Philadelphia Union emerged from the offseason for their first outing since November, taking on CR Flamengo in a preseason friendly at Al Lang stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Sunday afternoon meeting marked the first of Philadelphia’s five preseason matches, and although it ended in an unfavorable 2-0 result, it provided Curtin’s young cast of players a chance to find their footing among world-class talent in front of a roaring crowd of black and red.
“We're a little bit short handed with guys being away and a couple injuries before the game, but overall to play your first game with an atmosphere like this against a club like Flamengo with the history that they have – they had probably close to $200 million on the field. It's a really tough test for our guys,” Curtin said.
“I thought we saw some good performances from some guys, but certainly things we can still clean up and work on. I think the lesson today is if you make mistakes against really top level teams like the we're going to be seeing in the Concacaf Champions Cup, you get punished and they score. Good exercise overall, built some fitness and a lot of positives to take away.”
The first-tier Brazilian side fielded a star-studded cast against Curtin’s squad, who averaged 23.5 years in age during the first half, and even younger in the second. Without starters like Daniel Gazdag and Mikael Uhre who haven’t joined the squad in Florida yet, plus Julian Carranza, Leon Flach, and Tai Baribo unavailable to play due to injury, Curtin split the halves between two 12-man lineups that featured a mix of seasoned veterans, academy call-ups, and new signings.
“It's good to see teams with different looks. Good quality, top-quality. I think we matched up fairly well against them, especially considering it was the first game back and mixed up groups," said 28-year-old center back Jack Elliott, who's entering his eighth season on the squad.
"The young guys that came in did a great job and I think it was a good day overall."
Elliott played the entire second half alongside a group that has earned fewer Major League Soccer starts combined than he's totaled personally. He was paired at centerback with 16-year-old Neil Pierre, who’s taking part in his inaugural first team camp this year. The duo shut out Flamengo in the second half, helping 24-year-old keeper Holden Trent hold it down through the final whistle.
“For some of our younger players, our new signings, our Union II players, our Academy guys, this is the highest level game that they've been a part of so far. So, I think you're always learning in those moments,” Curtin said.
“I think guys like Neil Pierre stood up and did a really good job. Quinn Sullivan had a good day today as well. It was active, a lot of good little performances, but certainly things we need to clean up and execute a little better. And I know we'll bounce back and have a good performance against Austin.”
Philadelphia has four more matches on the agenda before it counts; they’re less than a month out from their Concacaf Champions Cup game against Saprissa and Costa Rica. For now, they’re a day away from their next preseason match against Austin FC on Tuesday evening back at Al Lang.