home grown player decision is roughly August 1st, the date NCAA fall programs begin.
        I do not know his college plans.
        They could move sooner than that, but I am not aware of reasons why they might need to do so.
        The roster size rumors about 28 no longer being immutable in conjunction with homegrown players needs to resolve for something to happen now.

      • Unless he’s better than the players we have and we want him getting minutes sooner. He looks to me (in way to short amount of viewing) to be a super-sub already.

    • I was looking more for what I’d see from Najem, but then I saw a blast on goal from a No. 29 and was like, “Who wears 29?” Then I realized it was Fontana. Now they both have my interest.

    • Totally agree with you, CPFeif. I thought the same thing when I compared their two shifts.

  2. Wijnaldum showed well.

  3. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Weds. Night, v Montreal.
    1. Any good rumors about a live stream?
    2. Blake; Rosenberry, Onyewu, Marquez, Fabinho; Medunjanin, Bedoya; Ilson, Jr., Alberg, Pontus; Simpson

    • All three of the scheduled preseason games will be streamed. Check the Union site or the Tampa Bay Rowdies Youtube channel.

  4. I’m not sure what Ray demonstrated in that game that would result in his stock rising. I do not think he attempted a forward pass or cross in the entire game. He passed it back to Elliot nearly every time he got the ball – even if he was under no pressure whatsoever.

  5. Does anyone else find it disturbing that Edu’s name is virtually non-existent, when he has the skills to push the midfield a notch higher than Alberg? Edu takes 6 or 8 with Haris or bedoya to 10.
    It makes the central defense stronger at every level, assuming the man’s not in a wheelchair.

    • I think we’ve stopped discussing him since he hasn’t played a first team game in over a year. Yes, 1 year ago he had undeniable talent. But we have no clue what we’re going to get from him when he’s finally able to return. It makes little to no sense to focus on someone who will likely not be able to play a full 90 until at least a month into the season. Plan to play without him, then whatever we do get is a pure bonus.
      I also found it somewhat difficult to judge either Najem or Fontana since neither even played a full half.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Yeah it’s definitely a must to see Edu actually play a game first… or hell RUN AROUND… before we begin to even talk about him the starting XI. If he gets there though, we might have the best spine of any team in the league.

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