When the Philadelphia Union set up international friendlies against two of the most storied clubs in world soccer, Manchester United FC and Celtic FC, expectations on the pitch were tempered outside of the Union locker room. While fans hoped for competitive matches, many would’ve been satisfied with simply avoiding blowout losses.
After playing both clubs within an eight-day period, with a 2-1 win against Toronto sandwiched in between, the Union exceeded expectations by all accounts. In fact, after 180 minutes plus stoppage time between the two friendlies, the Union emerged dead even on the scoreboard, beating Celtic 1-0 and losing to the Red Devils by the same score.
For Philadelphia, the results are motivating, but not nearly as important as the experience gained and lessons learned.
“Our philosophy is that we want to try to build something here,” said Union Coach John Hackworth after yesterday’s match against United. “We want to establish a soccer culture with our club, and we do that by trying to consistently play the soccer that we play in training every day. That soccer involves a little bit of technical ability, good ball movement, mobility, and putting numbers into the attack.
“The demands on our players are very strong, the same as Manchester United does on their players. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on both sides of the ball. When we approach this game, we don’t do anything different. As for our starters, I think they held their own out there tonight.”
Not only did they hold their own against one of the world’s elite clubs, they outplayed Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in the run of play for the first 45 minutes, registering more shots on goal in the process. United clearly showed their class as well, but Philadelphia by no means looked like a far inferior squad.
“I don’t think that if you look at the first half, that Manchester United’s tactics were so superior to the Union’s,” added Hackworth. “I think on the whole that you can say the level of play is much higher (with United) because of the athletes, and the work ethic and the mentality, not to mention the technical and tactical ability of those players to execute at that speed. That’s what I think the difference is and what we need to continually strive for. “
The Union are certainly headed in the right direction if the two friendlies and their recent quality in league play are any indication, and it appears Ferguson would agree.
“I thought that this was the kind of game we needed,” he said after narrowly edging the Union. “The Union were very durable, aggressive, and got to the ball quickly and made it really difficult for us. It was a good game for us. They were very good opponents. I thought they did really well.”
When Philadelphia resume MLS action on July 31 against New England, we’ll see if the Union continue to evolve at their current rapid pace.
For now, keeping up with Manchester United and Celtic will do just fine.