CHESTER, Pa. — Although Wednesday’s friendly versus Crystal Palace FC was inconveniently sandwiched between hosting D.C. United last Saturday and the New York Red Bulls on Sunday in MLS play, the Union made the most of it.
Derrick Jones, Cole Missimo and Taylor Washington impressed in their club debut, as the Union went toe to toe with the English Premier League side, 0-0, on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium.
“It’s great for young and old players to test yourself against the best,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “That’s where you measure yourself. You play for the respect of your teammates and obviously you want to leave a mark.”
Jones, a 19-year-old Union academy product and one of the club’s brightest young prospects, left his mark in the 50th minute when he grabbed possession just outside the Crystal Palace box and laced a heady pass to streaking Warren Creavalle. The midfielder’s cross was disposed of by the Eagles' defense, but the point was made by Jones, who was poised against the English side.
“Derrick made a great through ball, so it’s good for our number eight,” Curtin said. “We look for him to play penetrating balls and Derrick did that twice in the game that led to chances. Maybe on a different night we think to shoot first instead of pass.”
Assigned the duty of box-to-box midfielder, Jones was picked up on a short-term loan from the Union’s USL affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel, to play on Wednesday.
“I really am excited they gave me the chance to play and see the player that I’ve become since I came out of the Academy,” Jones said. “I’m really glad they gave me a chance to play.”
But Missimo wouldn’t be outdone by his Steel teammate. The 64th overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft put his ball skills on display midway through the second half, when he stunned Crystal Palace’s Connor Wickham with a vicious nutmeg that brought the home crowd to their feet.
“I don’t know what else I could’ve done with it because I don’t think I could’ve gone backwards with it,” Missimo said. “So I was just hoping I’d just put it around him, and I guess I got kind of lucky that I got by him. Pretty cool moment.”
Despite the draw, it was a good showing for the Union’s youth.
“It’s awesome,” Missimo said. “It’s a dream come true and it’s so special, and we’ve been working for the last six months now, and to be able to finally put that shirt on in an awesome game against an English Premier League team that I’ve been watching for five years now, that’s a special moment.”
The Union are 5-5-1 dating back to July 14, 2010, when the club began challenging international clubs to midseason friendlies. Last season, the Union were dominated by A.F.C. Bournemouth, 4-1. Wednesday marked the second time the Union hosted the Eagles. They lost to Crystal Palace, 1-0, on July 25, 2014
“There wasn't one tackle in the game that was unsavory,” Crystal Palace coach Alan Pardew said. “There were a couple of professional fouls, so it was really played in a great spirit. It's a shame for the fans that there were no goals, because fans love goals.”
The first half was riddled with the Union’s missed opportunities. With Roland Alberg and C.J. Sapong picking up most of the offensive pressure, Walter Restrepo had the half’s best chances in the 41st minute, when he ripped a shot from the top of the box that buzzed the cross bar and flew into the crowd. Moments later, Restrepo gained the left corner and fired off a shot that curved just outside the right post.
“I was happy with the way my guys played, calm on the ball, comfortable,” Curtin said. “I was most proud that the first-half group and the second-half group looked the exact same, which is good. It shows that we have depth.”
Moving into the second half, the Union made wholesale roster changes that included goaltender Matt Jones for John McCarthy. The veteran keeper was put to work early and often, as he made four saves. Jones and McCarthy combined for the seven-save shutout.
“We lacked a little bit of sharpness and cutting edge,” Pardew said. “But they still needed their keeper to make three fabulous saves, down and to his left-hand side. They really were top drawer, two of them for sure. It was a good game.”
The Union began the match with a fairly regular gameday lineup that featured Alberg at center midfield and Sapong up top, flanked by Restrepo and Sebastien Le Toux. Behind Alberg sat Leo Fernandes and Brian Carroll, with Ken Tribbett, Josh Yaro, Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry.
Fernandes and Restrepo remained into the second half, as Curtin tapped Fabian Herbers, Anderson, Richie Marquez and Ray Gaddis. Ryan Richter replaced Restrepo in the 77th minute.
“Overall I was really happy with the guys,” Curtin said. “Some of them haven’t gotten a lot of minutes this year but they bring it every day in training. They’re the reason why some of the starters are having a successful year.”