Union extends unbeaten streak to 8 with 1-0 win against Charlotte FC

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It was a picturesque night on the banks of the Delaware River as Charlotte FC traveled to Subaru Park to take on Philadelphia Union – as long as you got there early enough to avoid any confusion and congestion caused by the recent parking fiasco as a result of the WSFS Training Complex construction.  Union came into this game on the back of a 3-1 win on the road against NYCFC and were looking to extend their win streak to 3 games for the second time in the 2023 season and to extend their unbeaten streak to 8.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union vs Charlotte recap

For the third straight game, Jim Curtin rolled out the same lineup in the newly implemented 5-3-2 formation.  Uhre and Carranza up top, Flach and Martinez in the midfield, Wagner and Mbaizo playing as wingbacks, with a center back trio of Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, and Damion Lowe.  And of course, 3-time goalkeeper of the year Andre Blake in net.

Subaru Park gets energized by Eagle Legend in first half

For a Wednesday night match, the energy in Subaru Park was quite impressive.  Being on a good run of form and the weather being anything but 40 degrees and pouring rain helps in that category quite a bit, but on top of that, Union pulled out a pretty good surprise for their pre-match honorary drum-banger, who happened to be Philadelphia Eagles lineman, Jason Kelce. I was walking into the stadium as Kelce was banging the drum (yes…I was a victim of the parking lot problems), and he was beating the crap out of that thing, so much to the point that he broke the mallet the drum it struck with. 

As soon as Kelce was done banging the drum, he promptly pulled an adult beverage from his back pocket and proceeded to chug said beverage.  Fans really loved that one.  But if that wasn’t enough, Kelce then somehow got hold of a mega-phone and led The River End in a lovely “No one likes us, we don’t care” chant. 

Now that the crowd was ready to go, so were Union and Charlotte FC.  And Union wasted no time putting pressure on the visiting team.  25 seconds in, Kai Wagner sent a throw-in along the sideline nearest the benches to Daniel Gazdag, who one-touched a ball through the backline to Leon Flach. Flach reached back to flick his first touch and spring himself between two defenders inside of the box and squared his next touch back to the middle of the penalty area for Julian Carranza.  Carranza one-timed Flach’s pass toward the net and shook the crossbar with a really well-hit shot. Union was close to opening the scoring inside the first 30 seconds of the game.

For the next 30 minutes or so, Union and Charlotte each had a half-chance or two, but nothing too notable.  Both teams were playing defensively well and forcing the other into mistakes before they could find themselves in threatening positions.  But in the 33rd minute, Philly got a really good chance at the net from a classic Union build-up.  After controlling the ball and playing it around to Jack Elliott in the back, Elliott pinged a perfect ball to Kai Wagner on the sideline.  Wagner was able to redirect the pin-point pass from Elliott with his head to Leon Flach. 

Flach then one-touched the ball with his left foot over the top of the defenders to spring Mikael Uhre behind.  Uhre beat the defender to the ball on the left side of the box, settled the ball, and placed it in the right corner with his right foot to make it 1-0 in the 33rd minute…but was called offside.  VAR took a look at it, and it was REALLY close, but I think because it was called offsides on the field, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call definitively, so ultimately it was ruled offside.  But man was that a really perfect build-up.  

Charlotte’s best opportunity of the half came a few minutes later when a cross into the box evaded all of the attackers and defenders waiting for it in the middle and fell perfectly to Kerwin Vargas waiting on the other side of the penalty area to Blake’s left.  Vargas settled the ball with his right foot, faked a shot that took Kai Wagner out of the play, shifted to his left foot, and took a blast, but the shot was deflected over the bar by a sliding Leon Flach. 

Union’s only other notable effort of the first half was one that truly might rip the non-existent roof off of Subaru Park.  A corner from Kai Wagner was headed away from goal by a Charlotte defender, Carranza was the first one to it and one-touched the ball out to Jose Martinez waiting outside the top of the box.  Martinez took the ball on his right foot weighing his options, took a few dribbles towards the net, heard the shouts of “SHOOT” from the crowd, and absolutely laced into one that just rose a bit too much and sailed past the outstretched hand of a diving Kahlina and just over the bar.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union finds second-half breakthrough, keeps 3rd straight clean sheet at Subaru Park

It was Charlotte who got the first good chance of the second half in the 56th minute, when Kerwin Vargas once again down the right side shifted the ball to his left foot for a shot.  This time the ball found its way through Union defenders but was tipped over the bar by a soaring Andre Blake to keep the score level. Other than that, Union did a really good job to contain Charlotte and their attackers from getting into a position that might see a 0-0 draw turn sour quickly. 

While Union wasn’t exactly peppering Charlotte with chances, you never really felt Charlotte was in control, or that Union DIDN’T have control, but the further a 0-0 draw goes, the more nervy the prospect of giving up a heartbreaking goal gets. 

But in the 70th minute, Union finally found the breakthrough they needed.  After the ball bounced around the box from multiple cross and shot attempts, the ball found its way out to Kai Wagner on the left side.  Wagner sent in a perfect cross towards the opposite side of the box, which was redirected by the head of Daniel Gazdag towards the near post.  The ball ricocheted off the post, bounced off Kahlina, and into the side of the net to give Union the 1-0 lead.  And again, from that point on, Union never really looked like giving up the lead to Charlotte, who was missing a few important pieces in the attack in Jokwizk and Copetti.

Late in stoppage time, Union thought they had a second when a botched clearance sent Gazdag in behind the defense.  He did really well to chip the keeper, but he was called offside once again. But that was it! A 1-0 win For the Union at home. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union is going streaking, who’s getting in the way next?

With that 1-0 win at home, that marks 3 straight wins in MLS play, 8 straight games where Union has earned at least a point, 6 wins out of those 8 games, and most importantly, that’s 3 straight games at home that Union has kept a clean sheet.  This team is officially rolling. That has Union currently sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points, just one point behind Nashville, but still 9 points behind Support Shield-leading FC Cincinnati. 

It’s another quick turnaround for the U, with CF Montreal coming to town Saturday night.  Jim Curtin has been open about the bad taste left in his mouth by the two teams’ first matchup of 2023 earlier this season, where Union dropped the lead late in the game after receiving a red card and letting in two late goals.  Surely, Union will want to make things right against Montreal Saturday night to keep unbeaten and win streak going. 

Montreal will be coming into town on the back of a hard-fought road draw against D.C. United.  But this should be a game Union can win.  Be on the lookout for a match preview from PSN to get the low down on that game later this week, and tune in to the match Saturday night at 7:30 pm EST on MLS Pass via Apple TV.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union