Union match reports

Preseason friendly: Philadelphia Union 5-1 University of South Florida

Marcus Epps scored against his alma mater and Bethlehem Steel defender Olivier Mbaizo notched two assists as Philadelphia Union ran away from University of South Florida 5-1 Tuesday evening.

In his club’s second preseason match of 2018, Jim Curtin began with John McCarthy in net behind Fabinho, Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty, and recent Steel signing Mbaizo. Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, and Adam Najem played through the center, with Ilsinho and David Accam wide and C.J. Sapong up front.

Mbaizo, a 20-year old Cameroonian who stands 5′ 10″ and can play at either fullback position, provided the helper for Sapong to open the scoring in the third minute. Mbaizo’s low cross from the right was turned in at the near post by the Union’s big target man, who slipped the ball just between the post and the goalie.

The match remained 1-0 when Curtin sent on a mass of substitutes in the 33rd minute, but only because McCarthy came up with a number of key saves.

The subs were as follows: Jake McGuire stepped between the posts for McCarthy, with Keegan Rosenberry, Richie Marquez, and Mark McKenzie all taking over in back. Mbaizo moved from right back to the left to accommodate Rosenberry’s entrance. Warren Creavalle, Derrick Jones, and Anthony Fontana became the new central trio flanked by Marcus Epps and Fabian Herbers, while Sapong gave way to Corey Burke at the tip of the spear.

Burke was immediately active, earning a penalty in the 39th minute. Fabian Herbers’ spot kick was saved, however, so USF remained within a goal.

That wasn’t good enough for Mbaizo. Playing on the left in the 44th minute, he cut onto his right and picked out Herbers with a low pass to the penalty spot. The attacker, who spent much of last season on the injured list, cut in front of the defense and finished near post with his left, earning Mbaizo his second assist of the night in the process.

Philly could not hold the two-goal lead until halftime, though, with USF picking up a set piece goal off a late corner kick.

The first 15 minutes of the second half were messy, but after Ray Gaddis replaced Rosenberry in the 61st minute the Union started to wear down South Florida.

Epps provided the inspiration, cutting through the left channel and using a hesitation move to beat his defender and finish far post with his left in the 69th.

Three minutes later, Burke laced a grasscutter from just outside the box on the left that was too hot for the South Florida goalie to handle, securing Philly a comfortable 4-1 lead.

Burke finished the match off in the 82nd when he knocked in a classy angled cross behind the defense from Gaddis.

The final match of Philly’s first preseason foray into Florida takes place on Thursday, February 8, at 11:00 am.


  1. wow, i love that even in preseason friendlies we play the exact same formation, then use the excuse to never change it that our team isn’t like Man Utd. Could we at least spend some time trying 2 up top? PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE!

  2. Bro the two striker formation is dead everywhere. Is there even more than 2-3 teams in MLS that use it more than sometimes?

    • well, lets see Bro, Toronto FC, who just happened to win it all played 2 up top. they do a 3-4-1-2. Or i’d settle for a 4-3-3 like columbus. Common theme here is 1 up top is dead.

      • How is the 4-2-3-1 different than a 4-3-3 especially with our wing players? Other than drastic changes, like 3 in the back, it’s just numbers on a page.

      • Pete Mazzaccaro says:

        There’s flexibility in how a 4-3-3 shapes up. 4-2-3-1 really emphasizes that #10 play maker in the middle with the L and R mids getting forward. You can invert the pyramid with a 4-3-3, with a controlling, defensive mid behind two other midfielders higher up the pitch to attack. Think of the way City uses it with Fernadinho being the more controlling, defensive mid behind DeBruyne and Silva. I think 4-3-3 also suggests a more attack-minded front 3 with a more controlling midfield. In the long run, they are just numbers on the page, but I think there’s a bit of an understood difference

      • The 433 and 4231 are interchangeable more than ever these days. The key to distinguishing them – if you really need to – is in the flexibility of the midfielders. If you are using two guys to fairly consistently protect the back four, you’re going to look like a 4231, if you are coming out more and pressuring the ball in the attacking/central thirds of the field, you won’t see the double pivot sitting in as much, and you’d be more likely to call it a 433.

        For the Union, the big issue with playing two strikers is that it pulls a player out of midfield or out of defense. Maybe in the past, you could argue that the goalscoring acumen you’d get from a second striker would be worth the defensive risk-taking, but now that wingers are carrying so much of the scoring load, adding a second striker probably carries far higher risks than potential benefits for the Union.

        So much of the game now is either controlling or clogging up the middle, so pulling a mid out for a striker means you could be exposing yourself to constant 2v3s in the middle, which is very risky. The potential benefit – another body in the box – is only there if you can consistently move the ball out of the back and up the wings to cross it in, or if you can play long and have the strikers work together. Either way, you’re probably only feeling good about it if the striker you bring on has great hold-up ability (I think Dallas/Vancouver did this with Blas Perez in the past, and the U did it with Dread Pirate Casey).

        The Union don’t have that striker right now, so instead of adding Simpson to the mix, what you’ll likely see when they’re chasing a game is something like throwing on an attack-minded winger and asking them to hustle-butt into the box so they can perform that second striker role, or you ask the 10 to play closer to the striker so he can collect balls that are knocked down.

        The TOR point is a good one, but a huge part of their success was using strikers that continually dropped deep and vacated typical striker areas so their mobile mids could run into those spaces. Again, not the type of guys Philly has on hand up top right now, unfortunately.

      • Yeah, that’s what I mean though. It’s really all about whoevever we put out there. It’s going to be a 4-2-3-1 but it’s going to play how we put the players out there. Honestly with Alberg out there last year we basically played a 2 forward setup.

      • @ A. – yeah, you’re dead on. Alberg functioned as a second striker at times in how he looked to play higher and link transitions (whether those were his instructions or not is another question), then he’d hang near the edge of the box where he was such an asset with that cannon.

    • The two striker formation doesn’t need to be something they start with, but when the Union is down a goal (or two, or three), it would be good to practice with two guys up top to change up the point of attack.

      For as much hell that Jay Simpson gets, he wasn’t the guy for a one-striker formation. If they train with a two striker formation, it would be really interesting to see if CJ and Jay could effectively leverage each others skill set.

      • Exactly, why we are so committed to our current formation I will never know. Every team knows to just squeeze CJ up top and the attack gets stifled. So fair point Jon, at least practice various options on the off chance we actually try to make an in game formation adjustment when down a goal or two.

    • That’s because Alberg, who probably played 4-2-3-1 often in the Eirdevise, understood that the middle player or 10 if you will in the three set…….is actually called a withdrawn striker, not a O Mid. The idea between the target striker and the withdrawn striker in the 4-2-3-1 is to constantly flip positions. If your target striker drops in between the levels to receive a ball, the withdrawn striker plays high to still give you length. Second, the double pivot is crucial in a 4-2-3-1, as mentioned above, to create a “no go” box between the pivots and two CBs. You concede the flanks slightly to create the strong interior. 4-3-3 is a different animal. And lastly, as mentioned above……the best thing about the 4-2-3-1 is its ability to slide into a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 if the situation calls for it. And yes, there are still clubs that rock a 4-4-2 to great success….Athleti comes to mind right away.

      • Yeah I agree with all of that. But that’s exactly why they like the 4-2-3-1 as their base formation. You can shift it into many different looks really easily with very minor tweaks. That’s why i said unless we are going to run something totally different, like 3 in the back it’s just semantics. We can shift into a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3- or a 4-2-4 pretty easily. It’s really just a matter of who you have out there in a couple of spots (biggest being the 10) on what the formation actually plays like.

      • Yup

    • Heard of Leicester? They won the primer league 2 years ago with it and Toronto won MLS this year with it. You could make a case that Chelsea won EPL last year too with it playing Hazard acting as withdrawn second striker.
      If the Union don’t get a true #10, I would love to see them go to a 3-5-2 with Rosenberry running one flank as a wingback and Fafa complementing Sapong up top.

      • I hope you mean Accam and not Fafa. Also, a 3-5-2 is going require a 10 as well so I don’t see how that is going help anything other than the potential logjam at CB.

      • Obviously we all want a real #10 brought in…but what I am saying is that if they do not do that and stick with existing personnel, I think that the 3-5-2 is more suited to who they have. Takes defensive pressure off Rosenberry and the SunRocket, provides width through the midfield and would allow Medunjanin, Bedoya and Accam to work the triangle in the middle with CJ up top to hold play up and Fafa up top as speed threat. If you think Fafa and Accam should be switched based on their skill set that is fine. I just don’t believe that we will ever be successful in the existing formation with Ilson as #10. Nor do I believe bring in BSFC #10 is the answer.

  3. Was Jay Simpson hurt? I noticed he didn’t play.

    • I think he may be stashed in Bethlehem until his contract goes away.

      • If that were the intent the Steel would not have signed Brandon Allen I would think.
        Brendan Burke said last fall that he thought this year’smSteel Team might be even younger than last’s, so a,29 year-old striker would contradict that narrative.
        Allen himself is one of the oldest on the Steel at the moment at 24. There was a 25 year-old trialist in camp last week. Do not know whether he is still there.
        in a couple of weeks I’ll have a better idea of the organization’s intentions because there will be a lot more preseason decisions available to analyze.

      • Chambers is oldest on the Steel, but then Allen is second-oldest right now at 24, along with Santi Moar. |

  4. Why do the Union now show all of their highlights in slow motion?

  5. The players who were not reported as seeing action on the twitter feed and in everything else I have found so far were:

    Fafa Picault
    Andre Blake
    Matt Real
    Erik Ayuk
    Jay Simpson
    Brenden Aaronson (Academy)
    Michael Pellegrino (Academy)
    Tomas Romero (Academy)
    Omar Castro (trialist)
    As you think about thinks, recall they have a scrimmage 38 hours after last night’s event tomorrow, and were playing about 80 hours after everybody went 45 on Saturday midday.
    So any type of nick was not worth the risk last night, and 33 Minutes for the first group reflects they will very likely get a lot more minutes tomorrow morning. And the youngsters are still having their engines built more than the adults.
    Oh, and of course Chicago should be a tougher opponent than USF with no disrespect meant to USF.

  6. Does it bother anyone else that the defender we signed for Steel seems to have more playmaking skill than our first team mids lol?

  7. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Playmaking from the flank against a college team playing out of season it the basis of the data from which you draw your conclusions of course.
    If he gets two assists against Chicago, … .
    As I have commented elsewhere on the site today, I like what I’ve seen so far but information is way too sparse to form considered opinions yet.

    • My comment was meant mostly as a joke (thus, the “lol”), and a little bit of frustration-venting. Of course, your points are 100% spot on. It’s a friendly against a college team and tells us nothing.

  8. At least we handily won. In previous scrimmages, this would have been a 1-1 result. :/

  9. Was that a tutorial by USF on how ” not to defend in 1v1 situations”? You give someone that much space……sheesh. Just wreaks of fear………..

    • Not only are the almost certainly playing afraid against MLS, but I bet their coach warned them that if they hurt a Union player they’d get their off-campus housing privileges revoked or something.

  10. So, no #10, relying on Ilsinho and Adam who? as our playmakers.


    We’ll see.

    Our roster looks more like a USL squad with all the under 20 year olds… but we’ll see.

    9 seasons… attended every game, and many away games.

    We’ll see………………………………………………………………………..
    No playoffs again in 2018.
    Just par for the course of this USL run team.

    Philadelphia deserves better.
    We’ll see.

  11. Can we add the FC on the end of Bethlehem Steel? great stuff

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