2 PKs by Daniel Gazdag end Union’s road trip on high note against Nashville SC

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After losing the previous 2 games on the road without Damion Lowe, Kai Wagner, and Andre Blake, it was hard for a lot of fans to imagine Philadelphia Union getting anything out of the final game of the team’s road trip against Nashville SC, who’s particularly good at home. But as always, right when Union starts to let you down, they’ll do something hysterical like go into Nashville and score 2 PK goals to steal all 3 points, and pull you right back in and make you believe again.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

We knew from Jim Curtin’s press conference leading up to this match that there would be some rotation, and we definitely saw that. Bendik remained in net with Blake still out with Jamaica. Kai Wagner returned to the lineup, with Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, and Nate Harriel filling out the rest of the backline in front of Bendik.

Jose Martinez missed out on the game with what was ruled as an illness, so Jesus Bueno stepped into his place, with Leon Flach, Ale Bedoya, and Dani Gazdag to complete the midfield. Mikael Uhre started this game on the bench, so It was Julian Carranza and Quinn Sullivan up too, though I think Sullivan was dropping behind Carranza like an additional 10 at times.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Gazdag’s 40th goal gives Union a 1-0 lead in the first half

As I said before, there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence coming into this game from Union fans. Union came into this one having lost 2 in a row, and 3 of their last 5. They’re still without Damion Lowe and Andre Blake, and they were heading into Nashville, who rested Hany Mukhtar for this game. And once the starting lineups dropped, the level of pessimism justifiably increased. This was a really big test for Union, a big gut check after the last few games. 

Early on, you could tell Union had a bit of a different demeanor about them in comparison to the last few games. Whether it was the introduction of speed and energy from Quinn Sullivan up top, Kai Wagner coming back in the lineup, or just the overall kick in the a** from dropping the last two games, there was definitely a bit more urgency and they seemed to be connecting and moving more freely even early on. 

The first real chance for Union came in the 9th minute when a pass from Gazdag deflected right to Quinn Sullivan outside of the box. Sullivan quickly turned towards net, shifted the ball to his right foot, and unloaded a rocket that rang off the post to Joe Willis’ right-hand side. Willis dove to try and get a finger to shot, but Willis was clearly beaten and the post is the only thing that saved him there.

A few moments later, Nashville would get their first chance of the game, which resulted in a shot from inside the penalty area that sailed over the bar – something that became a frequent occurrence for Nashville on Wednesday night. Their second such opportunity came in the 16th minute when Nashville took a free kick quickly, springing Mukhtar on the break.

Mukhtar did well to get the ball to Teal Bunbury, wide open in the penalty area, but Joe Bendik was alert to the situation and did enough to come out and rush Bunbury into shooting the ball over the top of the bar. 

This was a really well-fought first 30 minutes. Both teams were creating chances and were probably unlucky not to score, and I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised by Union’s performance up to this point. But in the 38th minute, everything changed. Kai Wagner, coming down the left side of the pitch, sent a really dangerous ball to the back post, where Daniel Gazdag was waiting to head the ball home.

The Nashville defense could sense the trouble, and before the ball could get to Gazdag, Daniel Lovitz’s 2-hand shoves Gazdag from behind while he was jumping for the ball. A clear pen and a yellow card to go with it, and Union is stepping up to the penalty mark with a chance to steal the lead.  Daniel Gazdag steps up, and sends Willis the wrong way, giving Union the lead from the spot in the 40th minute of the game. Ever heard that before?

That’s 14-14 in MLS regular season play for Gazdag, and his 40th goal of his Union career.  That marks just the 3rd player to wear the Union shirt to score 40 goals for the club.  And that would take Union into the break up 1-0 on the road against Nashville.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Second half, same as the last 

To be honest, the second half was much like the first. Nashville got up in the attack, getting the ball into the box, and then failing to put the ball in the back of the net. The first opportunity of the second half for Nashville to draw level came in the 52-minute when Hany Mukhtar received a ball over the top from Randal Lead that found Mukhtar in the box. Mukhtar did well to collect the ball with Glesnes closing down on him and chipped the ball over Joe Bendik, but the crossbar came to Bendik’s rescue on this one.

The next close call came in the 58th when Leal played a ball across the ground through the box, which was deflected away by Glesnes. The deflected ball fell right to Davis, just above the 6-yard box, but his shot attempt also sailed over the bar. In the 69th minute, Union escaped the most nerve-wracking moment of the night, when a Hany Mukhtar header off a corner rang the post to Bendik’s right, after two follow-up shots attempts were cleared, Nashville quickly got the ball back in the box, and Mukhtar ripped a left-footed shot which Bendik was able to get his hands to.

The ball deflected off Bendik’s, went straight up in the air behind him, and headed for the back of the net when Kai Wagner headed the ball away at the last second to keep the ball out of the net. Alex Muyl attempted a follow-up shot from point-blank range which was blocked off the line by Elliott, and again a follow-up attempt came from Teal Bunbury, but his shot hits the post and goes out for a goal kick.

I have no idea how the ball stayed out of the net here. Soccer gods, especially goalkeeper gods, were watching down over Union and Joe Bendik last night. They even helped get a handball against Jack McGlynn reversed by VAR in the 76th minute. Union really needed another goal to make sure this one was safe. 

Philly we’re holding on for dear life, it felt like one of those games where Union play really well, have the lead most of the game, and then give up the lead late to some soft goal. But in the 80th minute, Mikael Uhre jumped on a loose ball along the right side of the pitch, got into the box, and cut back a pass for Gazdag in the middle which doesn’t connect. But as the ball rolled away from the box to safety, the ref looked at Uhre who was taken out by a slide tackle in the box, blew his whistle, points to the spot, and awarded Union their second PK of the night.

Do I even have to tell you what happens next? Gazdag steps up, and slots the penalty in the bottom left corner, out of the reach of Willis’ fingertips. That’s 2-0 Union in the 84th minute, 41 goals for Gazdag in a Union shirt, and he is now the 2nd all-time leading goal scorer for a Philadelphia Union. 

That was pretty much it for the game, other than a pair of straight reds handed to Juliana Carranza and Shaq Moore for a scuffle in the dying moments of the game, but it’s a huge 2-0 win and 3 points for Union on the road, especially after losing the previous 2 games. I think this was a huge gut-check moment for Philly and one they can take momentum and build off of.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Moving Foward

I thought almost everyone played well. Gazdag with two goals, and also did really well to stretch and test the Nashville backline with his through balls throughout the night. Quinn Sullivan, Jesus Beuno, and Nate Harriel did well stepping into the starting lineup, and I thought the backline looked much much better. 

This win brings Union to a record of 9 wins, 3 draws, and 3 losses across their last 15 games. They currently sit in 4th place in the East with 37 points and are just 3 points out of second place. And now, Union head home, to take on regional rivals NYCFC before going on the Leagues Cup break.

In addition to that, Mexico beat Jamaica in the Gold Cup last night, so there’s a real possibility that Damion Lowe and Andre Blake could be back in the lineup. This is a huge opportunity for Union to go on the break on a high note, something that seemed impossible to some just a few days ago after losing 2 on the road, without Lowe, Wagner, and Blake.

But that’s what this team does. As soon as they start to disappoint you, frustrate you, and anger you to the point that it hurts to watch, they end up pulling you right back in with grinding out a 2-0 win from two PKs on the road in Nashville.  There’s still so much season left to play, and some much opportunity for Union to get to their best form before playoffs. Last night showed why you shouldn’t doubt this team. See you at Subaru Park on Saturday night against NYCFC at 7:30 pm EST

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union