Philadelphia Union win 1-0 over Chicago Fire thanks to late Torres goal

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

They can’t all be pretty, but the Union was still able to scrape out a 1-0 win at home on Saturday night against the Chicago Fire in a game that had more chaos than continuity.  A plethora of yellow cards, a pair of reds, an injury to a key player, and some late-game heroics saw the Union secure its 11th straight regular-season win at home, just 1 short of the MLS record set by the ‘01-’02 San Jose Earthquakes.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union best XI returns to the lineup 

Union’s best XI returned to the lineup Saturday night despite the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Leagues set to take place Tuesday, March 14th at Subaru Park.  After being held scoreless in the previous two matches, Union hoped returning back home would help them re-find their attacking touch.

Losing just one of the last 29 matches at Subaru Park while out-scoring their opponents with a goal differential of plus-56, fans have come accustomed to the seamless link-up play and the high-powered offense often on display. But despite having a one-man advantage for the last 40 minutes, it took a new face in Philadelphia taking the game into their own hands in the 90th minute to secure all three points. 

Trading Chances in the First Half 

Chicago came out quickly and sent the first warning sign of the game just 1 minute in when a Shaqiri free kick found its way to the feet of Rafael Czichos around the six-yard box, whose attempt was poked just wide of the post to the right of Union keeper, Andre Blake.  Philadelphia punched back with their best scoring chance of the first half off a Kai Wagner corner kick which Julian Carranza volleyed toward the net with his left foot. The attempt was cleared off the line by Gaston Gimenez to keep the score at a deadlock.

Just five minutes later, Chicago thought they found the breakthrough goal on the road when Kei Kamara slotted a ball played over the top of the defense past Blake, but the celebration quickly came to a halt when assistant referee Kathryn Nesbitt raised their flag to rule the goal as offside.  

Andre Blake Injury leaves dark clouds over Subaru Park 

While the only other notable chance for Union in the first half was a left-footed Ale Bedoya shot that skipped wide of the post, Chicago nearly struck first once again, in a play that might have much larger implications for Philadelphia. In the 30th minute, Union keeper Andre Blake sent a free kick down the field from in front of the Union bench.

Blake immediately reached for his groin area after sending the ball forward, laboring his way back to his net with the ball still in play.  Unable to play the ball out so trainers could tend to an injured Blake, Chicago pressed forward quickly with Blake still scrambling back to his net.  Just as Blake finished hobbling back between the posts, Chicago sent the ball into the box which found the head of former Union player, Kacper Przybylko.

Przybylko’s header was redirected nicely toward the corner of the net but ultimately was swiped away by the diving hand of a wounded Blake. It was clear almost immediately that Union would need to replace the three-time defending goalkeeper of the year, which resulted in Veteran backup Joe Bendik entering the net for the first time in MLS play since the 2021 season. The seriousness of Blake’s injury is unknown, but Head Coach Jim Curtin said in his post-game press conference that Blake will receive an MRI in the coming days to gauge how long they might be missing their #1. 

Things heat up in the second half against Fire 

With five yellow cards distributed in the opening 45 minutes, the threat of the game being altered by a second card quickly became a reality when a late challenge by Fabian Herbers sent him to the dressing rooms with 40 minutes left in the game due to receiving his second caution. Having an extra man for the majority of the second half not only presented Union with opportunities to break the deadlock but also revealed pressure on backup keeper Joe Bendik.

Despite being a man up for most of the second half and applying relentless pressure to Chicago’s backline, the final pass just wasn’t quite coming off. 

“Our passes aren’t leading guys to where we want them to go, So as a team right now we’re just not sharp enough with the ball. I know it will get better and almost feel like guys are pressing and trying to make the perfect play every time.”

Head Coach, Jim Curtin

Union kept persistent, many times winning the ball back quickly after failed attempts at breaking down the backline and repeatedly forcing Chicago’s defense to mend with the pressure. The best chance Union conjured up against a 10-man Chicago came in the 75th minute, when a Kai Wagner cross to the far post was headed back in front of the net, but was cleared out of the six-yard box before Ale Bedoya could slam home the go-ahead goal.

Union’s new super-sub steals victory at the death 

Despite getting in a number of dangerous positions down the stretch, the game began to look destined to end in a 0-0 draw wIth Chicago down a man. The Union was unable to successfully break down a short-staffed defense.  And while a 0-0 draw on the road against Alianza FC on Tuesday felt like a win, surely a 0-0 draw at home against a 10-man Chicago would feel like quite the opposite. 

But in the dying moments, Philadelphia’s new boy Joaquin Torres found the ball at his feet and decided to test the keeper himself, firing a ball from outside the box with his left foot. The strike dipped through a number of defenders, taking a bounce just before arriving at its target and deflecting off of keeper Chris Brady and into the net, giving the Union a 1-0 lead in the 90th minute. The goal by Torres was the first scored by Union from a shot outside of the box in MLS play dating back to August 31st of this year.

The commotion continued, with Quinn Sullivan breaking free of the Chicago backline a few minutes later and slotting home the insurance goal, but was rightfully disallowed for offsides. With time running out for Chicago, the 10-men Fire launched a free kick toward the top of Union’s 18-yard box in desperation to salvage a point. But amidst the scramble, Fire Forward Kei Kamara received his 2nd yellow card, which effectively killed off his time on the pitch, and the rest of the game. 

It certainly wasn’t the type of win Union fans have become so used to in recent years, but the sign of a good team is one that can figure out a way to win, even when things aren’t clicking the way the team had hoped. 

“We know we weren’t our sharpest, but on these kinds of nights when the weather’s cold you’ve got to grind out a result. It’s still a very, very big three points for the guys.”

Head Coach, Jim Curtin

On top of the 90th-minute goal earning Union another three points and keeping the regular season home win streak alive, it also snapped a run of 280 consecutive minutes without the Union scoring a goal.  From a performance perspective, this is probably one of those “take the three points and move on” kinds of games. However, if there’s anything the Union will be looking to build on, It’s the perspective of wanting to keep a 3rd consecutive clean sheet and moving on to the Champions League Quarter Finals.

The Union will have an opportunity to do just that in front of home fans in Chester on Tuesday, March 14th against Alianza FC at 8:00 pm EST.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union