Union herald experience of high-profile exhibitions


While the Union focused on a good showing against English Premier League side Everton and Spanish La Liga team Real Madrid in friendly action during the past week, the debate raged about whether MLS teams benefit more than just financially from playing exhibitions of this caliber in the middle of their season.

Win or lose, what does it prove?

But after an exciting 1-0 win over Everton on Wednesday and respectable 2-1 loss to Real on Saturday to cap off the highly anticipated week, the Union placed the value of the two contests on something intangible but invaluable -- the experience.

We had two fantastic opponents in our hometown, it was a great week, lots of fun, said assistant coach John Hackworth, who handled head coaching duties for the exhibitions. We did what we wanted to do by getting a lot of guys valuable minutes and we cant say enough about the crowd. It was fun. Well go back to work on the league side on Friday.

This game was a great opportunity to get a lot of guys on the field, get some valuable experience in an international game.

The talk prior to and during both the curiosity-driven friendly matches had to do with the level of competition, super stars available and lineups. How does the MLS, in the middle of its season, match up with European teams in their preseason? Yet, as the MLS optimists and pessimists discuss the ins-and-outs of cross-league games, which have no meaning on records or standings, what gets overlooked is the simple fact that when teams like the Union go nose-to-nose with the Everton, Manchester United and Reals of the world, its ultimately a gift to the citys soccer fans.

First and foremost, its a celebration of the game.

Its amazing, said Union backup goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who received playing time in both contests. In front of 57,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field, it was just amazing for all of us to experience and is something that all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

Aside from the experience, value of the international contests comes in the form of exposure. With 57,305 people in attendance on Saturday, trending worldwide on Twitter and and having their highlights shown on ESPNs SportsCenter, the Union, in their second year, took a leap forward in promoting their brand -- not just across the country and world, but in Philadelphia, where there is still legitimacy to be won.

Against Everton at PPL Park, the Unions normal hunting grounds, Union fans heavily dominated the visiting contingent. However, at Lincoln Financial Field, it was Reals fans that took over the building. And they got to see the hometown team compete in what became an entertaining contest to the finish.

I think that we probably won some fans tonight and I think that we did it not just from the score line but from the way that we played, Hackworth said, whose team cut the Real lead in half in the 80th minute with a score from Michael Farfan, but were unable to come up with the equalizer. Any fan that watches, walks away from a Union game and says that it was pretty entertaining.

According the veteran Danny Califf, even in losing the contest on Saturday, the Union and its fans were still overall winners.

I think its always going to be a good thing to play against a good team, the center back said about Real, which walked through the LA Galaxy, 4-1, and Chivas Guadalajara, 3-0, prior to facing the Union. You have to think quicker and you have to play quicker. You have to elevate your game and any time you need to elevate your game, you get better as a player and a team. We took steps forward into becoming a better team.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

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