Young Philadelphia Union side blanked by Aston Villa, 1-0, at PPL Park
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert recently said that playing against American competition as a preseason tuneup is "good," given that MLS teams already are deep into the league campaign. "The guys over in America are already in their seasons, which means they'll be tough opposition … they will be ahead of us in terms of fitness level, that's for sure," Lambert told the Birmingham Daily Mail in England.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert recently said that playing against American competition as a preseason tuneup is "good," given that MLS teams already are deep into the league campaign.
"The guys over in America are already in their seasons, which means they'll be tough opposition … they will be ahead of us in terms of fitness level, that's for sure," Lambert told the Birmingham Daily Mail in England.
But Lambert also said: "[These exhibition matches] matter to an extent because it's nice to get guys in the habit of winning."
On Wednesday night, Lambert and Aston Villa savored their first taste of a win, defeating a young Union side, 1-0, in front of an announced 17,195 supporters on a muggy night at PPL Park. A goal in the 43rd minute from Villa forward Nathan Delfouneso stood up despite a second-half wave from the Union, spearheaded by second-half substitute Josue Martinez. Martinez nearly leveled the match in the 73rd, when he broke into the box and ripped a shot across the face of goal that just skimmed wide.
"He's building himself up and I couldn't be happier for Josue," Union interim manager John Hackworth said of Martinez. "He's only a 22-year-old trying to adapt in a new climate and a new country and he is getting it. It's been tough for Josue, but for him to play that way and for him to have the understanding and the awareness, I think it's fantastic. He didn't do anything but move up the ladder a little bit tonight."
But offensively, it literally was a case of men vs. boys on the pitch as Hackworth started his trio of homegrown players in Zach Pfeffer, Cristhian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughin. Of the three, McLaughlin stood out, showcasing quick feet and moves and strong passing and vision. The final stat sheet showed the Union accounted for seven total shots, five of which came in the second half, but to no avail.
"It was great to get into a match like this; it's a good opportunity for me, personally, to show the coaches that I want to be involved as much as I can," said McLaughlin, who received an hour of playing time. "For young players like me it's a waiting game so anytime you can get in you really do everything you can."
Typical of the Union has since its inception, a slow-paced first half preceded a harried second stanza. The Union did manage shots in the direction of Villa goalkeeper and U.S. international Brad Guzan, but in the final third, when it mattered most, the linking play was virtually nonexistent. To their dismay in the 88th minute, what appeared to be a handball in the box off a Union free kick went unseen by the official on the field. Later replay showed that a Villa defender in the wall did in fact touch the ball, deflecting it wide.
"We just couldn't get a rhythm and we had a lot of rushed plays," said Union defender Amobi Okugo. "[Aston Villa's] goal was on a rushed play, we tried to rush on a counterattack and got beat … I don't know who the forward [Delfouneso] was, but he picked out his spot. It was a nice finish."
Defensively, the Union played its customary physical style — and it worked well, despite the goal. Villa superstars Darren Bent and Gabriel Abonglahor were kept relatively quiet. Hackworth trotted out a familiar back four of Raymon Gaddis and Gabriel Farfan on the flanks with Carlos Valdes and Okugo holding down the center. It was a solid performance by a back line that has a very quick rest period with a Saturday showdown awaiting in Harrison, N.J., against MLS rival Red Bull New York (2:30 p.m, ESPN).