The Marathon that is the MLS season begins for the Philadelphia Union (2016; 11-14-9, 42 Pts, 6th place Eastern Conference) on Sunday, fittingly with a cross country trip to face the Vancouver Whitecaps (10-15-9, 39 Pts, 8th place Western Conference). Union Head Coach Jim Curtin in his presser on Wednesday noted that the long trip would be a challenge, but because it is a Sunday game they will have an extra day of training out there. He also had this to say about the notorious BC Place pitch:
“Turf is turf. No one likes it. It’s awful for soccer.” He further said that he realizes it’s a reality of playing, but added that no one would be held out because of it.
The Union are 2-3-2 against the Whitecaps all time. In their only meting last season Vancouver ended the U’s home undefeated streak on June 25th, edging them 3-2.
In the off- season Vancouver acquired F Fredy Montero from Tianjin Teda of the Chinese Super League, on a season long loan. In his only other MLS stint with the Seattle Sounders (2009-2012), he netted 60 goals in 160 appearances. Montero is very good with the ball which sets up his excellent shot making. The Union D will have to mark him well at all times.
On the defensive end, the player to watch would be D Kendall Watson. Last season he made his first All-Star Game appearance, playing in 26 games for Vancouver. While putting up three goals and an assist during that time, it was his defense – seventh in the league in blocks with 21 and 153 clearances – that makes him an impact player.
Possible Union Starting XI:
The first game of the season is always the toughest to figure out as far as a lineup and prediction and Curtin gave a few clues as to his selections. He did mention MF Derrick Jones – the Union’s first ever “Home Grown” signing coming out of their academy, as well as being a local kid – saying that he would be “completely comfortable putting Derrick out there.” He also noted that MF Alejandro Bedoya would wear the Captain’s armband and that he and newly acquired MF Haris Medunjanin “have a real understanding of each other.” He added that Medunjanin “is our best passer. He’s the guy we want to start all of our attacks.” Curtin also said that F CJ Sapong and F Jay Simpson, a January “Discovery Signing”, were about even in training and it will be a hard decision as to which starts.
GK Andre Blake, D Richie Marquez, D Oguchi Onyewu, D Fabinho, D Keegan Rosenberry, MF Alejandro Bedoya (C), MF Ilsinho, MF Chris Pontius, MF Haris Medunjanin, MF Derrick Jones, F CJ Sapong
As noted above it is difficult to make a pick in the first game of the season, but I will take Curtin at his word when he said he felt like this team was ahead of last season as far as conditioning and being game ready, so I will drink the Blue and Gold kool-aid and say Union 2-1.
Some Ado about Edu: According to Curtin MF Maurice Edu is back jogging, not necessarily running. He noted that “he’s upset because he wanted to be a little further along but he had to be patient.”
Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Field Announced: The Union and four other area clubs, Harrisburg City Islanders, Reading United, Ocean City Nor’easters and Junior Lone Star FC, will be participating in the 104th US Open Cup starting May 4th. They are part of a modern era record 99 teams in the competition. The 19 MLS teams involved get a bye in the early rounds and will join in on June 14th.
Under 20’s Union News: “Homegrown” Media Pa born, Union D Auston Trusty, and the US Under 20 team qualified for the 2017 U20 World Cup, which will take place in South Korea in late May and early June, and advanced to the final of the CONCACAF U20 Championships with a 2-1 win over El Salvador on Friday night. Trusty started the game playing left back, but was not part of the scoring.
Union (and sometimes Bethlehem Steel FC) winger Eric Ayuk was named Man of the Match as he helped Cameroon stay alive in the AFCON Under 20 tournament. He scored a goal in the 51st minute. They need a win on Sunday against top seed Senegal to reach the knockout round. The top four teams of the tournament qualify for the 2017 U20 World Cup.