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February 19, 2017

Union 1, Tampa Bay 0: Observations, notes and highlights from the preseason win

Soccer Union
021917_union_pu Ted Brooks/Philadelphia Union

Union midfielder Derrick Jones scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

A second-half Derrick Jones goal was good enough for a 1-0 Philadelphia Union win on Saturday night.

The preseason tune-up against Tampa Bay featured a bit of experimentation, with head coach Jim Curtin splitting his team into two even-strength squads instead of putting out a first-choice starting eleven.

The takeaway for me was the play of midfielder Haris Medunjanin, who only arrived in the United States six days prior. Most of my observations and notes from the first half involve the Bosnian's range of passing, plus a few mistakes that started popping up closer to halftime.

First half

Starting eleven – Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Haris Medunjanin, Derrick Jones; Fabian Herbers, Alejandro Bedoya, Marcus Epps; C.J. Sapong

4' – Medunjanin drops between the center backs to receive the ball, quick turn out of pressure with Joe Cole charging him down.

6' – Medunjanin keeps the ball on the ground and plays a 30-yard, line-splitting pass for Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya drives into the area and plays a through ball for Sapong, who has his shot saved by Matt Pickens.

10' – Medunjanin hits a glorious, 30-yard vertical for Epps, who can't get a shot off with a defender on top of him.

12' – Closer to the penalty area, a Cruyff-turn from Medunjanin, who spins out of pressure.

14' – Another 30-yard ball from Medunjanin, this time for Herbers, who couldn't get a shot off after bringing down the pass.

19' – Tampa Bay counter, Medunjanin tracks back well enough to intercept a low cross and put it out for a corner kick

27' – Poor turnover, with Medunjanin being too casual with the ball inside of his own half.

30' – Another turnover, this time a lazy side-foot attempt for Elliott that's easily picked off.

Medunjanin played as the number six with Derrick Jones at the number eight. Most of the movement was predictable, with Medunjanin dropping back to receive the ball and start the attack. Jones was deferential in that regard, and sort of floated around the midfield trying to understand where he needed to be. It's a difficult role to learn, especially when you have a midfield partner who needs the ball but doesn't play defense like a typical number six. Jones will eventually figure out the spacing.

The first half also featured one of those trademark Richie Marquez slide tackles. He usually puts in one of these perfectly timed slides in every game he plays.

Marquez started at left center back, with unsigned draft pick Jack Elliott on the right. Elliott received extended minutes in this game while most players only logged 45 minutes or less.

Bedoya looked pretty good playing as a number ten. He's similar to Tranquillo Barnetta in the way he plays the position, which is to say that he can dog defenders, press, get into the corners, and do some creative things as well. He's got a high work rate and Curtin likes this type of "volume" player at the number ten spot.

Second half

Lineup – Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Ken Tribbett, Elliott, Giliano Wijnaldum; Warren Creavalle, Derrick Jones; Ilsinho, Adam Najem, Chris Pontius, Charlie Davies

Jones scored the goal in a 1v1 situation after a bad Rowdies turnover at midfield.

He showed some nice patience and poise in front of goal, waiting for the keeper to commit, then rounding him for a tap-in.

The biggest takeaway, for me, was the smart combination press that Najem and Jones applied to free the ball in the first place. Watch how Najem attacks the defensive midfielder, then Jones reads the cue and blankets the second d-mid to force the turnover. Pontius clips a perfectly-weighted ball into space for the breakaway.

This is how you read cues and apply secondary pressure:

I didn't log a ton of events from the second half but wrote down a few observations.

     • Pontius did a nice job of coming inside, getting on the ball, and looking towards goal. He was the team's leading goal scorer in 2016 but usually didn't receive as many touches as his midfield counterparts. Later in the second half, he had a nice cutback and hip swivel inside the box then hit one low and hard at the goalkeeper.

     • Ilsinho and Charlie Davies look to be in good shape and running without encumbrance. Ilsinho has lost a few more pounds (he lost some last preseason), and Davies really needed a full offseason to reclaim form and fitness.

     • Outside of the goal, I felt like Jones had an average game. He had one bad turnover in the first half, then forced Tribbett into a yellow card with a hospital ball backpass early in the second half. You see his raw talent, though, and he'll be a starter eventually. He was very good for Bethlehem Steel last year.

     • Brian Carroll and Anthony Fontana played about 15 minutes, replacing Jones and Najem late in the second half.

     • Andre Blake had a nice save in the final minutes to preserve the clean sheet

     • Roland Alberg, Jay Simpson, John McCarthy, Fafa Picault, and Oguchi Onyewu did not play in this game.

Here are some more highlights from the Rowdies Twitter account: