The Black-and-Red ended their second preseason camp in Clearwater, Fla., with their second win of 2018 on Wednesday night. United defeated NASL side Jacksonville Armada FC 2-1 on the back of a new-look starting XI compared to squad's starters from their first two preseason matches.
After beating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Saturday, United's coaching staff made eight changes to the starting lineup, giving David Ousted, Kofi Opare, Jalen Robinson, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Chris Durkin, Luciano Acosta, Ian Harkes, and Patrick Mullins starting nods. Despite the change ups, the improving team chemistry remained evident, as noted by Paul Arriola.
"[The chemistry] is good," Arriola said after the game. "Today we had a mixed group in comparison to the last game and everyone’s kind of seeing each other out, but we're working together and we’re a team and it’s a really long season, so we don’t expect everything to be perfect in the beginning."
Arriola's chemistry with Mullins in particular helped United jump out to an early lead in the 11th minute. The midfielder dished a low, hard ball across the face of goal, and Mullins was there to drive it in to give the home side the 1-0 lead. The duo showed glimpses of their developing connection last season—Arriola assisted Mullins twice in 2017, both times against the San Jose Earthquakes during Mullins' four-game match.
After five halftime substitutions and a couple additional scoring opportunities, United doubled their lead in the 60th minute thanks to their high pressure. Forward Darren Mattocks put aggressive pressure on Jacksonville's backline to prevent a clean clearance, then won a loose ball from the Armada's goalkeeper. After trying a shot that was deflected right back to his feet, Mattocks fed an on-running Acosta, who knocked it in for his second score in as many preseason matches.
Jacksonville cut their deficit to one goal in the 79th minute, but the Black-and-Red backline withstood late pressure to secure the win. Chris Durkin, United's 18-year-old Homegrown, played a full 90 minutes and remained composed and confident in his defensive midfield role, Zoltán Stieber and Mattocks continued showing their on-field rapport that also appeared against Malmö FF and the Union, and new acquisition Yamil Asad started on the wing for his second consecutive friendly.
"There’s always work to do at this point especially with a few new faces on the team but I’ve been thrilled with the preseason camp here in Clearwater," head coach Ben Olsen said after the game. "The effort and focus over the last three weeks has been great and I think we’ve made huge strides as a group. Now we have one more chance to fine tune everything and get ready for Orlando."
United go for their third win of 2018 on Saturday against USL newcomers Las Vegas Lights FC. The trip to Las Vegas is the team's final trip of preseason before they return to the District for their last week of season opener preparations. On March 3, the Black-and-Red kick off the 2018 MLS regular season against Orlando at Orlando City Stadium.