In this Edition of Doop Roundup: Philadelphia move into the last stage of their preseason. After three preseason scrimmages over the past week concluded Philadelphia Union’s first of two training camp sessions in sunny Clearwater, Florida. Bethlehem Steel FC gear up for the beginning of their 2018 USL preseason this afternoon.
Preseason games mean most for fringe players
The preseason may seem a bit frivolous to some. But for others, it is a period of make or break plays that determine the fate of the entire season that lies ahead. For MLS veterans like Alejandro Bedoya, the MLS preseason is simply an opportunity to kick the rust off the boots while learning how to gel best with teammates and coaching staff alike. Nothing more, nothing less.
But for players like Brendan Aaronsen, Michael Pellegrino, and Tomas Romero – the MLS preseason is a chance for Union Academy players to shine and prove their worth. Aaronsen, Pellegrino, and Romero all suited up for Bethlehem Steel FC last season and all three hope to do more of the same in 2018. The training trips to Florida expose these young players to more professional atmospheres where they can learn the ways of MLS professionals and what it takes to keep progressing within the sport.
Academy players are not the only players out to make a lasting impression on Union coaches though. The Union invited just one trialist – ie MLB Spring Training non-roster invitee- with them to Florida for the first session of preseason. Soon to be 22-year old midfielder Omar Castro joined the Union in Clearwater, FL in an attempt to make an MLS/USL roster for the 2018 season. By the time Philadelphia travels south once more February 11th, chances are Castro may not be with the team for their second preseason session. That’s just the nature of the game.
Steel FC Players
Bethlehem Steel FC players can also aim to impress Union coaching staff throughout the preseason process. New arrivals like forward Brandon Allen and defender Olivier Mbaizo are under contract with Steel FC but can easily tally minutes with the MLS Union squad throughout the year. Recently, Homegrown left back Matt Real has been sidelined with a rolled ankle. Mbaizo who can play both left and right back, has impressed coaches and fans alike with his speed and vision moving forward in attacking play. The Cameroonian defender contributed two assists following the team’s 5-1 victory against NCAA’s South Florida earlier this week, February 6th.
Philadelphia brought in Mbaizo seemingly to create more competition among the back line players currently on the roster. The left back position is very clearly Real’s position in the future – now occupied by fan-favorite Fabinho – but a player like Mbaizo keeps all players on their toes by continually causing headaches for coaches come match-day when they have to decide on a final 18 man roster each week.
The Union’s attack
The #10 position is obviously a spot on the field Philadelphia soccer fans have been agonizing over the past few seasons. So far, it seems as if head coach Jim Curtin is keen on Ilsinho at the creative #10 position flanked by wingers David Accam and Fafa Picault. Fellow midfielders Adam Najem, Brendan Aaronsen, and Anthony Fontana have also seen time at that position. However, Aaronsen is still with the Academy – making first team minutes impossible. Najem definitely possesses the offensive skills needed to handle the #10 position but consistency is an issue. Fontana would more than likely fulfill the #8 position given his skill-set. Fontana excels as a box-to-box midfielder with a more well-rounded skill set rather than a strictly offensive-minded play-maker.
At the striker position, the competition is not nearly as high. Coming off a career year in 2017, forward CJ Sapong will be the number one striker for Curtin and Philadelphia come March 3rd. Back up strikers Jay Simpson and former Steel FC goal scorer Cory Burke sit behind Sapong on the depth chart. Simpson has much more to prove given his high salary, age, and past playing experience. The Englishman traveled state side and has since made virtually no impact since joining the club. Perhaps 2018 could provide Simpson with some goal scoring chances.
Through first three matches : 1-1-1
Three preseason scrimmages in a week have provided the Union coaching staff with plenty of insight on how their team is shaping up for 2018. Along with two training sessions daily under the Florida sunshine, Philadelphia competed in three scrimmages throughout the first eight days of February.
Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls
Saturday the 3rd, Philly faced off against Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls. This particular scrimmage was played in three separate 45 minute sessions. Each session consisted of a different set of XI players for Philadelphia, granting all players a moment to shine on the pitch. The match ended 4-3 in favor of NYRB. Academy guy Brendan Aaronsen scored a goal.
Philadelphia Union vs University of South Florida
Tuesday, February 6th was the next match-day. Philadelphia took on a collegiate opponent in South Florida and beat them handily 5-1. Unlike the first preseason match, teams like South Florida are better for younger players to compete against to test out their skills rather than competing against MLS foes like NYRB. The offense was flowing very well and head coach Curtin took note. “The tempo was fast, we had some good opportunities and created some chances in front of goal,” said Curtin.
Philadelphia Union vs Chicago Fire
The final match of the first preseason session occurred against another MLS opponent, Chicago Fire. Union battled to a 0-0 draw. The match was available via live-stream and the action throughout the first 45 minutes look steady and comfortable for Philadelphia. Substitutions throughout the second half provided a more jagged style of play but for the most part, the original group of XI looked solid as a unit.
3 weeks until season opener
March 3rd is rapidly approaching which means thousands will flock once more to the Chester waterfront to watch the Union face off against New England Revolution at the fortress, Talen Energy Stadium.
Currently the first team Philadelphia Union are back in the Philadelphia area for a brief few days. They will travel back to Florida the 11th to complete their final preseason session. In the meantime, Philadelphia’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC, officially begin their preseason. This afternoon, Steel FC welcome FC Motown to YSC Sports in Wayne, PA for a preseason scrimmage at 2PM. FC Motown play in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Steel FC’s roster consists of just eight players officially on the roster. The rest of the players are Academy guys or trialists looking to sign with a team for the 2018 campaign. The most up-to-date roster contains nine Academy players and six trialists.
Soccer is in full-swing once again. Countdown to March 3rd : 21 days exactly.
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports