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February 26, 2017

D.C. United 3, Union 2: Notes and observations from the final preseason tuneup

Soccer Union
022617_union_PU Ted Brooks/Philadelphia Union

Rookie draft pick Marcus Epps scored the second goal in Saturday's 3-2 preseason loss.

It wasn't a great preseason finish for the Philadelphia Union, who conceded three first-half goals in a 3-2 loss to D.C. United on Saturday evening.

Truthfully, this game should have finished 4 to 2 or even 5 to 2, but D.C. had a second-half goal incorrectly disallowed and a clear penalty shout waved off in the opening five minutes.

The Union defense was shaky, with some individual mistakes complementing fragile moments in shape and structure. The second half, for what it's worth, was much better, and the Union looked more composed and more purposeful going forward.

Head coach Jim Curtin only made a couple of substitutions and allowed most of his starters to play the full 90 minutes. Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya once again paired together as a six and eight combination to start the game. Chris Pontius came into the starting eleven at left midfield, with Ilsinho on the right and Fabian Herbers playing as a number ten.

It's worth nothing that Herbers played as a ten on a few occasions last year and even started in that spot over Roland Alberg when Tranquillo Barnetta was unavailable through injury. It's safe to say that Curtin is very high on Herbers and seems determined to keep him in the starting lineup.

My notes and observations from the game:

First half

Starting lineup – Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Oguchi Onyewu, Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Chris Pontius, Fabian Herbers, Ilsinho; Jay Simpson

4' – Early penalty shout for D.C. that should have been granted. United beat the Union press, put Lloyd Sam through on goal, then didn't get the call after Sam was bundled over by Ilsinho. This was a bad defensive breakdown for Philly with guys out of position.

13' – Sean Franklin is left completely unmarked on a corner kick. Onyewu looked quizzically at Medunjanin, who appeared to be responsible for the fullback.

14' – Poor defending on the D.C. opener, with Onyewu missing a tackle and Rosenberry getting beat on the edge of the penalty area.

18' – Overcooked corner from Medunjanin, who hit an outswinger from the left side of the field. He took another corner earlier from the right side that didn't make it into the box.

19 '  A well-worked set piece routine from the training ground -

20 '  Another D.C. goal. This one starts with Fabinho going down after a 50/50 challenge, which results in the ref playing advantage. Marquez rotates to cover, Onyewu gets stuck in no-man's land, and Bedoya is trying to pick up Jared Jeffrey, who taps in Luciano Acosta's cross.

24'  United pouring it on with a third goal. It's a banger from Patrick Mullins, who shakes Onyewu, puts the ball on his left foot, and fires into the corner.

43' – Really nice driving run from Ilsinho, who shrugged off a tactical foul from Marcelo Sarvas as he made his way down the right flank. The sequence ended with a blocked Simpson shot, then Ilsinho fired the rebound over the crossbar.

Second half

Lineup – Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Oguchi Onyewu, Richie Marquez,Fabinho; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Chris Pontius, Fabian Herbers, Ilsinho; C.J. Sapong

50' – Better pressure to start the second half, with a sequence of blocked shots, then a corner kick that Marquez keeps alive for Onyewu to finish. It's like ice hockey; when you're not playing particularly well, sometimes you need a greasy goal to get things going.

62' – Herbers comes off for Derrick Jones and Bedoya moves up to the ten spot.

68' – Nice work to move the ball to Fabinho on the left, who puts in a cross for Pontius. His flicked header is just out of Ilsinho's reach, who pokes it over the net.

75' – Marcus Epps on for Chris Pontius.

80' – D.C. United goal incorrectly called offside.

86' – Epps with a nicely taken goal to make it 3-2. It was a quality inside cut onto his strong right foot, and I like how he hit the ball low and hard to force the keeper to the ground. Fabinho also played a big part in the goal with an overlapping run that pulled Nick DeLeon off of his teammate.


     • As an eight, Bedoya was getting into some advanced spots that he normally enters while playing as a ten. I'm still worried about midfield balance without a true ball-winner out there. Jones plays a bit more of a conservative game. Warren Creavalle or Brian Carroll will similarly sit a bit deeper and protect Medunjanin.

     • As far as Herbers versus Alberg at the ten, I think Curtin just prefers the higher work rate that Herbers brings. It's the same with Bedoya and even Barnetta last year. Both of those guys fit a pressing system much more than Alberg, who is more of a second striker with a natural instinct for goal. Alberg isn't going to chase down a defender and dispossess him in the corner. He is, however, a pure goal scorer who probably gives you more threat in the final third. If they aren't going to play him, they might as well sell him.

     • That said, I didn't see much from Herbers in this game. He overhit one through ball with his left foot, then mistimed a bouncing ball and caught Sarvas in the gut with a wayward boot. His movement is good, but he can contribute as a winger, so I don't see the point of playing him as a ten with Bedoya and Alberg on the roster. I'd even take Ilsinho at the ten before Herbers.

     • Not enough touches again for Simpson, who also got stomped on accidentally by Acosta about 30 minutes into the game. His first shot came about ten minutes before halftime and he fired over the bar from about 25 yards out. The only other shot was a turnaround effort in traffic that didn't make it to goal.

     • From somebody who is partially colorblind, I can tell you that D.C.'s new uniforms are atrocious. Sometimes less is more when it comes to kit design.