ORLANDO, Fla. – After scoring just one goal through their first three preseason games, the Union were looking for somebody – anybody – to find the back of the net in Saturday’s exhibition contest against Toronto FC.
Predictably, two of the team’s most electrifying offensive players – Antoine Hoppenot and Roger Torres – answered the call with first-half goals.
Unpredictably, fullback trialist Matt Kassel added another tally to seal a 3-0 Union rout in a Disney Pro Soccer Classic tournament game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Kassel – who was also on trial with the Union at the end of the 2012 season – is one of two handfuls of trialists and draft picks vying to make the team, and Saturday’s performance will certainly help him.
Kassel last played in Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls in 2011.
“We have so much respect for Matt,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “We like Matt but we only have a few spots.”
The Union’s starting lineup featured another trialist in Greek international Pantelis Kafes, who Hackworth said is a “great player who’s had an illustrious career” and will remain on trial into next week.
The Union manager also noted that 2013 draft picks like Don Anding, who started Saturday’s game at left back, are still trying to earn a contract, as well.
“I’m probably going to make some decisions tonight,” Hackworth said “I don’t want to single guys out but the guys who started today had a pretty good account for themselves.”
The Union certainly needed to rely on some of their unsigned and untested players on Saturday. One night earlier, Hackworth played most of his starters in a scoreless draw with Montreal at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field, and those players didn’t dress vs. Toronto.
The lineup for Saturday’s game featured probably only two players who will start the team’s season opener vs. Sporting Kansas City on March 2 – striker Conor Casey and midfielder/defender Amobi Okugo.
But the absences of the club’s key guys simply opened the door for Torres and Hoppenot, who figure to be two of the team’s top offensive weapons off the bench this season, to carry the load.
Hoppenot opened the scoring in the ninth minute after receiving a ball from Michael Lahoud, making a nice move to give himself space and firing it into the bottom right corner of the net.
Torres, who was arguably the best player on the field all afternoon, then continued his excellent preseason when he made it 2-0 in the 40th minute with a great individual effort.
Hoppenot said he enjoyed being paired with the veteran Casey up top and playing in front of the playmaking Torres.
“Roger’s always looking to go forward and for a guy like me who’s looking to go behind defenders, he does a great job of putting the ball behind them,” Hoppenot said. “He’s a really fun guy to play with.”
The Union’s third goal came early in the second half after Hoppenot passed it back to Kassel, who ripped a shot. That shot was blocked before it reached goal but his second one was not, his rebound blast finding the back of the net and securing the easy win.
“Kassel constantly hits those bombs in practice,” Hackworth said. “It’s good to see him get one in the game – even though it took him two tries.”
Does Kassel think the goal will help him make the team? Has it been hard constantly being on trial without having a contract?
“Obviously it’s always in the back of my mind and it’s something you think about,” Kassel said. “I feel like I’ve been doing pretty well and I think the coaching staff realizes that. I’m hoping I get that chance.”
Evaluating Kassel and the other trialists was certainly the most important part of Saturday’s game.
But after tying Orlando City and getting routed by Columbus in their first two games of the Disney tourney, it was also nice for the Union to get their first win in Florida.
They round out their preseason schedule with a game against D.C. United on Wednesday in Deltona before playing their final game at Disney next Saturday against an opponent to be determined.
“It means a lot,” Hoppenot said. “It’s always great to come out here and get goals. It’s always great to play well defensively. The shutout is just as important as the three goals. This should really give us confidence going forward.”