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July 14, 2016

Union 0, Crystal Palace 0: Notes and quotes from a scoreless, yet entertaining exhibition

Soccer Union
071416_Union-Crystal-Palace_PSP Paul Rudderow/Philly Soccer Page

Debutants' Taylor Washington and Andros Townsend challenge for the ball in Wednesday night's scoreless draw between the Philadelphia Union and Crystal Palace F.C."

The scoreline might not be an indicator, but the Union played a decent game against the Premier League's Crystal Palace F.C. in front of a crowd nearing nine-thousand fans at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday night. 

There were no goals in this one, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. The Union had good opportunities in both halves but just couldn't hit the target. C.J. Sapong had a couple of headed half-chances in the opening 30 minutes, and Walter Restrepo blazed a shot over the bar from ten yards out after Sapong rolled in a beautiful diagonal for the winger to run onto.

Palace had opportunities of their own, but Matt Jones made a couple of brilliant saves to his left hand side to keep Conor Wickham and the Eagles off the scoresheet. Rust was showing in the Palace attack, but the skill and athleticism was apparent, even with a number of starters yet to join the club after summer international duty. 

Jim Curtin played a different squad in each half and began the game with a lineup featuring eight players who have started games in league play. The second half saw the Union debuts of Derrick Jones, Cole Missimo, and Taylor Washington, and also featured the return of Ryan Richter, who played briefly for the Union in 2011 before joining Bethlehem Steel at the start of 2016.

Derrick's debut

Jones might be the most intriguing of those debutants. 

The Union academy product is a rangy midfielder with a lot of natural talent and upside. He trained with the first team on occasion last season and has featured prominently for Bethlehem Steel in 2016.

Jones showed flashes against Palace in the number eight spot, highlighted by a great splitting ball to send Warren Creavalle into the box for a prime scoring chance. At other times, he looked a little slow in possession and hesistant in decision making. 

There's no doubt he'll move beyond Bethlehem someday, but Jim Curtin didn't want to put the cart before the horse.

“There are no guarantees because you play a good 45 minutes with us," Curtin said. "We have an eye on longevity and on the future. We like Derrick a lot and he has performed well, but to say when he plays for the first team is premature. He did well tonight. You see quality that is there, you think of, (Columbus midfielder) Tony Tchani is a guy who he reminds me off, and Derrick’s actually faster. Again, that’s what we want, that’s what we want to push him to be. Could he even be better? Absolutely. 

"But that’s up to us a coaching staff to develop him and to work with him each and every day of having his head on a swivel. When he does make a mistake, we don’t care about that, we care about his reaction after to win the ball back immediately. He's still young and has lapses with that, but to do it against Crystal Palace was a darn good first step and I think Derrick is trending in the right direction. Is he there yet? Is he the complete package? He’s not, and I’ll tell that to him and we have discussions all the time, but he’s a good young player and we want to continue to develop good young players here in Philadelphia."

Shuffling the center backs

One thing you may not have noticed is that Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez played at their opposite center back positions in this game.

That means that Marquez, who normally plays left center back, actually played right center back. Tribbett, who normally plays on the right, played on the left. Tribbett was paired with Josh Yaro in the first half and Marquez played with Anderson in the second half.

Curtin said he was interested in seeing different combinations across the backline, and talked about the concept of having four good passers in Yaro, Tribbett, Fabinho, and Keegan Rosenberry all playing together for the first time.

Speaking post-game, Tribbett said that playing on the left instead of the right did not present a big difference.

"I mean, there are certain little things that are different, whether you're passing with your right foot or your left foot," Tribbett explained. "But I'm comfortable with both feet and comfortable in both positions, so I think it's natural for me."

"I think the only difference is that I'm used to playing with Fabinho," Marquez added. "I know his tendencies more, whereas I'm still getting used to Ray (Gaddis). There are small differences, but it's not a huge jump. It's still the same positioning and organization. I think just playing on the left side, I got accustomed to it. That was the biggest difference, just because I'm used to the left side. But it's not too bad."

This is how the Union deployed their backlines on Wednesday night:


One of the wrinkles is that center backs playing on their "weak" side tend to use their strong foot to play the ball across their body to their fullback. On Wednesday night, Marquez's "strong" foot was on the outside, so the nuances of the passing game probably changed in ways that were hard for the casual observer to see.

"That's the thing," Marquez continued. "I've worked a lot on my left foot. Obviously, being on the right I get a lot more of the ball on the right (foot), so I'm able to hit some longer passes and feel a little more comfortable in that aspect. It's just small tweaks, you know?" 

'Fans love goals'

Crystal Palace played without a number of their regular contributors, including Mile Jedinak, Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye, and Joe Ledley.

The Eagles did, however, roll out two solid groups that included wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, along with mainstay defenders Joel Ward, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney.

This was the first game of the Palace preseason and manager Alan Pardew was satisfied with the performance. 

"We lacked a little bit of sharpness and cutting edge, but still needed their 'keeper to make three fabulous saves, down and to his left hand side," Pardew said. "They really were top drawer, two of them for sure. It was a good game. There wasn't one tackle in the game that was unsavory. There were a couple of professional fouls, so it was really played in a great spirit. It's a shame for the fans that there were no goals, because fans love goals."

Palace will head to Cincinnati next, before wrapping up this North American tour with a friendly in Vancouver.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @Kevin_Kinkead