Youth was on display as Philadelphia Union opened its 2024 preseason with a 2-0 loss to Brazilian juggernaut CR Flamengo on Sunday afternoon.
The former baseball stadium on the water that plays host to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, was packed with Flamengo fans who took advantage of an opportunity to see one of South America’s most successful teams in it’s first of two American appearances this month.
The game marked the first time the group has entered the pitch as a team since their MLS Cup Semifinal loss at FC Cincinnati in late November. Sunday’s game also marked the first time many of the lineup played together in game action, just a week after the official start of preseason. Head Coach Jim Curtin sent out a mixed cast of new additions, academy products, and a few veterans to take on the Brazilian giants in the first half.
As for Flamengo, a team rich with history, there was no shortage of veteran experience on the field with star studded starting lineup that included South American talent, including David Luiz, Pedro, and Cebolinha, to name a few.
In his first game action since signing a new contract, Chris Donovan nearly opened scoring for the Philadelphia Union in the 7th minute, nearly breaking through a 1v1 with Flamengo keeper Agustín Daniel Rossi. His attempt was stifled but the Union nearly converted a minute later as Joaquin Torres laced a left-footed curler that forced a diving stop. However it was Flamengo who claimed the first lead of the day as keeper Andre Blake advanced toward Everton Cebolinha in attempt to stop his drive toward the net, unintentionally tripping him inside the box, drawing a penalty kick in the 12th minute. Pedro took the chance, claiming Flamengo’s first goal in the states for the year.
Philadelphia Union held their own through the majority of the first half, holding Flamengo to just one goal until the 42nd minute. As the Boys in Blue searched for an equalizer, the Brazilian side’s chemistry turned into a second goal before the break with quick passes outside the box setting up a curling finish from Everton.
With an even younger lineup in the second half for the Union, goalkeeper Holden Trent held it down in the early the second half, stopping multiple attempts from Flamengo’s relentless attack that brought on Gabigol and Giorgian de Arrascaeta as second half options. Barely two minutes after the match resumed, Trent was called upon to make a reaction stop in the air. The 2022 MLS SuperDraft selection then got his gloves on back-to-back shots before the hour mark to keep the match 2-0.
Newcomer Sanders Ngabo earned his Union debut in the second half as well, making a hustle play that embodied the City of Brotherly Love in the 71st with a long-distance sprint to deny a close-range shot from Flamengo.
Sunday's match was the first test of the 2024 preseason presented by Cintron as Philadelphia Union will play a total of five preseason friendlies. Up next for the Unino the Boys in Blue will play Austin FC in a closed door scrimmage at 6:30PM ET on Tuesday evening. All matches are in preparation for the Union's match against Deportivo Saprissa on Tuesday, February 20 at 10:00 p.m. ET in the first leg of the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup. They will then return home to host Chicago Fire FC on February 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET in their 2024 MLS regular season home opener.