By JOEY SAMUEL
CHESTER, Pa. — The game may mean very little in the long run, but Aston Villa opened their preseason on the right foot at PPL Park on Wednesday night, beating the Philadelphia Union, 1-0.
Nathan Delfouneso was left open on the edge of the penalty area and beat Zac MacMath with a curling shot to give Aston Villa a lead in the 43rd minute. The Premier League side then brought some of its bigger names onto the field in the second half, and held on for the win.
For Philadelphia, the game fell in the middle of a brutal stretch that has seen the Union play two games every week for the past two months. It was a chance to showcase the talents of some younger Union players that hadn't seen the field in league play this year.
With a massive rivalry game coming up on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls, a 1-0 loss didn't mean much to the Union. Aston Villa, though, will be happy to have started off their preseason tour with a win, and they became the first team to beat the Union in a friendly at PPL Park.
"The result only matters to an extent," said Aston Villa coach Paul Lambert. "It was about getting more fitness levels and it's still preseason. We've only been back a fortnight, so to come here against a team that's played 18 games or so, it's really tough for us. But I thought some of the football we played really, really pleased me."
Both teams opted for a lineup that included a few starters as well as some younger, more inexperienced players. Brad Guzan, Stephen Ireland, James Collins, and Stephen Warnock headlined the team that took the field for Aston Villa. The Union's lineup included most of the defense that has helped win three straight league games, with some younger attacking players like Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin mixed in.
Neither team was able to generate much offense for most of the first haf, but moments before the whistle Nathan Delfouneso found himself with space along the edge of the penalty area and his shot put Aston Villa up 1-0.
Aston Villa dominated the opening part of the second half, as the Union were unable to even touch the ball for nearly 60 minutes. The introduction of Josue Martinez gave Philadelphia a bit of a spark, as his low shot went just wide in the 73rd minute and he had another shot saved by Brad Guzan minutes later. A second-half defense led by Richard Dunne preserved the shutout for Aston Villa, though, as they held on for the 1-0 win.
Although it was a just a friendly, and Philadelphia has important matches against rivals New York and New England on the horizon, the game still served a purpose for the core of young players that make up the Union. All three of the Union's Homegrown Players featured on Wednesday: Pfeffer, McLaughlin, and Cristhian Hernandez.
"It's a great way for young players to test themselves," Hackworth said. "To see if they're ready to play at that level, and more importantly to see if they're ready to play the kind of soccer that we are going to represent every time we step on the field.
"That's a hard thing for young guys to understand," Hackworth said. "The mental toughness, the physical preparation that has to go into the way you saw our team play the last 30 minutes, that's the expectation. And I'm never going to drop that."
United States international Brad Guzan was one of the few players to play the entire 90 minutes, and he made a few saves in goal to preserve the shutout for Aston Villa. It was his first time back at PPL Park since starting for the U.S. men's national team in a 0-0 draw with Colombia in October 2010.
"They're midway through the season," Guzan said. "So it helps us to be able to come over and see U.S. fans that obviosuly love the game in England, and at the same time it tests us and allows us to get ready for the season. For me personally, being able to come back to the U.S., especially like this Saturday going back to Chicago where I'm from, I'm really looking forward to it."
Fellow U.S. national team pool player Eric Lichaj also played for Aston Villa on Wednesday, coming on as a substitute in the 60th minute and playing right back for the Villans.
The Union now turn their focus to their huge Eastern Conference showdown with New York at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Aston Villa, meanwhile, continue their preseason tour of the United States on Saturday against the Chicago Fire.