Even if the nervy ending shaved a few years from my lifespan, it feels good to watch Union win again – especially at home. Not only does it feel nice to finally collect 3 points after failing to do so in their previous 5 games, but fans have to feel encouraged by key players like Jose Martinez, Jakob Glesnes, and Julian Carranza returning from injury and becoming available options down the stretch. And while there are definitely some things Union needs to tighten up before the Playoffs start in order to make another deep Cup run, fans should feel a bit more confident that their team is starting to get both healthy and hot at the right time.
Union Starting XI
Jim Curtin rolled out his team in a 4-4-2 Diamond formation last night, with Andre Blake in net of course. Kai Wagner missed out on Wednesday due to Yellow Card Accumulation Suspension, so the backline was made up of Nate Harriel covering for Wagner at Left Back, Jakob Glesnes returning from injury at CB with Jack Elliott beside him, and Olivier Mbaizo as the Right Back.
Jesus Bueno got his 4th consecutive start at Defensive Midfield, with Jack McGlynn and Ale Bedoya on either side of the Diamond. Daniel Gazdaz at the 10, with Julian Carranza returning from concussion protocol alongside Mikael Uhre up top to round out the attack.
Though he did not start, Jose Martinez was available off the bench after missing the previous 3 games. And though he did not appear on Wednesday night, Leon Flach made the bench for the first time after he was set to be out for the season just a few weeks ago.
Philly’s front 3 all cash in during 1st half
Though it was a smaller crowd than normal at Subaru Park – which could be attributed to both it being a Wednesday, and an important baseball game being played a few miles up 95 – the crowd that was in attendance was quite lively and eager to see their team show signs of the team we all have seen them be. Before I get to the exciting stuff, remember how I spoke about Union getting healthier?
Well, just a few minutes into the game Jesus Bueno went down with an injury, and though it initially looked like he might be able to continue, Bueno was eventually replaced by Jose Martinez around the 10th minute. When asked about the injury after the game, Jim Curtin said that Buneo’s ankle initially looked OK to continue, and moments later they looked down and it swelled up really bad, so they thought they better lean towards being cautious with it.
The first 35 minutes or so of the game was a stalemate with no real good opportunities for either team coming, other than Atlanta wanting to be rewarded a PK and being denied by VAR. But the final 10 minutes of the half were incredible, especially from a Philadelphia Union fan standpoint.
Atlanta got their first real threatening opportunity of the match when Brooks Lennon sent a pinpoint ball into the box to Giakoumakis, who was able to control the ball down with an outstretched leg and laid it off for an oncoming Muyumba. Muyumba put the ball on net with his first touch, but a diving Andre Blake kept the ball from entering his net and the game remained scoreless. Just minutes later down at the other end of the pitch, Jack McGlynn restarted play quickly while a number of Atlanta players were complaining to the ref and eventually, the ball was worked into the box by Union.
The ball found its way to Ale Bedoya whose attempt on net was deflected right to the chest of Daniel Gazdag. Gazdag with his back to goal controlled the deflected shot off his chest, and in one motion leaned back, left the ground, and fired a bicycle kick with his right foot into the corner of the net to give Union a 1-0 lead.
It’s Gazdag’s 14th goal of the season and his 40th MLS regular season goal, making him just the second player to do that in club history. It also marked Gazdag’s 49th goal for Union across all competitions, putting him just 8 goals behind Sebastien Le Toux as Union’s all-time leading goal scorer. This was a beautiful goal and one that gave a hungry crowd some energy to feed off of.
2 minutes later Union would extend their lead off of great transition play from their two strikers. Jack Elliott stabbed the ball out to the center line which was tracked down by Mikael Uhre. Uhre played an outlet ball to Carranza along the right sideline and made a run ahead of Carranza toward the box. Carranza carried forward before eventually feeding the ball back to Uhre right above the penalty area. With his back to goal and his defender giving him yards of space, Uhre took a touch or two to get in the box and improve his angle, and then let a right-footed shot fly into the bottom left corner to give Union a 2-0 lead.
That was a huge goal for Mikael Uhre, someone who’s struggled to find their scoring form this season. Hopefully, a strong goal-scorer finish like that can give him some confidence down the stretch. The Union would tack on one more during stoppage time of the first half which proved to be the decisive goal in this game, but the way in which it was scored should make Union fans feel good about where the form of this team is heading.
Jack McGlynn carried the ball across midfield along the left sideline and played a direct left-footed ball over the top to Juliana Carranza. Carranza chested the ball down into the path of Daniel Gazdag perfectly and continued his run into the box without the ball. Gazdag controlled the chested ball in stride with his knee and sent the second touchback across the middle for Carranza, who slid into the ball, sending it into the right corner of the net to give Union a 3-0 lead heading into the break.
Goals by Gazdag, Uhre, and Carranza in the first half mark the first time Union’s front 3 have all scored in a game since last season when they all got on the scoresheet also against Atlanta.
Second Half Scaries
It’s a good thing Union put up 3 in the first half, cause Atlanta gave them everything they had in the 2nd. Atlanta got back into the game with a bit of luck in the 52nd minute, when a corner struck the arm of Julian Carranza in the box. It’s a tough one for Carranza because he’s jumping and also anticipating that the ball is going to be headed by the player in front of him. Regardless, it was rewarded as a penalty kick for Atlanta, and Thiago Almada made no mistake from there to bring Atlanta within 2 with plenty of time left on the clock.
With a 3-1 score, Union had a few opportunities to shut the door before it was ever really opened, but Brad Guzan made saves on Quinn Sullivan and Daniel Gazdag to keep Atlanta down by 2 and keep the hope alive. In the 77th minute, Atlanta drove into the box and Brooks Lennon sent a ball across the middle for an awaiting Muyumba.
Muyumba hit the ball on his first touch but Andre Blake was in perfect position to make the initial save. The rebound popped back out to Muyumba who was able to lay the ball off to Mosquera, once again hitting Andre Blake with the one-touch attempt, but this time Andre Blake couldn’t keep the ball from entering the net, and Atlanta drew themselves within 1 with about 15 minutes left to find the equalizer on the road.
It was a really nervy final 15 minutes plus stoppage time, but Union’s midfield and defense did really well to clamp down and deny Atlanta from getting any real dangerous looks at an equalizer. It required a lot of fires to be put out, but after about 7 minutes of stoppage time, the ref blew his whistle and Union had their first 3-point result in 5 games.
There are a few things to take away from this game and most of them are positive, so let’s get the one negative thing I have to say out of the way first – Union has to figure out a way to keep teams from climbing back into games. Jumping out to a lead and letting the opposing team back in has been an issue with Union lately, especially across their 5 game-draw streak. It didn’t end up burning them on Wednesday night, but if a VAR decision goes the other way and you don’t get a big save from Andre Blake, this could be a totally different outcome.
Now for the positives, and there are a few! First and foremost, getting players back from injury with 3 games before playoffs is a great thing, especially with the October International break coming up and allowing more players to get some needed rest or rehabilitation.
Something else I was extremely happy to see on Wednesday night was the killer instinct coming back into this team near the end of the first half. We saw so many instances of Union taking it to their opponent at full throttle last season, and the offense just hasn’t been quite as potent this season. So to see Gazdag, Uhre, and Carranza all score really beautiful-looking goals within 10 minutes of each other – you’ve got to feel good about that and the turning point it could be for this offense.
Lastly, I wanted to shout out Nate Harriel, who’s having a really strong season in my eyes. Filling in at Left Back for Kai Wagner was no easy task last night, but I thought he played really strong against an attacking Brooks Lennon and showed a lot of maturity in his games.
That win feels really good for the Union, something they can really build off of heading down the final stretch and into playoffs. The win and the results around them have them on 54 points and 3rd place in the East, 4 points behind Orlando for the #2 seed. And quietly, Philly has failed to lose in their previous 7 games. There’s just one home game left for Union in the regular season on Saturday night against Nashville SC, another tough Eastern Conference Playoff team.
While I expect Philadelphia will secure a playoff seed high enough to host a playoff game or two, I’d be shocked if Subaru Park felt like anything less than a playoff game dress rehearsal on Saturday night. Hope to see you down at the park on Saturday for the final time this regular season, and be sure to keep up with all things Union heading into playoffs with Philly Sports Network.
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