Union drop preseason match to Red Bulls

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Union drop preseason match to Red Bulls

Jack McInerney scored in his second straight preseason game but it wasn’t enough for the Philadelphia Union, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the New York Red Bulls at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on Wednesday night.

Lloyd Sam had a goal and an assist for the Red Bulls, putting New York ahead early in the first half after beating Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath on a counter-attack. Later in the first half, Sam set up star striker Thierry Henry with the game-winner.

The score remained 2-1 throughout the second half as both teams made wholesale lineup changes at the halftime break.

“We were just focused on our own preparations,” Union manager John Hackworth told Jacksonville reporters after the game. “It was good to play an opponent like Red Bull that really tests the things you’re trying to work on. But the whole goal for us tonight was to try to implement the things we’ve been working on throughout the preseason.”

One of the things the Union are trying to implement this preseason is a 4-3-3 formation centered around a trio of new midfield acquisitions: Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira.

All three players got the start Wednesday, along with captain Brian Carroll in a holding midfield role, Danny Cruz wide to the right and McInerney up top.

Nogueira just arrived to Union camp on Sunday but made his presence felt immediately with a a couple of nifty moves. He also got the assist on McInerney’s goal with a tap on an indirect free kick in the box. McInerney, who scored in the Union’s 1-1 draw with New England last Tuesday, then hit a rocket into the back of the net.

“Vincent, I think he showed his qualities in there,” Hackworth said. “Maidana did the same thing. It’s going to take a little bit of time, a little bit of work to get those guys on the same page and syncing the way we would like. But so far, so good.”

Rookie center back Richard Marquez, out of Division III Redlands, got a surprise start on the backline, along with Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and Fabinho.

Rookies Andre Blake, Robbie Derschang, Aodhan Quinn and Pedro Ribeiro all came on in the second half. Blake, the top overall pick in the 2014 draft, made a couple of big saves and Ribeiro made perhaps the play of the game when he made a run down the middle of the field with the Red Bulls’ Eric Alexander practically hanging on to him.

“He took him for a ride,” Hackworth said.

Ethan White, Aaron Wheeler, Ray Gaddis, Leo Fernandes, Keon Daniel, Corben Bone and Sebastien Le Toux also came on to start the second half for Philly.

Weather permitting, the Union will now return to Philadelphia for a few days before going back to Florida next week for the final phase of their preseason. Their next exhibition game is against Orlando City on Wednesday at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.

6 years after last appearance, Eric Lichaj's crucial goal lifts U.S. in Gold Cup win

6 years after last appearance, Eric Lichaj's crucial goal lifts U.S. in Gold Cup win

Six years after his last appearance with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Eric Lichaj finally opened up his international scoring account in a 2-0 win over El Salvador in Wednesday night’s Gold Cup quarterfinals match (see story).

Lichaj earned his first international appearance under previous USMNT coach Bob Bradley, only to fall out of favor with Jurgen Klinsmann during his tenure. Now with Bruce Arena at the helm, Lichaj has been given an opportunity to prove himself throughout the Gold Cup.

Despite getting off to a rocky start Wednesday night, the defender found himself streaking up the field into the opposing third, getting his foot on the receiving end of a Clint Dempsey assist.  

“I wasn’t having the best of times in the first half. I think I ended up going forward and having a good run. It was a good play down the left and Clint ended up turning and slotting me in and it was just a good goal, and I needed it because my performance in the first half is something I don’t want to repeat ever again,” Lichaj said. 

A full body slide celebration soon followed, along with congratulations and hugs from teammates.

“I’m delighted for him”, roommate and Union midfielder Chris Pontius said. “I told him he’d get one this tournament, he ventured forward a couple times in the first half. I don’t know how he ended up the left side as a right back, but it was a great finish though.”

A finish his family was able to enjoy with him, as Lichaj had 10 family members in the stands on Wednesday night. His wife and two daughters have traveled across the country over the last couple weeks, attending every game this tournament. 

The Lichaj’s will once again be packing their bags as they follow their favorite defender and the USMNT to Texas this weekend. Up next for the Red, White, and Blue is a semifinal match against Costa Rica on July 22. It’s a showdown that will certainly bring up some past emotions, for players and coaches alike. 

"Certainly they're a good team, we know that," Arena said of Costa Rica. "They beat the U.S. by four goals in November, right? Hopefully, we can remember that."

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

U.S. men's soccer team blanks El Salvador in Gold Cup at Lincoln Financial Field

The U.S. men’s national team knows how to protect its Philly turf.

A year after shutting out Paraguay in the Copa America Centenario at Lincoln Financial Field, the American soccer stars returned to the Eagles’ home stadium and shut off El Salvador, 2-0, in the Gold Cup quarterfinals Wednesday night.

Defenders Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj scored for the U.S., who advance to face Costa Rica in the semifinals of the tournament for CONCACAF supremacy.

But despite the shutout — and the fact that they’re moving on — the win didn’t exactly have U.S. head coach Bruce Arena in a jovial mood.

“I thought we had a difficult time tonight,” Arena said. “Our timing wasn’t good. We didn’t deal with the physicality. The game had no rhythm with all of the fouls and players falling on the ground. And we weren’t good on top of it.”

Arena was particularly upset about some of the more physical aspects of the game, saying that he didn’t think “games should look like that” with all the fouls and time wasting.

One particular play stood above the rest — and it took the term “physical” to a whole new level as El Salvador’s Henry Romero literally bit U.S. striker Jozy Altidore in the shoulder while defending him in the box on a corner kick.

It appeared that Altidore also got his nipple grabbed by Romero — something he was furious about at the time but able to laugh about afterwards.

“My girl’s mad at me,” Altidore said. “She’s mad at me, she’s mad at Romero, because she’s like, ‘Only I can bite you, only I can grab your nipples.’” 

Incredibly, U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez was also bitten later in the second half by Darwin Ceren. Neither Romero or Ceren were carded but could possibly draw retroactive punishments from CONCACAF.

“When the guy bit me, I was a bit shocked,” Gonzalez said. “But you have to move on as quick as possible and look forward to the next play.”

“There should have been players sent off in my opinion,” Arena added. “These games aren’t easy. Clearly I would think the referee doesn’t want to send anyone off. But it was a night where on a couple of occasions perhaps it would have gotten the game headed in the right direction.”

Of course, Gonzalez did enjoy the best kind of revenge, getting his head on the end of a 41st-minute free kick from Michael Bradley to put the Americans on the board.

The U.S. then made it 2-0 right before halftime when Lichaj scored his first international goal following a marvelous spin and through ball from Clint Dempsey.

“I don’t know if it was a few years coming,” said Lichaj, who made his first appearance with the U.S. national team in Chester back in 2010. “But I was just excited to score.”

Longtime USMNT stars Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore and goalkeeper Tim Howard were four of the six players called up by Arena for the knockout stage of the tournament after a young, untested roster helped the team win Group B — albeit unconvincingly — with wins over Martinique and Nicaragua and a draw with Panama.

And although they did deliver — on top of the Bradley and Dempsey assists, Howard came through with one big early save en route to the shutout — no one seemed particularly happy about the performance.

“There was not much rhythm in the game today — a lot of stoppages because of all the fouls,” Dempsey said. “You just gotta try to be smart, see your way through the game. It wasn’t pretty but we got the right result.”

The Americans know they’ll need to be better in the next round against Costa Rica, who defeated Panama, 1-0, in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader with fans from all four countries — 31,635 in all — packing the Linc.

The U.S. national team is looking to win its sixth Gold Cup and avenge an uninspired fourth-place finish in the last Gold Cup, two years ago.

“The great thing is we have a really deep roster and we’re able to keep the team somewhat fresh for every single game,” Gonzalez said. “Tonight we got six new guys in and you can tell it was a bit sloppy in the beginning. We missed passes here and there. It could definitely be better but we got a game in together and we’re expecting it to be a lot sharper for the next game.”

Of note to the Union fans in the crowd, Chris Pontius entered the game in the 87th minute, marking the third straight Gold Cup game he’s played in after being called in as a late injury replacement.

In the three minutes that he was on the field, the Union winger did not appear to get bit.