Union advance to CCL Semifinals beating Atlas FC 3-2 over two legs

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union went down to Guadalajara and found a way to score two away goals while holding Atlas FC to only two goals. The 2-2 draw and Philly’s 1-0 win in leg one meant the Union won the CCL quarterfinal and advanced to the final four!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union finds two away goals at Atlas to edge out Liga MX side

Coming into the consequential match in Mexico, Philadelphia’s form was shaky. They didn’t instill too much confidence, but their top starting XI was in and ready to play. After resting critical players over the weekend, Philly’s top boys were back:

Blake; Wagner, Elliot, Glesnes, Mbaizo; Martinez, McGlynn, Bedoya, Gazdag; Uhre, Carranza.

It was clear Philly was going to be up for this game, and they knew that if they could grab a goal on the road against a Liga MX side that they would be in a great position to advance. They did just that and then some in this game!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

1st half

The first 10 minutes of this match were a rollercoaster. Atlas came out flying, and unlike many games so far in 2023, Philly matched the intensity. As Atlas moved forward, the Union looked to dispossess and counter quickly. It led to what many were calling the best start to a game this season for Philadelphia. Then the 11th minute happened.

Atlas ramped up a good attacking sequence into Philly’s box, and Ozziel Herrera held the ball up and occupied the defense. Atlas forward Julian Quinones exploited some open space to run into, and Herrera found him. Quinones is lethal and made no mistake striking against the Union in the 11th minute. His goal made the score 1-1 on aggregate; if it stood this way for 90 minutes extra time and possibly penalties would have been needed to determine a winner.

After Atlas found the opener, Philly seemed to settle a bit, they had already been playing well, and now they just needed to find an avenue forward. Atlas was pushing to get ahead and capitalize on their momentum, but they left themselves exposed in the back. This is something that Jack McGlynn was able to exploit in the 28th minute.

The young midfielder McGlynn has shown so much promise in his minutes this season, and his ability to find a way through when others can’t is special. He had a few seconds to stand on the ball Atlas’ attacking third and was able to find a perfect run by Julian Carranza in the box. After a great touch by Carranza, he bounced the ball off the ground and over the outrushing keeper to seemingly tie the match.

An offside flag was raised, but after a quick listen to the VAR the head referee deemed the ball over the top and run were perfect from the Union and the goal was able to stand as a good goal! Now at a half-hour gone, Philly had a crucial away goal, and now just had to not concede three to advance!

This would be easier said than done, as just before halftime Philly left-back Kai Wagner was beaten on the wing; Wagner looked to aggravate his hamstring injury on the play The Union scrambled to cover the space which left them vulnerable. Hererra was able to beat Elliot on the turn in the box and found a wide-open Julio Furch who tapped in a goal. It was 2-1 Atlas going into halftime. The momentum for the Liga MX side to get a third and advance to the semis was high.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

2nd half

To start the second half Philly subbed out Wagner and brought on homegrown right-back Nathan Harriel to fill in at left-back. The game seemed to be a little fast for Harriel at the start of the half, but he would grow into the game and defended solidly. On the other side of the Union’s defense, Olivier Mbaizo was also struggling. He had picked up a good yellow card to stop an Atlas counter in the first half, but as the second half played on, Mbaizo seemed to labor a bit.

Atlas still had a lethal attack thanks to the play of Hererra, Furch, and Quinones. They were combining well, and it seemed like a matter of time until they found a way through again. The domination from Atlas was coming in the middle of the field, which prompted Union head coach Jim Curtin to make a tactical shift.

In the 64th minute, Leon Flach came on for Jack McGlynn. The choice was a head-scratching one for many. Flach needed to come on to help the defensive shape for the Philly, but coming on for their most creative midfield option (McGlynn) seemed crazy at the time. Flach came in and settled the middle of the field, but now Atlas was targeting the wings for their attacks again, and Mbaizo in particular.

In the 69th minute Mbaizo was in bad shape, and put in a lzy challenge on an Atlas player. It looked like a sure-thing second yellow, but the referee didn’t go to his pocket. Mbaizo was lucky to still be on the field, and was soon taken off by Curtin for another homegrown Matt Real. Real shifted to the left and Harriel the right with just about 20 minutes until the end of the match.

As the game came toward its final minutes Atlas pushed to find a third goal that would give them the needed score over two legs to advance to the semifinals. As they pushed forward, there was plenty of space for Philly to spring a counter attack, all they needed was someone to create one. One such option came in the 77th minute as Leon Flach interecepted a pass, and played a clever ball through the lines to Mikeal Uhre.

Uhre, who had a difficult night, ran forward with Carranza streaking with him. As they both entered the box with defenders bearing down on the ball, Uhre slipped Carranza in and the Argentine smashed the ball home! It was was 2-2, but the assistant referee against raised his flag, calling the final pass offside. After another review, the VAR confirmed Carranza was onside and the goal stood. Carranza scored the goal with 10 minutes left that would mean that Atlas would need two more to advance!

Atlas soon imploded as Philly made it tough to play though the lines. After a foul committed by Philly Atlas’ Aldo Rocha got into the refferee’s space to protest the foul. His dissent earned him a yellow card, but Rocha didn’t back down. He kept going at the ref, and got a second yellow and a subsequent red card just moments after earning his first card.

Down a man, and two goals on aggregate, Atlas failed to climb the mountain that was in front of them. The Union won the series 3-2 over two legs, and head to their second ever CCL Semifinal.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Three takeaways

Philly will now ready for a crucial semifinal matchup at the end of April/early May, and will have to get their form to carry over into MLS play as well. This match could be just the thing to do that!

1. Dealing with adversity and overcoming

The Union just went into a Liga MX stadium and scored two goals against them to advance in a knockout competition. The adversity facing this team after the success of last year, and their slow start to this year could be a valley that Philly is starting to climb out of. Could this spark a resurgence of the Union we got used to seeing in 2022?

2. Curtin pulls the right strings

Jim Curtin made some calls in this game, and they all played out brilliantly for him. Starting McGlynn, and bringing on Flach in the second half was the catalysts for both Union goals. He pushed Uhre to play 90 minutes for the first time in forever, and called upon two homegrown outside backs (Harriel and Real) to solidify the defense in a difficult time. If he can pull these types of strings coming back in MLS play and in the CCL semifinals then this team may just start winning a lot more.

3. A wake-up call for the 2023 season?

This type of match could just be the thing that sparks a “turnaround.” While the season is still so so young, Philly’s early season form has been poor, and a spark was needed to turn it around. This result and the paly at Atlas could be just that. Start racking up some wins in the league against teams that Philly should beat, get ready for a CCL semifinal against an arch rival LAFC, and this team could just be on their way to great success.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

An MLS Cup rematch awaits in the Semis

When the CCL bracket was set back in February, everyone was fixed on a possible all-MLS semifinal between Philly and LAFC. Those thoughts and dreams are now a reality. The two-legged semifinal will be the first meeting between these two clubs since their epic MLS Cup Final that LAFC won on penalties. Is it revenge season for the Union?

This anticipated semifinal tie will take place first in Chester, PA as Philly hosts leg one. That match will be played in the last week of April on either the Tuesday the 25th, Wednesday the 26th, or Thursday the 27th. The second leg will be back in LA in the first week of May on either Tuesday the 2nd, Wednesday the 3rd, or May 4th.

This matchup is so juicy, and Philly will be major underdogs as LAFC has flown out of the gate to start their defense of the Supporters’ Shiled and MLS Cup; it’s almost written in the stars isn’t it? Is it the end of April yet?

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union