North Eastern Metrostars played Adelaide United on Tuesday evening in a friendly match that served as a pre-season game for United and a mid-season test for Metrostars. Through a combination of injury and the decision to rest players, United were without Cassio, Bruce Djite, Fabio Ferreira, Tarek Elrich and Michael Marrone. Paul Izzo and Awer Mabil were also absent as they tour the United States with the Young Socceroos.
Pressing pays off
United began the game with a back three, the formation coach Josep Gombau said he would look to implement for the coming season. New signing Dylan McGowan, along with Osama Malik and Nigel Boogaard, formed the heart of a defence that was solid but also tested on occasion.
Goalkeeper and captain Eugene Galekovic produced the save of the match in the 10th minute when he was at full stretch, low to his left to deny Metrostars striker Perry Mitris. It was an outstanding stop that drew applause from the crowd and the odd shout of “should have played in Brazil.”
The way Gombau’s side defended was very interesting and caught Metrostars off guard. Rather than defending the man and marking the opposition out of the game, United pressed in greater numbers the deeper the ball was. For example, one player would press the ball high up the pitch, and two players when it came across halfway, reducing the amount of time the Metrostars players had on the ball.
This approach left men free, but the amount of pressure applied to the man in possession meant he was often unable to locate his teammates with accurate passes. United also employed their now traditional high line and Malik and McGowan had the speed to diminish Metrostars’ counter attacking threat, although it remains an area where the Reds can be caught out by pace and accurate passing.
McGowan showed calmness and quality in equal measure on the ball, pushing forward into midfield and finding his teammates with sharp passes to feet. It was a very good showing from the former Hearts defender, and he seems to be slotting into Gombau’s team perfectly.
Movement and fluidity in attack remain key
The Reds were very slick at times, with Sergio Cirio drifting left to create space for a midfield trio of Marcelo Carrusca, Isaías Sanchez and new signing Jimmy Jeggo to exploit with clever runs and crisp passing. United were inches away from scoring a marvellous team goal after the four aforementioned players had cut through the Metrostars’ defence, only for a last second lunge to deny the Reds.
Cirio was a constant threat as his smart positioning allowed the United midfield to consistently bring him into play with cross field balls throughout the first half. Jeggo looked very impressive and was allowed the freedom to roam, dictating play and combining nicely with Isaías in particular.
The Austrian born midfielder looks set for a big season and could show a new side to his game as his previous role at Melbourne Victory was a predominantly defensive one. Let off the leash in this game, Jeggo showed that he can be much more than a holding midfielder.
Isaías scored the game’s opening goal after halftime as he drove a low, swerving strike into the net from almost 30 yards. It was a tremendous hit and the Spaniard has a powerful shot that if controlled, can be deadly from range.
It was Jeggo who grabbed United’s second after the ball looped up towards him and after controlling with his chest, he volleyed home into the bottom corner from 12 yards out. The goal will be a confidence booster for Jeggo, as was his all-round performance. He was the clear man of the match.
The kids get a run and don’t miss a beat
New signing from the Australian Institute of Sport, Mark Ochieng came off the bench in the second half and looked a physical presence at right wingback, not giving his opposing number a sniff. John Hall replaced Galekovic in goal at halftime and had very little to do as United dominated possession. Such was his level of inactivity that he resorted to aerobic exercises to keep warm on a chilly winter’s night.
Substitute Anthony Costa was very nearly on the scoresheet after great work from Carrusca, but last season’s National Youth League (NYL) top scorer was denied by a heroic goalline clearance. Jordan Elsey played the opening 45 minutes and acquitted himself in an unfamiliar left wingback position. He has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 12 months in terms of his defensive positioning, and his comfort in possession is almost unrecognisable when compared to the player he was in the NYL.
Looking forward to the FFA Cup
Forward Jeronimo Neumann played over an hour and scored United’s third goal before being replaced, but there will be some concern over his fitness. He had a slight limp as he came off the pitch, although it appeared to be only a minor problem. His goal was a typical Jeronimo strike, slotting home from inside the six yard box after good build up play in the left channel. He will need to keep scoring to secure his place in the team, after Djite’s hold up play was so important to the Reds’ approach last season.
Great goals, new signings playing well, and a clean sheet to boot. It was a good night for United and they will look to build on this performance and increase their match fitness with upcoming friendlies against Perth Glory, Malaga CF and Adelaide Comets, before facing Wellington Phoenix on August 5th in the FFA Cup Round of 32.
*Tuesday night’s game was played at Marden Sports Complex, home of Adelaide Blue Eagles and there was a solid crowd on hand. Marden will also host United’s FFA Cup match next month. The facility is currently being upgraded in time for that game with additional seating replacing the existing terracing at both ends of the pitch, and the seats that are being installed are actually the old Coopers Stadium seats. United will return to Marden for their friendly with Comets on July 29th, and the venue will be a terrific one for the FFA Cup fixture.