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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Union 1-2 Red Bulls: Preseason observations

For all intents and purposes, the Union’s real preseason started off Tuesday with its 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls in what appeared to be miserable Jacksonville, Fla.

Though the Union ended up on the wrong side of the ledger thanks to goals by Lloyd Sam and this Henry guy, they enjoyed the better of play of large stretches. They also made wholesale changes at halftime, giving us a good sneak preview into the potential depth chart of John Hackworth. A few observations:

- Here’s the lineup that started:
Maidana-Nogueira -Cruz
Note the arrangement at left back with Fabinho ahead of Ray Gaddis, and I think Richie Marquez’s nod indicates his place in the center back depth chart (though I wasn’t terribly impressed with his play, with the Red Bulls first team scoring both goals). In terms of formation, it seemed like Maurice Edu was pretty deep lying, making it more a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-1-2-3 with he and Vincent Nogueira in the center. There was also plenty of interchange between those midfielders drifting in and out.

-The Union’s only goal was a bit weird, scored by Jack McInerney on an indirect free kick in the box drawn by, to the best of my knowledge from a broadcaster-less web stream, Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles holding the ball too long. A la Michael Farfan vs. Chivas last year, Nogueira laid a ball off to McInerney, who blistered a cold-blooded shot into the net.

- One consequence of this new arrangement, however it shakes out, is that the Union seem more committed to maintaining high pressure. With the defensive ability of Brian Carroll and Edu to put out fires in the midfield, that frees the front-runners, including Cristian Maidana and Nogueira, to pressure the back four on the ball. How well this arrangement works with the Union’s tenuous central defense is somewhat dubious.

- I’ll say this and take heat for it, but I don’t care: I think Danny Cruz could have a drastically improved season. Last year, he was being asked to be the playmaker with the ball in his feet, either running at defenders or providing pinpoint crosses from the wing. That didn’t seem to be his game. This season, with the playmaking burden occupied by the club’s trio of new additions, he’s free to run off the ball, opening and exploiting gaps in the back four, which I think is more in his wheelhouse. That may require more finishing than we saw last season, though.

- The Union’s pieces have only been together on the order of days, not months or even weeks. And it showed Wednesday. Their movement was good, they looked dangerous and started fast, but the final connections were severely lacking, as is to be expected. The potential is certainly there, and you could see glimmers of Hackworth’s new style of play shining through.

- The lineup for the second half:
Bone-Ribeiro-Le Toux
The front six is a little difficult to peg. Keon Daniel was the holding midfielder, Leo Fernandes and Corben Bone were active in interchanging through the midfield and Pedro Ribeiro was often the most advanced player.

- Hackworth took pains to point out earlier this offseason that he was grateful for not having to play players out of position as in years past. And then Aaron Wheeler debuts at center back. Not sure where Kevin Cope was in this mix, but in all the discussions about defenders this offseason, Wheeler’s name hasn’t come up once. Interesting.

- It was clear that Fernandes would have to up his game if he wanted a spot on this team. He appears to have done that. He had a couple of dangerous chances and drew a big free kick in the second half, looking pretty active among the attackers.

- Andre Blake looks like a pro goalie. He made a very assertive intervention in the 63rd minute to rush off his line and break down a move, then an impressive double save in the 83rd to preserve a one-goal deficit. He wasn’t tested by the Red Bulls A squad, but against the second team, he asserted himself pretty well.

- Time to talk about Ribeiro: It seemed like every time in the second half a chance was created and the question of who generated it cropped up, the answer was Ribeiro. He showed touch and strength on the ball, and he not only created a few chances for himself but set up at least one other clear-cut opportunity squandered by Sebastien Le Toux’s loose first touch in the box. Overall, a quality showing.

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