It doesn’t matter if the game doesn’t count toward the standings or if the team’s youngest, most untested players are put on the field.
The Philadelphia Union are not going to be pushed around.
The team showed that on Saturday when they earned a 1-0 win over the Mexican club Pumas in a chippy and physical international “friendly” at PPL Park. And even though it doesn’t count, the hard-nosed win should be good for Philly’s momentum heading into Saturday’s crucial road tilt against the New York Red Bulls.
Here’s more in this week’s “Inside Doop.”
Three thoughts from Saturday’s game
1. Aside from showing their toughness, the most important thing to come out of Saturday’s match was probably the performance of two players making their PPL Park debut: Aaron Wheeler and Leo Fernandes. Wheeler assisted on the team’s only goal and used his 6-foot-4 frame to be dominant in the air, and Fernandes looked comfortable playing a full 90 minutes in the attack. While it will likely be tough for either of them to become regulars, they both possess things the Union need (Wheeler has size and Fernandes is left-footed) and certainly have a chance to be break into the rotation if they continue to improve.
2. With the Union battling some injuries and not having much defensive depth, Sheanon Williams was asked to play a full 90 minutes – first at right back and then at center back. While most other players put in shorter shifts, Williams handled the extended duty like a pro and played well at center back. He also gave some of the best quotes after the match about how the Union refuse to let anyone push them around, even in friendlies. If anything happens to Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke and the Union go through with the Bakary Soumare trade, Williams should – and likely will – be the team’s first option at center back.
3. The run-up to the Union’s goal was beautifully executed and Michael Farfan’s finish was classy. That’s something Farfan is certainly capable of doing (his goal against the Galaxy last season was one of the team’s best of the season) but it’s not something he’s done very much (the fourth-year player only has three goals in his MLS career). The Union, of course, would love to see more goals from their most creative player.
Three questions for the upcoming week
1. The Freddy Adu situation has finally been resolved with the Union announcing Monday that they terminated his contract as part of a deal to acquire Brazilian international José Kléberson. Now the question becomes: when will Kléberson arrive and how will he fit into the lineup? At 33, he’s certainly near the end of his career but he has an international pedigree that few MLS players can match. It will be interesting to see how and where the Union use him.
2. While much attention has been put on the Freddy Adu deal and the recent trade request from Bakary Soumare, let’s not forget the Union have a huge game coming up Saturday against the New York Red Bulls, who have yet to win this season. The Union, meanwhile, are surprisingly near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Does that put more pressure on the talented Red Bulls to finally win a game or the Union to prove that their hot start is not a fluke?
3. Following Saturday’s win over Pumas, Union manager John Hackworth alluded to some injuries that affected which players he used and for how long. Heading into Saturday’s Eastern Conference showdown in New Jersey, we should keep our eye on the statuses of key players like Gabriel Farfan, Danny Cruz and Conor Casey, all of who are on the mend.
Stat of the week
In six friendlies at PPL Park, the Union have outscored their opponents – all big-name clubs from Europe or Mexico – by a 6-2 margin.
Quote of the week
“Regardless of friendly, Open Cup, whatever – anyone that comes to PPL Park is in for a fight.” – Sheanon Williams
Player of the week
After Saturday’s friendly win, Hackworth called Wheeler a “cult hero” because of all the balls he won in the air, joking that he “probably won more balls in the air than we did all of last year.” While that’s a stretch, Wheeler certainly looked very good on the field and did as much with his feet as he did with his head. The first-year forward looks like a keeper.