It sure didn’t feel like a friendly at PPL Park on Wednesday night when the Union edged Scottish power Celtic FC 1-0 on a 23rd minute goal from forward Sebastien Le Toux. While neither side fielded their full starting XI for the duration of the match, the first friendly in Union history was an intense, back-and-forth contest that nearly saw Celtic equalize in the waning moments.
After a demoralizing 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday, a match that was controlled throughout by Philadelphia, a win against a club like Celtic will go a long way towards the boosting club’s confidence.
“Overall I thought we played very well in the first half, moved the ball well, had a balanced attack, good mobility, and created a number of chances,” said Union coach John Hackworth. “We got a goal and limited the opportunities we allowed Celtic to have, which is good. I think we controlled the tempo and the rhythm of the game, and that was good.”
Goalkeeper Brian Perk had a tremendous second half in net, denying Celtic on numerous occasions to keep the home side in the lead. After Toni Stahl received his second yellow card and subsequent ejection, Celtic pressed hard for a late goal but came up empty in large part because of the rookie goalkeeper out of UCLA.
“I think (the win in a friendly) helps, but at the end of the day I think we all know we played great in the last game (against San Jose) and I don’t think there’s any reason to hang our heads,” said Perk. “It just shows if we keep playing the way we did the last couple games, we are going to get a lot of points.”
The win was a historic one for the expansion Union, beating a club with 122 years of history on their side. Even more telling than the victory itself was the way Philadelphia conducted themselves, coming out attacking and clearly showing no fear against the favored visitors. ‘The Bhoys’ may not have had their full complement of stars on the pitch – nor did the Union in the second half after subbing over half their starting XI at the break -- but they were clearly playing to win and ended up convincingly outplayed by the MLS outfit.
“We understand that it’s a preseason game for them,” added Hackworth. “They’re just brand new into their preseason. For us, we’re in good form and we used it to test some of our younger players. We don’t take too much stock in it and say hey, we beat Celtic and we’re one of the top clubs. We got a result, we got a shutout, and that’s really important for us in this locker room, and now we move on.
“We made a lot of changes at halftime and gave guys an opportunity to get 45 minutes. That was important for guys who haven’t played regularly in MLS games. It was also a really good opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate some players and get them experience in a real game. In the end, we got a shutout, which is huge. It was something we needed as a group.”
The Union moved the ball with pace and creativity throughout the evening, proving once again that they have no plans to sit back and play defensively against any opponent. With the club returning to MLS play this Saturday at PPL Park, the win -- and the type of win -- should go a long way towards erasing the memory of the last match at PPL Park.
With only three days until the Union take to the pitch again at home, we’ll find out soon enough.