The Philadelphia Union fell to Stoke City FC, 2-0 in a friendly Tuesday night at PPL Park. The Union return to MLS action this Saturday when they face Eastern Conference counterpart Chicago Fire in another match at PPL Park, broadcast at 8 p.m. ET on Comcast SportsNet.
First-half goals from the Potters’ Michael Kightly and American midfielder Brek Shea – the hero in the U.S. national team capturing the Gold Cup just two days prior – fueled a win over a young Union side. While the final score line clearly wasn’t to his liking, manager John Hackworth said it was good to see the young players who don’t receive regular minutes get a full taste of how to prepare for matches against big time competition.
“This was a good opportunity for us to give guys a run out and make sure that they have the sensations and rhythm of starting in a game,” said Hackworth, postgame. “Everything from listening to the National Anthem, shaking hands [with the opposition] all those kinds of things are really important for players just so that they know how to prepare themselves.”
What the Union could not prepare for was a big, strong imposing Stoke City side. Few players on that squad stood less than six feet which proved a difficult task to keep under wraps.
“To be honest, I was quite shocked when I first saw their team,” said Aaron Wheeler, who started Tuesday’s match at center back alongside veteran Chris Albright. “I don’t think they had a player in the first half that stood less than six foot. They were just big physical specimens.”
Despite the two first-half goals from the English side, the Union fielded 11 new players for the second half and held Stoke City to just three shots while creating several offensive opportunities, including a Sebastien Le Toux goal that was called back for being offside.
What a match like this does is allow the Union to regroup and focus for Saturday in a return to league play against the Chicago Fire at PPL Park. A match that no one within the Union locker room is taking lightly, considering it’s a chance to keep a six-match unbeaten streak at home in MLS play intact. The Union has kept true to their mantra of making PPL Park a fortress, taking at least a point in every home match since a loss to Los Angeles in May.
“I think for the season we have been working hard and sticking together as a group,” said Union midfielder Keon Daniel. “And I think once we continue to do that and play as a team we will get the results.”