Philly Sports Live

Union Open Practice: Ten Observations [UPDATED]



Wayne, PA – Philly Sports Live was on hand this morning at YSC Sports Club as the Philadelphia Union opened up the pre-season with their first practice of the year.  A couple of hundred fans made their way to YSC to see the new look Union, and they didn’t go home disappointed.  John Hackworth’s team did a good job staying focused at practice while also entertaining the fans.  During the three hour practice, PSL made the following observations in no particular order:

1. Stephen Okai is MLS ready.  Okai was picked up in the second round of this year’s MLS SuperDraft with the Union’s second pick.  The 23 year old midfielder showed great ball vision and speed during today’s drills.  This especially evident during the keep-away drill where he was both good at holding onto the ball and making quick passes, as well as getting the ball away from his fellow teammates.  Despite being a rookie, don’t expect to see Okai sitting on the bench a lot during the 2013 season; this kid is ready to play.

2. The atmosphere around YSC was relaxed.  Unlike last years open practice where there was next to no interaction from the players or coaching staff, manager John Hackworth made it a point to address the fans, unlike Peter Nowak last season who was probably less than thrilled to have fans watching his practice.  The players seemed happy, relaxed, and overall seemed to be having a good time with each other.

3. Bakary Soumare is close to, if not already 100%.  Despite our previous reportsit turns out that the 6’4″ center back may not have been such a bad pick up after all.  Soumare showed great poise, and after two surgeries on the same knee, his movement looked really good.  There was also no sign of a knee brace, yet another indication that he is ready for 2013 season.

4. Roger Torres is back to full form.  Torres sat out most of the 2012 season with a knee injury he picked up during a reserve match against New England early on in the campaign.  This was yet another one of Peter Nowak mishaps as he often played his guys for too long during those games.  In 2011, Torres was one of the Union’s most creative attackers, either by scoring goals of his own, or helping to create them alongside Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga and Carlos Ruiz.  Torres looked sharp during the open practice and despite putting a compression brace on his bad knee, scored the only goal of the day during the scrimmages.  If Torres stays healthy and sticks around Philadelphia, he will be one of the most dangerous play makers the Union have in 2013.

5. Expect Jack McInerney and Antoine Hoppenot to compete for the starting spot in the 4-3-3 alongside Le Toux and Conor Casey.  McInerney didn’t look sharp during the practice today, while Hoppenot definitely made his presense known.  JacMac at points looked lasidasical and often times confused as to what was going on during scrimmages   Hoppenot on the other hand was bright; he took some good shots throughout the day and played the field well as well.  While it’s still early and today doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, look for these two to creat something of a friendly rivalry as they vie for that starting spot.

6. Chase Harrison was at practice today.  Despite being let go during the off-season, Harrison showed up to practice as if he never left.  We don’t currently have much information as to why he was there, but as more details are released, the PSL Soccer Desk will post the details.

7. Zac MacMath’s training at Everton under USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard is paying off in dividends.  While MacMath didn’t have a whole lot to do today, there were two noticeable details.  The first, knowing he is the number one keeper going into the 2013 campaign has boosted his confidence immensely, which leads to number two.  With that confidence, MacMath has become a strong leader, not scared anymore to bark orders at his defenders.  This is obviously something he and Howard must have worked on a lot during the three week period he was there.  The difference from last year to this year is huge.  Hopefully, that translates onto the actual playing field instead of the practice field.

8. Chris Konopka is the perfect backup to MacMath.  While Konopka is number two in the keeper depth chart, he has proven himself a worthy replacement if anything happens to MacMath.  Konopka was superb during the Union’s U.S. Open Cup run last season, and today during practice, wasn’t afraid to show off his moves and leadership skills.  He may have actually been the most vocal player on the field today alongside Sheanon Williams.

9. Sheanon Williams is looking to wear that captain’s armband.  Williams was both on his game and on top of his team during practice today, taking a leadership role when it came to spreading out the defense.  While Brian Carroll may be the obvious captain choice, Williams is the dark horse.  Carroll wasn’t noticeably leader-like today, so it would come as no surprise come game day if Williams led his team onto the field. [UPDATE]: Brian Carroll was named captain after the practice be John Hackworth.

10. As promised, Freddy Adu was nowhere to be seen.  Adu is all but gone from the team, as the only thing the Union are waiting on is an offer…of any kind.

Stay tuned to the Philly Sports Live Soccer Desk as the Union’s pre-season rolls on.