The Philadelphia Union’s first game at the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational was underwhelming at best.
After scoring 10 goals in four preseason scrimmages, the Union struggled to create chances in the final third during their 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Top offseason signing Marco Fabian made his first appearance in a Union shirt on Saturday, but he only lasted 45 minutes before he was replaced by Ilsinho.
Twenty players appeared in the contest, with Carlos Miguel Coronel and Ray Gaddis both playing 90 minutes. Olivier Mbaizo, Andre Blake, Matt Freese, Sergio Santos, Cory Burke, Fabinho and Warren Creavalle did not participate. Bethlehem Steel player Michee Ngalina was the only player on a United Soccer League contract to take the field.
Below is a look at a few of the most important observations from the Union’s defeat at the hands of the Impact.
1. Marco Fabian shows well in 1st Union appearance
Fabian wasn’t expected to dazzle for 90 minutes. The Union are making an effort to ease him into the starting lineup with the March 2 season opener against Toronto FC in mind.
In order to get himself on the ball during the first half, Fabian drifted past the center circle to pick up the ball on a few occasions, which is a role Haris Medunjanin normally fills from his defensive midfield position.
While Medunjanin did move into that role later in the first half, Fabian’s insistence on getting on the ball shows he’s more than willing to do hard work while trying to make an impact on the ball.
Fabian also wasn’t afraid to track back and make some defensive interventions, which is a positive sign for the Union moving forward.
Now with 45 minutes under his belt, Fabian needs to focus on making more plays with the ball in the final two preseason games against D.C. United on Wednesday and the Ottawa Fury next Saturday.
As long as he shows progression into the final third over the next week, Fabian should be ready to make an impact right away against Toronto.
2. Kai Wagner struggles with Montreal overwhelming his side
Not much is known about left back Kai Wagner, who came to the Union from German third-division side Wurzberger Kickers, and he didn’t leave a good impression in the first game that was streamed from the team’s preseason trip to Florida.
Montreal picked out the weakness in the Union defense on the left wing and attempted to exploit it on almost every surge forward into the final third.
Wagner was also caught out of position on the lone goal of the contest, when veteran right back Bacary Sagna received space to cross in an assist to Maxi Urruti.
On s'est fait jouer un tour, ce n'était pas un but de la tête. Voyez plus de vidéos comme celui-ci sur notre compte @instagram "impactmontreal".
— Impact de Montréal (@impactmontreal) February 16, 2019
Wagner didn’t keep up with his defensive responsibilities and appeared out of position on a few occasions, which led to Aurelien Collin covering the space behind Wagner on a few Impact attacks.
It didn’t help the new addition that he lacked motivation to surge forward and create width in the Union’s attack, a responsibility handed to the outside backs in the new 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Homegrown left back Matt Real played better than Wagner when he entered in the 61st minute as part of a large group of substitutes.
As of right now, Real is still the favorite to start at left back March 2, but Wagner’s adaptation to the team’s style of play is of high importance with Real’s departure to the FIFA U-20 World Cup looming in May.
3. Chance creation lacking from all areas of attack
The Union faced their first bit of preseason adversity in the final third Saturday, lacking any type of significant punch in and around the penalty area.
C.J. Sapong and Fafa Picault, who started the game and played 61 minutes each, didn’t combine well despite having the ball at their feet on plenty of occasions.
Offensive production got a bit better when the Union brought on a laundry list of substitutes in the final 30 minutes, with David Accam looking the brightest of the four strikes who stepped foot on the field.
Anthony Fontana, Derrick Jones and Ilsinho had some positive spurts moving forward, but they weren’t able to link up with the forwards on a consistent basis.
It was curious to see Sergio Santos and Cory Burke remain on the bench for Saturday’s game, especially since both are in competition for the starting forward positions, and Santos has been one of the club’s primary starters throughout preseason.
More insight into the forward competition will come Wednesday against D.C. United, but Saturday’s performance wasn’t good enough with the regular season two weeks away.