Jay Simpson propels Union in come-from-behind draw with Swansea

Jay Simpson propels Union in come-from-behind draw with Swansea

CHESTER, Pa. -- Jay Simpson shined and Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana and Aaron Jones made their club debut, as the Union came from behind to tie English Premier League’s Swansea in a friendly Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium

“For our guys to test themselves against a top-tier team is good for everybody,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’re competitive, they’re pro athletes and they want to play against the best. A lot of guys rose to that occasion.”

With an MLS match on Wednesday against the Montreal Impact, Curtin used Saturday’s friendly as conditioning assignment for his starters and a show-me-something game for the players, like Union Homegrown Trusty, pushing to make an impression.

"I was always hungry before," Trusty said. "But now, you get a taste of it and you want more and you want more."

Simpson, who entered the game at the half for C.J. Sapong, tied the match at 2-2 with a miraculous play in the 58th minute. With possession and flying down the right side, he edged his defender off the rush and gained the box before sliding a right-footed touch that beat the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper and trickled over the goal line. Ilsinho received the primary assist.

“I was just trying to get it across the keeper,” said Simpson, a native of London who has friends on the Swansea side. “I didn’t get much power on it but I was trying to get it across the keeper. If he made the save, maybe someone could get the tap-in.”

But the Union's offense didn't start there. Preying on some early listlessness from the Swans, Marcus Epps, off a turnover at midfield, hit the right side with speed but was bumped down in the box by Martin Olsson, resulting in a penalty kick. Lining up for the kick was Sapong, who fooled Kristoffer Nordfeldt and placed his shot to the right for the early 1-0 lead. 

“The whole team caught them off guard,” Epps said. “I don’t think they thought we’d come out that strong and that fast. It was good that I could come on, change direction and catch them off guard a little.”

Union goalkeeper Jake McGuire wasn’t able to stop the Swans in the 28th minute and again in the 40th. Kyle Bartley followed up a mad scramble in the box to lock the game at one and Jordan Ayew took advantage of a missed clear from McGuire to give the Swans the 2-1 lead.

“Disappointing on the restarts, we talked about that,” Curtin said. “That is a team that is obviously very big, strong and physical. We didn’t do a good job, especially on the second balls. We have some takeaways, some things we can improve on. But overall I’m happy with the exercise tonight.”

Curtin made wholesale changes at half time. Entering the match was Simpson for Sapong, Charlie Davies for Fafa Picault, Ilsinho for Epps and Derrick Jones for Warren Creavalle. Brian Carroll replaced Haris Medunjanin, and Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry entered for Giliano Wijnaldum, Trusty, Jack Elliott and Ray Gaddis. 

“It’s a great experience, especially playing against guys who play in a league you grew up watching,” McGuire said. “I think it was a great experience for all of us young guys who got to start for the first time tonight. It’s a real good experience for all of us.” 

Midway through the half, Ken Tribbett replaced Carroll, and took the captaincy, while Bethlehem Steel players Anthony Fontana and Aaron Jones replaced Keegan Rosenberry and Derrick Jones, to make their Union debut. Both young players made an impact.

“The debuts are special,” Curtin said. “To have it come against a Premier League team is unique, timing wise. Anthony gets it this year and he did a great job, he looked fearless and that’s what we want - we like players who aren’t scared. I think a lot of guys showed well tonight.”

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.