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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Missimo nutmegs his way to a memorable Union debut

Cole Missimo made his Union debut
Wednesday night against Crystal Palace.
The roar went up at Talen Energy Stadium just as Connor Wickham’s shoulders slumped.

Away scampered Cole Missimo, like a culprit from the scene of the crime, ball in his possession, along with a moment he won’t forget.

That nutmeg, Missimo slipping the ball through the legs of the Crystal Palace forward and recollecting it, presented one of the highlights for the rookie in his Philadelphia Union debut, a 0-0 draw in a friendly with the English Premier League side Wednesday night.

Missimo was one of three members of the Union to make debuts, joining fellow 2016 SuperDraft pick Taylor Washington and Union Academy product/Bethlehem Steel short-term loanee Derrick Jones. In a game generally bereft of memorable instances, Missimo provided one.

“I was a little worried because I thought it was Ray (Gaddis) who played it down the line to me and I don’t know what else I could’ve done with it because I don’t think I could’ve gone backwards with it,” Missimo said. “So I was just hoping I’d just put it around him, and I guess I got kind of lucky that I got by him. Pretty cool moment."

That passage of play was one of several that will stick with Missimo. The 64th pick in January’s SuperDraft from Northwestern played the second half with the reserves. He’s logged 12 games for Bethlehem Steel and twice been named as an unused sub by manager Jim Curtin.

Missimo has been among a group of reserves that Curtin has touted for their aid preparing first-teamers weekly in training, keeping regulars sharp and healthily fearing for their jobs under the pressure applied from the fringes. For whatever drawbacks posed by a midweek international date inserted between MLS dates with Eastern Conference foes, the chance to reward players like Missimo for their toils feels worthwhile.

“This is probably the biggest moment of my career, to be honest,” Missimo said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s what I’ve been working towards my whole life. So whether it’s an MLS game or an exhibition game, it doesn’t matter. It’s truly a special moment.”

It wasn’t all ceremony, as the reserves provided an entertaining if goalless affair. Walter Restrepo, a player Curtin is high on who can’t edge his way into the squad, was the principle animator of the first half, though he missed a couple of open opportunities.

In the second, Jones and Missimo combined to chisel out dangerous moments, working with Leo Fernandes, the only Union player to go all 90 minutes and owner of the only shot on target. More pertinent was the manner in which the Union replicated its mindset in each half, an indication of how ingrained Curtin’s training principles have become.

Though a goal wasn’t in the offing, Missimo displayed the positive traits Curtin praises, particularly his fearlessness to attack defenders in 1-v-1 situations, as Wickham can attest.

“Yeah, I think we started the second half, the first 15 minutes was excellent, really pressed well together,” Curtin said. “I thought Cole went in and went 1 vs. 1 a couple times and you saw some of the quality that he brings.”

Missimo’s awareness of the game deepens his appreciation Wednesday. Like many American soccer fans, the Dallas native’s rooting interests run deep, and the 23-year-old is part of a generation for whom access to Premier League soccer on television is the norm rather than a delicacy.

It’s no surprise, then, that the player who hung around to snap pictures of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard when he visited Chester with the L.A. Galaxy in May would be amped up by the prospect of sharing the pitch with EPL players.

“I was looking forward to Yohan Cabaye, but he wasn’t on the field today,” Missimo said, referencing the French midfielder recovering from participation in the European Championships. “But Wilfried Zaha, I remember watching him for a couple years now, so it’s pretty cool, especially being on the same side since I was on the right and he was on the left.”

Missimo has waited longer than he would’ve wanted to make his Union debut, for sure. But the manner in which his Union curtain-raiser arrived for Missimo makes it special nonetheless.

“It’s a dream come true and it’s so special,” he said. “We’ve been working for the last six months now, and to be able to finally put that shirt on in an awesome game against an English Premier League team that I’ve been watching for years now, that’s a special moment.”

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