Philadelphia Union’s offseason signings shine in 4-0 win to Advance to CCL Quarter Finals

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After drawing 0-0 on the road in the first leg against Alianza FC, the Union’s task at hand heading into the second leg on Tuesday night was simple; Win at home, and land yourself in the CONCACAF Champions League Quarter Finals. And despite a frigid night on the banks of the Delaware River, fans of the Blue and Gold were sent home happy with a 4-0 performance that saw Union’s offseason acquisitions steal the spotlight and propel Philadelphia into the next round of the CCL.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

First half of Close Calls

The plan for Union early on was pretty clear; find the first goal.  Returning a number of starters to the lineup that was rested in the first leg and being back on a pitch suitable for soccer had the attack looking more cohesive than games in the past, applying pressure on Alianza’s backline with a number of opportunities to find the series’ breakthrough.

The first chance for the Union came in the 9th minute from an Ale Bedoya cross that found Daniel Gazdag 1-on-1 with the Alianza keeper.  Gazdag dribbled past the diving keeper but was taken down by the hands of Gonzalez before being able to slot the ball into an open net, which left Union feeling they had earned a penalty. 

Match referee Bryan Lopez however didn’t see anything wrong with the contact, and subsequently awarded Alianza with a goal kick instead.  Just 1 minute later Alianza’s keeper was called to action again, when Jack McGlynn launched a ball across the field, finding a free Bedoya in stride along the right flank. Bedoya cut the ball back behind the retreating defenders, feeding Daniel Gazdag at the top of the 18-yard box who one-times the ball towards the upper half of the net, but a big save from Gonzalez keeps the two teams level 10 minutes in. 

Alianza survived another scare in the 21st minute when a Kai Wagner corner was headed along by a diving Bedyoa, which deflected off the foot of Gazdag and across the line, but was quickly called off due to Gazdag being in an off-side position. 

The turning point in the game came in the 40th minute of the first half when a Jose Martinez ball over the top of the Alianza backline sent Nate Harriel behind the defense, who was taken down from behind just before entering the penalty area.  Referee Bryan Lopez presented Alianza’s Renderos with his second yellow card of the game, giving Union a 1-man advantage for the remaining 50 minutes to find the breakthrough goal.

Alianza would have seen getting to halftime with a 0-0 scoreline a success, but in stoppage time of the first 45 minutes, a Kai Wagner corner from the left of Alianza’s keeper found Damion Lowe who re-directed the ball across the net, sneaking the ball inside of the far post.  Lowe’s first goal in gold and blue sent Union to the locker room with a halftime lead, and 1 foot in the CCL Quarter Finals.

Union man advantage proves too much for Alianza to cope with 

The Union has struggled playing a man up in the past, most recently only scoring against a 10-man Chicago on Saturday night in the 90th minute, despite having the advantage for almost the entire second half.  And while a 1-0 lead just before half put themselves in a great position, Union could make things comfortable by getting the second goal and burying the game before Alianza could find a way to crawl back in. 

The Union thought they had exactly that just 2 minutes into the second half, with a carbon copy version of the 1st half goal. Only this time, Damion Lowe’s header to the back post was helped in by the head of Daniel Gazdag, who once again found himself flagged for being off-side.  Referee Bryan Lopez’s busy night of making decisions didn’t end there when a Torres cross in the 58th minute was knocked out of the air by the hand of Alianza’s William Canales, which resulted in a penalty in Philadelphia’s favor. 

Daniel Gazdag stepped up, and despite the wind doing its best to displace the ball from the spot, Gazdag slotted the ball into the lower left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way and giving Philadelphia the 2-0 lead in the 62nd minute. 

The 2-0 lead enabled Union to rest some of its starters, with the team traveling to take on Montreal this weekend. Of those that came on late in the game to provide starters with rest, were homegrown Quinn Sullivan and newly acquired Andres Perea.

In the 81st minute, the two linked up beautifully, with Sullivan crossing the ball to a wide-open Perea just inside the box on the opposite side of the field, who collected the ball with one touch and with his second blasted it into the lower left corner to give Union a 3-0 lead, and sealing their spot in the Champions League Quarter Finals.  The 3rd goal marked the second Union player of the match to notch their first goal in a Philadelphia shirt, but Andres Perea wasn’t finished yet.

With just six minutes left, Mikael Uhre found the ball at his feet in front of a tired, 10-man, defeated Alianza backline and pushed the ball down the left side of the field and into the box.  Uhre cut back and played the ball along the ground to a wide-open Perea making a late arriving run into the box, who calmly passed the ball into the same corner as his first goal just 3 minutes earlier.

Taking care of Business 

Union has to be happy with the business-like performance at Subaru Park, which saw the Blue and Gold possess the ball 65% of the time and outshoot their opponents 22-3.  But more impressively, players brought into the squad during the off-season are making an immediate, tangible impact.  Over the last 2 games, new faces Joaquin Torres, Damion Lowe, and Andres Perea are responsible for 4 goals and 1 assist for the U.

In addition to Union finding their attacking touch, the 4-0 win marks the 3rd game in a row in which Union has blanked their opponents.  With starting keeper Andre Blake missing time to injury, the defense seems to be tightening up the backline in order to protect backup Joe Bendik, only allowing 1 shot on target against Alianza FC, which Bendik handled pretty easily.

The Union will advance to the CONCACAF Champions League Quarter Finals on the back of this 4-0 performance, where they’ll face off against Liga MX side, Atlas F.C.  Though Atlas is having a less-than-ideal start to their season in Liga MX, they battled back from a 4-1 first-leg deficit against Olimpia, with a 4-0 win in the second leg to earn them a spot in the Quarter Finals against Philadelphia. 

The first of two legs between the teams will be held at Subaru Park (April 4th-April 6th), with the final leg in Guadalajara taking place a week later (April 11th – April 13th). The Union will have another quick turnaround ahead of them, where they’ll face off against Montreal in MLS play on the road this Saturday at 7:30 pm EST.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union