Open Practice Impressions
The Philadelphia Union held their annual open practice today at YSC Sports Center in Wayne, PA. I was fortunate enough to attend, get a good seat, and live tweet the event and now that I’ve had some time to think about what I saw, I’ll give you my reflections:
This is not 2012, and I don’t mean that by the fact that the players were allowed water breaks. This is a different mentality than 2012. This is 2013. I’m excited. I’m stoked for this season. Sure there was some rust, some discombobulation, and some confusion. But the practice was filled with positives. The team reported in relatively good shape. No one looked fat, no one looked hurt. Bakary Soumare’s knee? Looked fine. Roger Torres’ knee? No issues. Chris Albright? Fine. Conor Casey? Fine. The only person who was not on the pitch was Danny Cruz, who I heard limped off of the pitch. This had to have been early on, and unfortunately I can’t verify the accuracy of this. Obviously we hope Danny is ok and that these reports were exaggerated.
I’m happy to report that although he looked a little out-of-breath a couple of times, Soumare had a full range of motion. His knee showed no signs of limiting him. He communicated well with Sheanon Williams on the back line, played physically, ate up a lot of space, and gave forwards fits when they tried to play through or (usually) around him. He looks like he’s very capable of regaining the form that made him part of the MLS Best XI in 2008.
Also happy to report that Conor Casey looked healthy too. Good touch, and a physical presence up top. He looks hungry and ready to put his naysayers to rest. Got his head on a low corner kick from Le Toux that went wide, and also got under a nice through ball from Jack McInerney that he put just over the bar. Looked to be shaking some rust off at points, but didn’t appear to be hampered by anything. Expecting him to be that physical target up top on March 2.
Reportedly at the end of last year, Roger Torres was told that in order to have a shot at playing time this season he would have to report in shape and ready to go. To say that he listened would be an understatement. Roger’s passes were crisp, his shots were clean, and he scored the only goal in the 8 on 8 scrimmages they had. He looked good on the ball and off. This was the Roger we all saw in 2011, not the one hampered by injury and buried on the depth chart in 2012.
Gabe Farfan looked to have bulked up a bit during the offseason, which will serve him well if he is remaining at left back.
Mike Farfan was showing good vision on some of his passes. Looks like he didn’t miss a beat from last season.
Amobi Okugo seemed to be playing up a bit. Hard to tell in 6 on 6 and 8 on 8 whether he was supposed to be a center back or a defensive midfielder, however when he makes a run at goal he’s doing neither. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as these runs were few and far between. Still, it served as a reminder of his offensive prowess.
Antoine Hoppenot was as feisty as ever, however he also looked to have improved his footwork and his first touch. He put an absolute rocket just over the bar during 8 on 8.
Chris Konopka looked solid in goal. He was constantly yelling at his defense, keeping them organized.
Zac MacMath looked confident, which he seemed to lack at the end of 2012. His positioning was good, however he was very quiet and didn’t seem to offer much in the way of commands to his defense. That being said, this is not an indictment of him – that’s just his style of play.
While I was not expecting too much from the new faces, Stephen Okai impressed me. His passing was as advertised – clean and with good vision. He looked like he deserved to be out on the pitch with the others. Aaron Wheeler looked ok, although I didn’t see much of the blazing speed that was touted. His movement was good, however he was outmuscled when he went up against Soumare, but that is not an indictment against him. Don Anding looked decent enough – unremarkable, but not out of place. Alex Mendoza from Pumas Morelos (Pumas’ B team that plays in the Ascenso MX – the Second Division) was a nice surprise. He wasn’t stellar, but looked decent enough. There were also a couple of new faces that I didn’t recognize – one of which was reportedly a prospect the club has been looking at “as a discovery signing“. These guys are young and I would imagine that for most of them it was their first time meeting and working with the guys who’ve been here for a while. Give them time to work with our guys and to learn our system.
Notably unremarkable was Sebastien Le Toux. He came out onto the pitch last, and while he participated in the scrimmages, he didn’t do much. He ran, but didn’t find himself open a lot of the time and I don’t believe he registered a shot. He took a corner kick, however it was a low line-drive that the 6’4″ Casey had to duck to get a head on. And after the scrimmages when the rest of the team was doing timing and dribbling drills, he did one-two passes off behind everything with Cristhian Hernandez (who jumped into the drill line after a few minutes) and took shots from about 25 yards out at an open net. Hopefully this is not indicative of his work ethic, or else we may very well have another Freddy Adu situation on our hands.