Valentine’s Day marked the beginning of the Union’s 2017 season as the team boarded a plane headed to Clearwater, Florida, where the Union will face off in their first preseason matchup against the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday.
“It’s an exciting time,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s good to get into warm weather and get onto good fields that aren’t frozen. Everyone’s excited and we’re really optimistic about this year. We got a taste of the playoffs last year and the guys are hungry for more.”
The Union are heading into this season with quite possibly the deepest team they’ve had in the organization's nine year history. With position battles at nearly every position, some analysts believe that the team’s second unit this season will be better than some of the team’s starting lineups in years past.
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One position battle to watch throughout the year will be between the Union’s third leading goal-scorer last season, C.J. Sapong, and newly inked international striker Jay Simpson, an Arsenal product. As of now, Curtin hasn’t made up his mind in terms of who will see the majority of the minutes up top.
“We’ll see, it’s still to be determined,” Curtin said, regarding the minutes battle. “It’s a work in progress. C.J.’s a guy who has played on championship teams out wide so he’s capable. There will be healthy competition just like there is at all our spots right now.”
In a 1-0 friendly loss to the Chicago Fire last week, Simpson played 62 minutes and showed flashes of the potential playmaker he can be for this team. Where Sapong oftentimes had trouble finding separation at the line last season, Simpson was open on several occasions when the Union pushed forward. It was a solid debut by the striker who is excited to show his worth in the lineup.
“I'm happy to play in any system that benefits the team,” Simpson said. “I'm over here now and I'm going to get a chance to work on the shape and get a feel for it. It's a system I've played before, not so often, but I've played it before. They made the playoffs last year so I'm excited to come in and try to fight for my place."
The matchup with the Rowdies will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. They’ll face the Montreal Impact and D.C. United next week to wrap up their preseason slate, before they kick off the regular season on March 5 against the Vancouver Whitecaps.