Wednesday offered the best weather so far since the Union have been in Clearwater, and coincidence or not, out came the goals. Just a day after C.J. Sapong said the offensive flow was coming along, a barrage of goals highlighted the afternoon’s session full-length scrimmage.
The increased length and width probably helped, too.
But Wednesday started far away from the Union’s practice facility at the Joe DiMaggio sports complex. Strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller took the team on an 8 a.m. run along the beach outside of the Union’s hotel room.
The team had the rest of the day off until afternoon intersquad scrimmages. After a 20-minute workout, the teams were broken into three squads and played two 30-minute matches.
Red team (4-4-2): Andre Blake; Fabinho, Ethan White, Austin Berry, Sheanon Williams; Jimmy McLaughlin, Eric Bird, Fred, Danny Cruz; C.J. Sapong, Conor Casey.
Gray team (4-2-3-1): John McCarthy; Raymond Lee, Maurice Edu, Richie Marquez, Ray Gaddis; Aodhan Quinn, Zach Pfeffer; Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux; Dzenan Catic.
Dzenan Catic started the scoring about five minutes in off a feed from Cristian Maidana. It was a good pass from Maidana as Catic found a sliver of space inside 18, and then beat Andre Blake to his left. But the red team equalized immediately, with Sapong taking advantage of a failed clearance before finishing.
Zach Pfeffer had a strong game in the midfield and banged home a goal around the 12-minute mark (assist to Sebastien Le Toux) to put the gray team back ahead. He then added an assist late in the match to Andrew Wenger to put gray up 3-1, where it ended.
“Yea I liked [where I played today], I felt comfortable,” Pfeffer said. “Chaco [Maidana] and I had the freedom to change – I started at the 8, he was the 10 – and we were able to interchange. I thought it worked well.”
Wenger had a strong game, too, looking very much like his usual self up along the left wing. And in case you were wondering what more the former ACC Offensive, and Defensive, Player of the Year could do, how about broadcasting?
Red team (4-2-3-1): John McCarthy/Andre Blake; Fabinho, Austin Berry, Ethan White, Raymond Lee; Eric Bird, Aodhan Quinn; Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristian Maidana, Danny Cruz; Dzenan Catic.
Gray team (4-2-3-1): Brian Sylvestre; Petros Kanakoudis, Aaron Simmons, Derrick Jones, Navid Nasseri; Michael Lahoud, Brian Carroll; Yosef Samuel, Antoine Hoppenot, Eric Ayuk Mbu; Aaron Wheeler.
In between scrimmages, head coach Jim Curtin stressed the importance of defending and it showed. The fresh gray team had the run of play for much of the early portion of the match, but it went scoreless for about 25 minutes. The best scoring chance during that period came from an Aaron Wheeler header that Blake saved. It was a nice build-up play along the left side between trialist Petros Kanakoudis and academy member Yosef Samuel, with Kankoudis playing the cross in.
Danny Cruz scored the game’s lone goal thanks to a nice run without ball to latch onto a cross for a tap-in. The gray team didn’t go down without a fight though, as trialist Eric Ayuk Mbu powered a header in that forced a diving stop from trialist John McCarthy.
So yes, the goals were there, but defender Ethan White had a logical explanation. After all, it was the team’s first full-length scrimmage.
“It’s always frustrating giving up goals, especially when they’re preventable,” he said, “But when we get into bigger spaces, that means there’s more room for error. Guys are still getting to know each other – we’ll get it together.”
The injury report is the same. Both Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud got into the final scrimmage and are on the mend. He'll be ready to go for Saturday's preseason match against Jacksonville. Other non-roster invitees not mentioned include trialists Aodhan Quinn and Navid Nasseri, who both joined the training sessions yesterday. And as we reported on Monday, academy member Derrick Jones is with the club as well as Samuel. Fellow members Sebastien Elney and Sean Wilson will join the team soon.
So Day Three from Clearwater is in the books. Curtin has liked what he’s seen so far.
“The workload has really increased, we’re getting some fitness work in,” he said. “We pushed them out here today for the first time in a 30-minute scrimmage – some guys got pushed a little more. I was happy with the chances we created – I thought we scored some good goals – but we need to work on some team defensive things, not just the back four.
“It’s still early, though,” he continued. “We have some time to get things right.”
And on the fun side, the powerball lottery is up to $317 million with another drawing tonight. Fred was kind enough to let us know why he might not be at work tomorrow. Best of luck.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at email@example.com.