Gazdag Hat-Trick helps Union clinch Leagues Cup Knock-Out Round spot

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Job done. The Union took care of business in their Leagues Cup group, first beating Tijuana 3-0 on Saturday night, and now a 5-1 rout against Queretaro on Wednesday clinches Union the top spot in the Group.  With that win, Union will now await to see how Group East 2 shakes out, to find out who they’ll host in the round of 32 Knockout stage at Subaru Park on Thursday, August 3rd.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Starting XI

Coming into this game, we knew from Head Coach Jim Curtin’s press conference that we’d see a bit of a different lineup than the one against Tijuana.  Curtin was pretty transparent about Mikael Uhre returning to the starting lineup, and pretty much said Damion Lowe would come back into the lineup as well in a 5-back system, in order to deal with Queretaro’s 2-Forward setup.

The mystery in the 11 however, was which midfielder would get the start alongside Jose Martinex and Daniel Gazdag.  Ale Bedoya is still out with an injury and Leon Flach missed out on Saturday dealing with a minor problem himself, so that left Jack McGlynn and Jesus Bueno as the two options left.  

In goal, Andre Blake, of course.  Curtin did in fact go to a back 5, a tactical adjustment that helped pull this team out of its early season slump, but one that hasn’t been able to be utilized as much lately with Damion Lowe being away on International National duty with Jamaica for the Gold Cup. 

Seeing a back 5 of Kai Wagner, Damion Lowe, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, and Nate Harriel felt really nice to see again.  Damion Lowe has been such an incredible addition to this team. 

In the midfield, It was Daniel Gazdag at the ten, with Jose Martinez and Jesus Bueno as the two playing behind him.  While Jack McGlynn has played really well this season, the duo of Martinez and Bueno in the midfield is so exciting to me.

At first, I feared there would be a drop off in Union’s ability to move the ball forward through the midfield with both Bueno and Brujo in the midfield, but I’ve absolutely loved watching Bueno bud into a reliable player in this squad.   And up top, as teased, Mikael Uhre returned to join Juliana Carranza as the two forwards. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union scores 3 first-half goals in 13 minutes to seal the deal early 

While the scoring didn’t start til much further into the half, the start of this game was probably what you’ve come to expect in an international competition between two CONCACAF sides – chaos.  And that was no different Wednesday night.  Lots of fouls, lots of surrounding the ref after said fouls and lots of milking said fouls. 

We even had a VAR check on a possible straight Red Card to Mikael Uhre early on in the opening 45 minutes, which the ref really made theatrical by slowly jogging over to Uhre to present him with his decision, building up anticipation, before finally waving off the card being upgraded to a red.

I have to be honest, I really thought he was going to pull the Red out of his pocket the way he walked over to Uhre, can’t imagine what he was feeling at that moment.  

Amidst the chaos, 30 minutes in, Union finally found a breakthrough, when Daniel Gazdag dispossessed Queretaro midfielder Federico Lertora just outside of the penalty area.  Gazdag turned and saw there was space in front of him, and let off a left-footed shot from just outside the semi-circle.

The shot skidded across the ground, beating the diving hand of Keeper Arana and finding the bottom corner to make it 1-0 Union.  The only critique one can have of Gazdag this season is his lack of scoring from open play, but man oh man did he hit this one nicely and with confidence, and it’s Gazdag’s 42 goals in a Union shirt. 

Just 6 minutes later, Union would find themselves in an opportunity to double their lead, when Juliana Carranza received a threading through ball from Gazdag in the box.  Carranza did well to sidestep an on-rushing Arana but was taken down by the keeper as he was gliding past him with an open net, earning Union a Penalty Kick. 

You know how this story goes – Daniel Gazdag steps up, and rifles the attempt into the bottom corner, sending Arana the wrong way and giving Union a 2-0 lead in the 39th minute, his 44th goal in a Union shirt. 

The first half bleeding for Queretaro’s defense wouldn’t end there though, when Nate Harriel found Union their 3rd goal of the night, heading home a corner kick from the foot of Jesus Bueno.  This goal really took the steam out of Queretaro, you could see how defeating this one felt to them and how quickly they wanted to get to halftime.  

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Gazdag finishes off hat-trick with second-half PK

Coming into the final 45 minutes, it already felt like this one was wrapped up.  You just didn’t get the sense that Union was going to lighten up, make a bunch of changes, and just call it a day – and they didn’t, they keep going right at Queretaro. 

The 3-0 lead allowed Union to play with some freedom, allowing players to express themselves in ways they might normally not.  In the 56th minute, Damion Lowe collected the ball in the midfield and unleashed a shot from just under 30 yards out.  The ball was curving for the upper corner of the net, but Arana was able to sprawl out enough to tip the ball out of play. 

In the 60th minute, Damion Lowe did have the ball in the back of the net after redirecting a cross from Bueno past Arana, but Lowe was waived for Offsides, and the game remained at 3-0.  But Union kept coming right at Queretaro and just a minute later, another through ball from Gazdag found Bueno in the box who was pulled down by a defender, earning Union their second penalty of the night.  And once again, like clockwork, Gazdag steps up to the spot and buries the attempt, this time past the diving hand of Arana.

It’s 4-0 Union, that’s the hat-trick for Gazdag, and he’s now scored his 43rd, 44th, and 45th goals in a Union shirt this match.  At the rate he’s going, Daniel Gazdag could surpass Sebastian Le Toux as Union’s all-time leading goal scorer in the next couple of weeks, let alone by the end of the season  6 goals in his last 4 games, 16 goals across all competitions this season in 30 games.  It’s time to put Gazdag on the “Union All-Time Leading Scorer Watch”.  

After the 4th goal, I think both the crowd and the team fell asleep a bit, and they were punished for it in the 84th minute. Jack Elliott was muscled off the ball in the box, and Jonathan Torres quickly squared the ball across the front of the net to Raul Sandoval. He snuck the ball just past the hands of Andre Blake, breaking the clean sheet.  While it absolutely didn’t matter in terms of the result, it was a little disappointing to see the clean sheet given up.

The goal did give Queretaro the slightest bit of energy for the remaining 6 minutes + stoppage time or so, but that was cut short when Jack McGlynn did one of those “Anything you can do, I can do better” moments and hit almost the exact same goal Daniel Gazdag did to open the scoring, but from about 5 more yards out and with 2 or 3 defenders in his way as well.  If you liked the look of Gazdag’s goal, you’ll love this one.  Great hit by Jack McGlynn and that’s the sort of thing that left foot can give you in the midfield.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Round of 32 awaits us

That wrapped it up for Union, and the 5-1 win secured the top spot in the group as well.  Now Union will wait to see what happens in Group East 2 between Montreal, DC, and Pumas, to start preparing for the round of 32 knockout stage which will be hosted by Union at Subaru Park. 

DC and Pumas are yet to play to decide the final positionings of the group, but as things stand, DC is leading with 3 points, Montreal is in 2nd with 2, and Pumas is in 3rd with just 1.  The Union will play the second-place team in this group, at Subaru Park on Thursday, August 3rd, so be sure to catch the game between Pumas and DC on Saturday, July, 29th to determine which team DOOP will face off against next.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union