The Sons of Ben will be put to the test against a Union side led by manager Peter Nowak.

Scouting Report: Questions abound heading into River Cup

Statistics, strategy, tactics — throw it all out the window.

Friday's inaugural River Cup charity match between the Sons of Ben and Philadelphia Union front office sets up as a wildly unpredictable affair.

We don't really know much about this Sons of Ben squad. We don't know their style of play, we don't know what kind of formation they'll use, and we don't know who their most dangerous players are.

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So when Sons of Ben President Matt Ansbro sat down at a Wednesday press conference with Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, Scouting Report asked him bluntly: Can you tell us anything about your team?

"Um ... no," replied the SOB leader. "It was probably a planted question from the team, looking for an edge."

It was a decidedly unrevealing response from The River End's head honcho. While he went on to add some vague details, Ansbro wouldn't divulge any secrets about his roster or strategy. 

"We have a pretty good group of guys," explained Ansbro. "From guys who are in the leadership of the Sons of Ben, guys who have played in our recreational leagues and Casa league, guys who have played for years who will be participating in the game — various skill levels, all very much qualified to be on the field. We're looking to be very aggressive in this game."

"Oh brother," Sakiewicz said in response.

The Union owner was a little less assertive when describing his own readiness for the game. 

"I'm hoping I can make the starting lineup and just get through five minutes," Sakiewicz joked. "I asked Sheri Dannaker, my assistant, to make sure there is a ventilator and defibrillator on the sidelines."

When Ansbro suggested he also bring ice, Sakiewicz took the opportunity to announce his plans to wear shin guards on both sides of each leg, a counter that was met by a roar of laughter from a packed press conference room.

All teasing aside, there's no denying the resume of the Union CEO. He is, after all, a former professional goalkeeper with overseas experience. He still holds records at the University of New Haven, where he was an All-American.

Sakiewicz says his fellow owners are also ready to take the pitch.

"It's going to be a pretty serious soccer game," said Sakiewicz. "My partner, Jay Sugarman, and the Buccini brothers (Rob and Chris), have been training actually for a couple of months. Chris Buccini actually hired a personal trainer to get fit for this. We shipped over some equipment this morning so that they'll be ready on Friday."

We know that the Union team will include front office members, as well as members of the technical staff. Manager Peter Nowak — a member of the MLS All-Time Best XI and former captain of the Polish National Team — and John Hackworth, who also played professionally, will get the nod against the Sons of Ben. 

But what kind of formation will we see? And who will be in the starting XI?

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The front office has a number of options. They could run a conventional 4-4-2, or maybe a 4-5-1 with a single striker. Either way, expect to see Nowak as a central attacking midfielder, his customary position. The Union boss was a ferocious two-way player during his time with the Chicago Fire.

As for Sakiewicz, he's hoping to revive the sweeper position and lock down a starting spot. He didn't comment on lineups or formations, instead leaving that decision to Nowak.

"I haven't talked to Peter about this yet, because he's the player-coach and Jay Sugarman is the captain," Sakiewicz said. "I just told them both that I have to start at center back  the Franz Beckenbauer type of center back. And if I don't, I'm going to ask for a trade."

For the Sons of Ben, the details are slim. 23 players are on the roster, including six of the nine SOB elders. 

A look through the Casa League website shows that the Sons of Ben appeared to have two teams playing in the league this Spring  a third division squad and a fourth division side.

At 5-2-4, the third division squad "Sons of Ben Zolo" did considerably better than the fourth division squad, "Sons of Ben Independence."

SOB elder Mike Naioti was listed as a "right halfback" on the team's Casa roster, so we may see him out wide. 

We truly aren't sure where the rest of the SOBs will line up. They've been uncharacteristically silent on the matter, despite attempts to dig up potentially valuable information.

We can confirm, however, that The River End did reach out to Union color commentator Taylor Twellman for assistance. 

Sakiewicz pressed Ansbro on the move at Wednesday's press conference. Here's the exchange:

[Sakiewicz: "I heard you were offering free SOB memberships to former MLS players? What's up dude?" 

Ansbro: "Despite the rumors, we've kept [the team] mostly internal. We did approach Taylor Twellman to play. We have a very good Twitter relationship with him. But ultimately, he was unable to play."] 

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Another exchange arose over the addition of Kerith Gabriel to the SOB roster. The Philadelphia Daily News beat writer normally asks the hard-hitting questions, but now he'll be suiting up 11 vs. 11 against Nowak and company.

Sakiewicz was unaware that the Sons of Ben had approached Gabriel, and decided to inquire about the availability of his services.

"Actually I just found that out and I informed Matt that I'm submitting a protest to the commissioner of the league," Sakiewicz said, laughing. "That's a bit of a conflict of interest, to have one of our prized beat writers play on their team."

Ansbro didn't exactly come to the defense of his new teammate.

"I will say that his game is much smoother than his writing," he quipped.

As the trash talk escalates, predictions and pledged allegiances continue to roll in. Sakiewicz is calling for a 42-37 Union victory. Striker Danny Mwanga is siding with the SOBs. One member of the Twitter community predicted 10 goals for Nowak.

So there you have it, a scouting report — if you can call it that.

We'll see what happens on Friday.

River Cup tickets can be purchased at PPL Park on the day of the match for $10, with all proceeds going directly to Chester City United. Gates open at 6:00 p.m., with kick off slated for 6:30 p.m. For more information, click here.

Related:

WATCH: River Cup press conference

Stat sheet, including full match day rosters


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