Match against Crew was under watchful eye of coaches as players fight for contracts

Coaches view match critical "evaluation tool" for Union hopefuls

ORLANDO, Fla. – Forget the score.

Wednesday’s second preseason match against the Columbus Crew was an evaluation. It was a chance for the coaches to look at players looking to make the roster in a game scenario. Draft picks, trialists, all fighting for contracts.

And at the end of a game that finished 4-0 in favor of the Crew in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, Hackworth acknowledged as much – and more.

“It was just an evaluation tool really, giving guys an opportunity,” said Hackworth. “The guys that played today for the most part didn’t play on Saturday in our first game and you have got to give guys a look against an opponent in a real game and that’s what this [match] was about.”

In a match devoid of the assumed first team lineup, the Union found it tough to keep the Crew at bay especially through the middle of the park. Forward Ryan Finley, who had chances early, got the Crew on the board in the 28th minute. But the real hero was Crew midfielder Ethan Finlay who scored a pair and assisted on Columbus’ final goal of the afternoon a cross to the head of forward Aaron Schoenfeld.

“Looking at it we had a lot of young guys playing today, guys who are first year guys and who are still trying to get used to the system,” said goalkeeper Chris Konopka, a 59th minute substitution who started the match for fellow backup Chase Harrison. “By the end of the game I think we looked a little bit more comfortable; the result isn’t what we wanted, but you have to look at the fact that for the last 30 minutes [Columbus] put in most of their starting 11 and we were able to hold it together and not concede. So when it comes to that, I think it’s just going to take time for the young guys to get used to the system.”

The system preached by the technical staff for the past few weeks has really been based on keeping the ball, holding serve on possession and creating chances.

Was that the case in this match?

“Unfortunately, no,” Hackworth said. “There were not a ton of positives, I thought we had a couple moments in the first half where we played well and created a couple of good chances off of those. And in the last 30 minutes Roger Torres came on and at least he was looking for the ball, but not a ton to take away from that game except as I said before that it’s a good evaluation tool and tells us a lot more about the guys we have in camp and where they stand.”

One player who it appeared did well to help his cause was forward Leo Fernandes, who played close to 75 minutes in this match. Fernandes confidence has been evident in practice, particularly since scoring the equalizer in the Union’s preseason opener against Orlando City. In this match, the Union also introduced one of the latest trialists to join the team down in Florida in Bulgarian midfielder Georgi Hristov. Hristov entered the match in the 60th minute for midfielder Michael Lahoud.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Union who including today will play three matches in a four day period. Up next is Montreal at EverBank Field in Jacksonville (7:30 p.m.) followed by the third group match of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic against Toronto FC (3 p.m., philadelphiaunion.com/live).

Watch: Zac MacMath talks preseason training

Expect to see the Union’s core group earn the start against Montreal as Hackworth mentioned a periodization plan that could find his regular starters play as much as 75 minutes in the match against the Impact.

“This game today was about guys trying to make a mark and earning a contract,” said Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakewicz. “For some of them it was good and for some of them it was not so good. This game for us today was about answering some questions – so I think a lot of questions got answered.”

Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com