To borrow from the Union’s social media, it felt like the perfect night for a Union win. Philadelphians were spoiled for choice with their evening’s entertainment; while both the Union and the Phillies were defeating their respective Coloradan opponents, those lucky enough to overcome the much-discussed Ticketmaster disaster-class were at Lincoln Financial Field for a Taylor Swift concert (which, going back to the Union’s social media, they fully embraced). But it was the Union who would leave their fans enchanted after a gritty performance earned their first away win at the Rapids since 2013.
With Mikael Uhre, Jose Martinez (injuries), Quinn Sullivan, and Brandan Craig (U-20 World Cup) in exile, it meant seeing the team roll out a change in formation, going with a 3-5-2 instead of the typical 4-1-2-1-2. This allowed both Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo to play to their strengths as attacking wingbacks, getting forward to provide width to the attack. When playing with only two center-backs, it’s often best if one or both full-backs stay back to help defend against counters. But a third center-back effectively drags the wingbacks headfirst up the field, fearless of possible counters.
First Half – Are You Ready For It?
The Union initially struggled to get into the game, likely having trouble adjusting to the altitude, not to mention an absurd amount of travel over the course of the past month or so, crisscrossing the country multiple times for matches across three different competitions. The Rapids nearly capitalized seven minutes in. A deflected Diego Rubio shot fell right to the feet of Kévin Cabral. Only a world-class save from Union keeper Andre Blake kept a blank space on the scoresheet.
The Union soon got up to speed and began generating chances of their own. During an extended spell of pressure in which they ran paper rings around Colorado’s defense, they managed to put the ball in the back of the net twice, but both goals were called back. First, the ball was judged to have crossed the end-line before Damian Lowe stabbed it home. Then, a header from a corner was waved off for a foul.
Undeterred, the Union continued to push for a goal. A sad Rapids attack led to a beautiful ball over the top from Jack McGlynn to Julian Carranza, only to end in a tragic miss for the Union striker. This proved to be the last bit of promising attacking play for a spell, as the game descended into a series of fouls and rising tension.
Colorado’s Diego Rubio managed to draw a foul in the 35th minute that (despite Damian Lowe appearing to be innocent after poking away the ball cleanly before brushing the attacker’s trailing leg) was judged by referee Victor Rivas to be worthy of a free kick just outside the box. After a recommendation from VAR to review the play again, the referee deemed the foul to have occurred inside the box, and thus, should change to a penalty. It was not the first and would not be the last time Rivas would call a foul when he should’ve said no, or vice versa.
Connor Ronan took his penalty well to put Colorado up 1-0.
The many stoppages during the first half resulted in seven minutes of stoppage time, and the Union took full advantage of the long extension. A slick attacking sequence culminated in an untouchable Kai Wagner laser from outside the box. For Union fans, the left back’s third goal in two games burned brighter than the sun, a ray of hope that the team’s league form could turn around.
Second Half- Look What You Made Me Do
The start of the second half saw the Union continue to apply pressure, looking for a goal to take the lead. It would come the same way as the first, with a sequence of great passes (like the first, heavily involving Jack McGlynn) followed by a long-range blast. This time, it was Carranza with the finish from the outside of the box. The goal occurred right around the same time as Bryce Harper’s two-run, game-clinching home run for the Phillies, both scores tied together with a smile from Philadelphia fans.
For the Union, Carranza, known affectionately by fans (and the team) as King Julian, showed why he is the king of fans’ hearts, bodies, and souls. This was his 4th goal of the season, pulling him level with Daniel Gazdag, just behind team leader Uhre who has scored five.
Much like the first half, the game then descended into chippy play that saw a few sparks fly, although it retained a bit more of a flow. Considering they were playing with the lead, too often, Union giveaways led to Rapids counters where the Philly defense was left outnumbered, raided, and out-cornered (for the second half at least, the Union’s succession of corner kicks in the first half meant the teams finished the game even with six apiece).
As the game wound down through another long stoppage time, the consequences of the referee losing control of the game came to fruition, and now they had bad blood. While shielding the ball over the end line, Blake was shoved into the advertising boards from behind by Rapids forward Michael Barrios. It wasn’t too late for the entire Union defense on their white horses to catch him, as they surrounded him and a brawl between the teams ensued. Referee Rivas once again had to return to the monitor, this time to take a look at what the players had done.
Somehow, once the dust settled, the Union ended up with more cards than the Rapids, despite having two players clearly wrestled to the ground during the melee. Both teams had a player sent off, Braian Galvan for Colorado and Jesus Bueno (who appeared to do little more than ask Galvan, “Why you gotta be so mean?”) for Philadelphia. Barrios escaped with a yellow that you have to think was so crimson it was maroon. Karma may not be such a relaxing thought for a few Rapids players, who conceivably could end up with retroactive punishments from the league for seeing red.
Conclusion- ‘Tis The Damn Season
This Union win was like snow on the beach, weird but beautiful (less in terms of the actual play than in the team’s attitude), and could be just the thing to galvanize the team heading into the rest of the season. Sometimes it’s okay to fake it ’til you make it.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union