Young stars stood out on Saturday night as the Union took a 2-2 draw to visiting Swansea City FC. The Union struggled to find early offensive momentum, but surged back in the second half to tie up a match focused on testing the team’s talent in an international friendly.
A sloppy pass fed the Union’s first goal when Roland Alberg intercepted a pass to the Swansea backline and sprinted full tilt to the goal. Alberg dished the ball off to Marcus Epps, who was sent to the ground by a Swansea defender in the box. C.J. Sapong buried the penalty kick in the center of the net to put the Union ahead, 1-0, in the sixth minute.
From there, the first half was a defensive clinic for the Union as Swansea outshot the Union 11-to-4, taking seven corner kicks. Defender Auston Trusty, an 18-year-old homegrown standout, sliced away passes from Jordan Ayew to hold off runs through the box and knocked away a shot from Kyle Naughton in the 19th minute. Goalkeeper Jake McGuire knocked away another hard shot in the 21st minute to hold the lead.
The defense finally cracked in the 28th minute on a set piece from the corner. McGuire made a diving initial save, but the ball was kept alive until Kyle Bartley sent it into the net. With dominant possession of the ball, Swansea took the lead in the 39th minute off another corner kick. MacGuire overcommitted to the crossed ball, which was deflected and struck cleanly by Ayew to give Swansea the 2-1 lead.
At the half, head coach Jim Curtin made 11 substitutions, allowing a full set of fresh legs to take to the field. The second half squad for the Union found an answer for Swansea in the 58th minute, when Ilsinho fed a ball to the right side of the box for Jay Simpson. Off balance, Simpson slid to sneak the ball just past the keeper’s hands to tie the game.
“It’s always enjoyable to score and to get on the scoresheet helps to build confidence,” Simpson said. “[The game] was a good chance for the players who haven’t been playing much and obviously for the young players managing to make their debuts. It was a good exercise for the whole team.”
The balanced score reflected a more balanced second half. Swansea continued to pressure the goal, forcing keeper John McCarthy to make aggressive saves, but the Union also found pace on the attack.
Although it ended in a tie, the night was focused on the future as much as the game at hand, with Curtin giving time on the field to a variety of up-and-coming players. One such player was Anthony Fontana, a 17-year-old midfielder, who entered the game in the 76th minute and ripped a shot just above the crossbar only four minutes later. Midfielder Haris Medunjanin stood on the sidelines, cheering the young player for his effort.
“They root for each other,” Curtin said. “Haris has put his arm around [Anthony] since preseason. The kid, he makes you smile. He gets on the field and it’s like, ‘Woah. This kid is real.’ It’s exciting now for him to see him step on the field with pros. You can see he’s not scared.”
As the Union squared off against Swansea, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya captained the U.S. national team and served two assists in a 3-0 victory to win the Group B in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Midfielder Chris Pontius also started in the game, and goalkeeper Andre Blake will captain the Jamaican national team on Sunday. Curtin said that the performance of the team’s talent at all levels — international, first team and youth development — reflects the progress that the club as a whole hopes to focus on in continuing to build toward the future.
“When we talk about what we envision, this is a very positive night in a lot of ways,” Curtin said. “To have international players do well for our country, to have young kids coming up and making our decisions tough on the field … We do want to win first and foremost, but it is good sometimes to step back and see that there are some real positive things that the fanbase can be very proud of. The Union badge is growing.”