The Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC enjoyed arguably the two most impressive offseasons in Major League Soccer, with both teams acquiring the kind of serious talent they hope will transform them into Eastern Conference playoff contenders in 2014.
But with the start of the regular season just 10 days away, it looks like both teams still need to add at least one more thing: goals.
On Wednesday afternoon, in the final week of the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the Union and Toronto played to a scoreless draw.
The loss drops the Union to 0-2-3 this preseason with their last exhibition game coming this Saturday, before they open the regular season in Portland on March 8.
And aside from a 9-1 win over the University of North Florida in a scrimmage, the Union have struggled to find much of a scoring punch this preseason.
Wednesday’s game proved to be no different, even though manager John Hackworth played most of his starters a full 90 minutes.
“Clearly we have some things we have to improve on and get much better on,” Hackworth said. “I thought we created enough chances to easily put at least one or two in the back of the net today. And I didn’t really feel like they broke us down ever.”
While the Union had a great buildup late in the first half after Jack McInerney flicked a long-ball from Vincent Nogueira to a streaking Sebastien Le Toux, things started to heat up a lot more after the halftime break.
In the 61st minute, McInerney drew a Toronto hand ball just outside the box and then blasted a free kick into the wall. That came just moments after Zac MacMath made a big save to preserve the shutout.
In the final minutes, second-half sub Leo Fernandes had a couple of close-range attempts that were thwarted by Toronto goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Cesar is one of the big offseason acquisitions for Toronto, who also added international stars Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, the latter of whom effectively ran the midfield against the Union on Wednesday.
The Union tried to keep pace as best they could with Toronto’s busy offseason, bringing in midfielders Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Nogueira before bolstering their central defense with a trade for 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry earlier this week.
Just two days after arriving in camp, Berry played the final 30 minutes of Wednesday’s contest, coming on for converted striker Aaron Wheeler, who’s played most of the preseason as a center back.
“I think you have to take these games in perspective,” Hackworth said. “We’re trying to push players 90 minutes right now to get them ready for the start of the season a-week-and-a-half from now. That’s a tough job. It’s been a demanding preseason.”