Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Aston Villa sneaks by Union 1-0

By John McMullen

CHESTER (The Phanatic Magazine) - It's become a bit of a tradition in July -- the Philadelphia Union take on an English Premier League team in an international friendly.

For all three years in its short existence, Philadelphia's MLS club has faced off with a side from the world's most famous league with Aston Villa FC serving as the latest and earning a 1-0 win in front of 17,195 at PPL Park on Wednesday.

Nathan Delfouneso's marker in the 43rd minute proved to be the difference as the revitalized Union, who are riding a franchise-record three-game winning streak in MLS play, had a very tough time generating scoring chances with a young lineup that featured Jimmy McLaughlin, Zach Pfeffer and Cristhian Hernandez in key roles.

Villa pressed early and often but Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath continued his strong play of late and made a diving stop on a Brett Holman try in the second minute as well as another nice save on Delfouneso in the 12th.

Amobi Okugo, another important piece in Philadelphia's recent surge since moving from midfield back to center back, also helped out, making a sliding block on another Delfouneso opportunity in the 25th minute.

Delfouneso finally cashed in during the 43rd, however, beating MacMath to the far side of the net.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a US international who used to play for Chivas USA and recently signed a new three-year contract with Villa, played spectator and didn't face a shot on goal until Josue Martinez registered one in the 77th minute. MacMath, on the other hand faced four before leaving at intermission in favor of Chase Harrison.

The second half, which like most friendlies featured a boatload of substitutions, was disjointed for both clubs. The Union pressed but most advantages were quelled by offsides or a solid Villa defensive presence.

Philadelphia's best scoring chance came in the 73rd minute when Martinez got free in the area and slid the ball past Villa defenders and Guzan but the shot went just wide.

Greg Jordan was also able to blast a left-footed laser which beat Guzan but sailed over the crossbar in the 81st minute.

The last real Philadelphia chance came in the 89th minute when Keon Daniel ripped a dangerous free kick from just outside the area. A Villa defender looked like he got his hand on the ball to stop it but the whistle was silent.

The Union dropped a 2-1 decision to Manchester United at Lincoln Financial Field in 2010 and topped Everton 1-0 behind a marker from Hernandez at PPL Park last year.

Aston Villa is one of the oldest and most successful football clubs in England's history, having won the First Division Championship seven times and the FA Cup seven times. Villa also won the 1981-82 European Cup, one of only five British clubs to win what is now the UEFA Champions League.

Things have been far tougher recently both on and off the pitch, however. Villa finished in 16th place during the 2011-12 EPL season, just one spot above the relegation zone and recently announced a financial loss of £53.9 million.


*Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukemia back in March 2012. The Bulgarian national is progressing well and expects to be undergoing chemotherapy for a few more months. The entire Union team and the fans at PPL Park rose during the 19th minute of play in honor of Petrov's jersey number to show support.

*Union MF Brian Carroll will celebrate his 31st birthday on Friday.
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