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Stock rising/falling: Union 2-2 Swansea City

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Union eased out of a Gold Cup-induced midseason break with a friendly match against Swansea City on Saturday night.

Jim Curtin used entirely different lineups for each half, handed Union debuts to four players, and generally treated the match like a training exercise.

That’s almost certainly the right approach. But it does limit what takeaways we can conclude as observers. It was a disjointed match against a lower-table Premier League side early in their preseason — it would be surprising to see many changes going forward as a result of Saturday night.

Throat-clearing complete, let’s take a look at some players who impressed — or failed to — against the Swans.

Stock rising

Organizational depth. Jim Curtin began his press conference by discussing the entire evening for the organization, his voice shaking somewhat with emotion. Alejandro Bedoya picked up two assists for the USMNT while Andre Blake captained his Jamaica side, almost the entire Union roster got minutes against Swansea, and shorthanded Bethlehem Steel earned a point while handing debuts to three young players. It is a testament to how far the organization has come in a little over two years. When Nick Sakiewicz ran the team, the Academy was barely operational, and Steel was just a gleam in ownership’s eyes. Progress is slow, and not always steady, but you could begin to see the full picture coming into focus on Saturday night.

Anthony Fontana. The Academy player, just 17, earned his first minutes with the Union — and showed why he had earned them. Playing in central midfield, Fontana showed some good touches, a willingness to run at the defense, and fearlessness in ripping one on goal from just outside the 18.  In preseason, Curtin said, Fontana was a sort of “mascot” for the team, but the youngster impressed all season and got his reward on Saturday night. He’s a player to watch as his development continues over the next decade. Let me also be the first to suggest that the kid go by “Tony Fontana” when he finally signs with the senior team.

Jay Simpson. The backup striker notched his first goal since March, latching onto a good through ball from Ilsinho and using his second touch to hit it across the keeper and into the net. It was the goal of the night. Simpson showed good skill in holdup play, got into dangerous positions around the box, and tracked back to provide defensive work. As Curtin observed after the match, the Union will need players like Simpson to step up when called upon in the second half of the season, and getting back on the scoresheet can only boost his confidence.

Marcus Epps. The winger did well to earn an early penalty for the Union, joining Roland Alberg on a well-executed attack and using his shiftiness to draw a clumsy foul. Epps is still very raw and — frankly — is playing more minutes than he probably deserves this year, but plays like that show flashes of his potential. With Fabian Herbers still sidelined and Chris Pontius’s Make A Wish stint with the USMNT continuing into the knockout rounds, Epps may be in line to make his first MLS start at some point along the Union’s upcoming road trip.

Others. Auston Trusty made his debut! C.J. Sapong scored a penalty! Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry are still alive! Aaron Jones is, apparently, a right back! There were a lot of good, low-key individual moments on Saturday night, pleasing a solid crowd listed at over 16,000.

Stock falling

Jake McGuire. The rookie keeper has seen time at Bethlehem Steel this season as an understudy’s understudy. Making his first appearance with the senior team, McGuire flashed solid shot–stopping skills, something that usually translates at any level. But he looked suspect on balls into the box, flapping wildly at some set pieces and leading to scrums just yards away from the goal. Both Swansea goals came as the result of set pieces that were not cleared after the first ball in. McGuire may develop into a solid keeper, but for now he needs more seasoning at the USL level.

Charlie Davies. Handed his first first-team minutes of 2017 at the unfamiliar left wing position, Davies didn’t make much of an impact in the second half. He did well to latch onto the end of an outstanding cross by Ilsinho, but his header found only the Swansea keeper. Otherwise, Davies did little to touch the ball, as Philadelphia preferred to attack through the energetic Ilsinho on the right wing. Third on the striker depth chart — and fifth or sixth on the winger depth chart — Davies didn’t show much to indicate that he deserves more playing time. Earnie Stewart likely wishes he had his 2018 first round Superdraft pick instead of the declining striker.

Swansea City. Outside of the excellently named “Angel Rangel” and “Mike van der Hoom,” it was tough to get excited about a lower-table Premier League side short their one star player. Other than a spell late in the first half, they didn’t dominate the Union. Bonus points, however, for paying homage to the great Sebastien Le Toux with their kit sponsor, “Le Tou.”


  1. I think there is way too much “lower tier” talk about Swansea. Any team that plays in the BPL is a world class team, IMO. I don’t think a mid-tier MLS team should be disappointed to play any of them. Are we seriously only supposed to play Chelsea or Tottenham?

    • To be clear, I have no problem with the Union playing lower-table PL sides, and I didn’t suggest the Union should be “disappointed.” Swansea just weren’t that impressive on the night, and I think it’s fair to describe a team that went through three managers and finished 15th out of 20 last season as “lower-table.”

    • Zizouisgod says:

      I understand and agree with your general point, but you are clearly not using the term “world class” correctly.

    • Just curious, did you happen to see any of the match?

      • I did. It’s a preseason friendly. Not sure what was supposed to happen. Were we supposed to lose 7-1? Would that then validate Swansea as a good side? Peter explained his point to my satisfaction, and I explained mine, which was simply that too many people are finding it necessary to devalue Swansea due to how they finished last year. They’re still in the BPL, and would surely beat the Union in September five times out of five.

  2. pragmatist says:

    I haven’t seen him play yet, but I love the Tony Fontana idea. Fantastic. The tifos paint themselves…

    • Tim Jones says:

      Unless perhaps his father has already put Tony Fontana into use at home. I have no idea, have never met the family, etc., but as I ready Peter’s idea there may be a good reason why not, and that popped into my mind.

  3. Tim Jones says:

    Fontana had an extended absence from the Steel for a few months, after their preseason scrimmage against Temple until sometime last month I think.
    He is a teenager, and at the time was a high school junior, so I did not question his absence much at all. Respect for privacy, adolescence, etc.
    The one inquiry I made I asked coach Burke if he could assure us that it was not a concussion, and coach assured me it was not.
    WE do not know if it was even an injury or injury-related. School, family, personal are all possible categories.
    There was an uptick in the Union’s play when Tribbett, Fontana and Najem were all on the field together in the central channel. It may well be that Swansea legs were gone after all. But I do note that those three have played together in those positions plus James Chambers at least one start for the Steel (I do not think Fontana went 90, but that is memory and needs verification.)

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