The Philadelphia Union is off to the Leagues Cup Semifinals! After a crazy close match against one of the last two Liga MX sides Querétaro, Philly is moving on to the semifinals where they will host Tournament darlings Inter Miami CF and Lionel Messi!
Union vs Querétaro Quarterfinal recap
Before the match even started, craziness ensued as there was a power outage at Subaru Park. This delayed the start of the match an hour, but the vibes in the stadium were still high. The Keystone State Ultras brought the noise getting the River End and the rest of the stadium rocking with chants and songs; so much so, that Phang came up into the stands to join the party.
When the lights finally turned the was ready to get underway. The Union rolled out its version of a 3-5-2 formation. Andre Blake captained the side from goal, and Damion Lowe, Jack Elliot, and Jakob Glesnes were the three center-backs ahead of him. Kai Wagner and Oliver Mbiazo played the wing-back roles in the midfield, while the three central midfielders had Jose Martinez as a lone six, and Jack McGlynn and Jesus Bueno as the dual-eights. Up top were the striker duo of Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre.
First half highs
As the game started Philadelphia was on the front foot. Their knowledge of this Querétaro side after beating them 5-1 in the group stage was evident. Philly would look to move the ball quickly to the wide positions and let their central midfielders make runs into open space to create attacks. This would come to fruition early, at the 10-minute mark.
A good attack on the Union’s left side found Jack McGlynn in an advanced position. The strikers did well to move off the ball and create even more space in the middle of the box. Jesus Bueno took advantage of this space and ran to it. McGlynn was crafty and hit a perfect pass through traffic to find Bueno, and he was able to poke a chance home to give Philly an early lead!
It was all Union for the next 35 minutes, but they were unable to get a second goal in that time. From the beginning of the match it looked like Querétaro was trying to play for a draw to get to penalty kicks, however now they would have to battle to get a goal back. This would be an uphill battle as the Liga MX side did not look at all like they’d be able to score, especially in the first half. Querétaro only produced four shots on the day two of which was on goal, but one of those shots would be monumental.
Second half lows
As the match rolled into the second half, Philly looked uninspired and tired. After the first 15 minutes, Philadelphia looked to change their personnel, bringing Leon Flach and Chris Donovan on for Jack McGlynn and Mikael Uhre in the 61st minute. The move signaled that the Union was trying to preserve its lead, but just minutes later, disaster struck.
After Querétaro dispossessed Philly high up the field, a cross from Jaime Gomez rose above the leap of Jakob Glesnes and Angel Sepulveda was able to smash a shot past Andre Blake. It was 1-1 in the 65th minute, and the already chippy match would only get uglier for the last 25 minutes.
The game concluded in a way that was more of a street fight than a soccer match. There were seven yellow cards given out to Querétaro players who were doing anything possible to stop Philly’s attacks. The Union produced 20 total shots in this match, six of which were actual shots on target, but Querétaro was hell-bent on dragging Philadelphia players down to preserve the draw. As the match enter 10 added minutes of stoppage time, things changed.
Omar Mendoza got a second yellow card in the 90+7 minute; Querétaro would finish the match with 10 men. Right after that foul, Philly almost won the match. A deflected free kick from Kai Wagner hit the post, and it seemed like Philadelphia would not find that second goal; however, they kept pushing and it paid off at the death.
A 90+11 minute winner from an unlikely hero
A minute after the initial 10 minutes of time added on the Union started an attack. Another Union substitute Joaquin Torres found himself on the ball near midfield. He was able to pick his head up and find the wide run of Kai Wagner. Wagner beat the defensive line and sprinted toward the Querétaro box. Wagner is one of the best distributors in MLS and was able to put a perfect ball on a platter for an unlikely hero to win the game.
Running through the middle of the field were both Chris Donovan and another Union sub, Quinn Sullivan. Donovan ran toward the near post, and Sullivan to the far post. Wagner put a perfect ball to the foot of Donovan. The youngster from Drexel was able to open up his hips and cushion an unsavable shot past the Querétaro keeper. The Union had the lead at the 90+11 minute!
VAR did a check on the goal as it looked like Donovan might be offside, but Wagner was just ahead of him when he played the ball so the goal stood. It was virtually the last kick of the game, but that doesn’t matter as the Union is now off to the semifinals of Leagues Cup to take on Lionel Messi and Inter Miami on Tuesday at 7 pm EST.
Three main takeaways
1. In tournament play surviving and advancing is all that matters
Philly was dominant in the group stage to get to these Leagues Cup knockout rounds; however, they have not looked like the best team since then. While this may be concerning for Philadelphia’s chances of winning Leagues Cup, tournament soccer is all about surviving and advancing. That is what this team has done so far, can it continue against Lionel Messi and Miami?
2. Philly will need to up its game to get the better of Messi and Co. in the Semis
Surviving and advancing is great, and it will be what Philly tries to do when they host Miami. However, to do so they will have to up their game in the middle of the pitch. We all know Messi is a magician, expect Jose Martinez to mark him and try to knock him off his BS for the entire match. While this is great the x-factor may lie in how Philly covers Sergio Busquets. His passes have been destroying the opposition, and it will take a compact and aware Philly team to stop his world-class quality.
3. The 2023 Leagues Cup now runs through Chester, PA.
We know Philly will play Miami in one semifinal; but on the other side of the bracket, Nashville hosts Monterrey who beat LAFC. Los Angeles was the highest seed in the tournament going into the quarterfinals, the second highest was Philly. With LAFC out, the Leagues Cup now runs through Subaru Park. Should the Union win against Miami, they will host the winner of Nashville-Monterrey. Could we see another cup final on the banks of the Delaware River?
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union