King Carranza’s Hat-Trick lifts Union to 3-2 Champions Cup win Against Deportivo Saprissa

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The Union is back! Just short of 3 months after their exit from the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Blue and Gold kicked off their 2024 season on the road against Deportivo Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Tuesday night. It’s a new season with new opportunities and the same hopes and dreams – but it starts with a tough test for Union, not only traveling to Costa Rica to start the season but playing against a team already in midseason. 

CONCACAF Champions Cup – it just doesn’t have the same ring to it that “CONCACAF Champions League” did – but that doesn’t mean that the tournament’s pedigree has changed. Union still takes this competition seriously, and the Starting XI Jim Curtin rolled out on the opening game of the 2024 campaign proved that

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

As expected, Jim Curtin went to his trusted 4-4-2 Diamond to kick off the season on the road against Saprissa and came out with what might be Union’s strongest lineup at the moment – especially when you realize that Jack Elliott was missing from the team sheet. 

Olivier Mbaizo was missing too, thanks to a red card he received against LAFC in the semi-finals in last year’s competition, which meant Nate Harriel, Jakob Glesnes, Damion Lowe and Kai Wagner made up the backline in front of goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Jose Martinez took his typical defensive midfield spot at the bottom of the Diamond, with Jack McGlynn on the left, Daniel Gazdag at the top of the Diamond, and Quinn Sullivan getting the start on the right after a lot of praise from Jim Curtin during pre-season – an incredible opportunity for him to make an impact right off the jump this season. Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza served as the striking duo in the attack with high hopes of reaching new heights in 2024.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union caught shaking off the cobwebs in first half

It’s easy for Union fans to understand that it might take a bit for the blue and gold to shake off the pre-season cobwebs and to find their regular season legs – expected even.  But it’s also easy to forget that they’re playing against a team already in mid-season form – until you actually sat down and watched the first half.

Saprissa came out strong against Union right from the jump, creating multiple chances to open the scoring in the first 20 minutes or so – a loose ball in the box that was fired just over the net, a corner at the back post which was headed into the outside netting, and a Luis Diaz shot right into the stomach of Andre Blake – Union should have felt lucky to still be level 25 minutes in.

But not long after, in the 27th minute – Jakob Glesnes did something he’ll hope to forget.  The former MLS defender of the Year collected the ball under pressure along the left sideline closer to midfield than not and fired the ball back to goalkeeper Andre Blake. 

Unfortunately for all, the wayward pass back caught wind and all Andre Blake could do without being able to use his hands was make an awkward attempt at keeping the high-bouncing ball out of the net with his chest.  It’s almost unbelievable, but Jakob Glesnes has now opened the scoring for Union in the previous two seasons – both of which coming as own goals.

It wasn’t a good first half, and the dread was starting to set in amongst Union fans on social media who were already skeptical about another “run it back” season. A 50-50 possession split in the opening 45 minutes, but Saprissa outshot Union by a total of 9-2 and took a 1-0 lead into the break.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

King Carranza’s 2nd half hat-trick wins it for Union 

If there was any bright side to the opening 45 minutes, it was that Union was only down 1 at the break, and hopefully, the difference on the scoreboard was a matter of two teams being at different points in their season.  If they could find a way back into the game, they’d surely feel confident about their chances heading back to Philadelphia for Leg 2.

It was like a completely different team came out of the locker room after halftime – Whatever Jim Curtin said to his team at the break worked, because Union came out looking like there were no cobwebs left to shake off.  It took just 10 minutes for Union to draw the game level in the second half after Kai Wagner whipped a ball into the box from the goal’s right side, finding the soaring head of Julian Carranza and easily beating the keeper Kevin Chamorro. 1-1 in the 55th minute and Union is off the mark in the 2024 season.  

With momentum now on their side, Union almost added a second goal off the foot of Mikael Uhre minutes later when he one-touched a ball sent into him during a darting run into the box – but the attempt was sent just over the bar. 

In the 76th minute, still on the prowl for the goal-ahead-goal, Quinn Sullivan carried the ball into the top of the penalty area and shifted a through ball deep in the box to Daniel Gazdag, positioned towards Chamorro’s right-hand side. Gazdag squared the ball into the middle of the 6-yard box to Julian Carranza who tapped his second goal of the night into a wide-open net giving Union a 2-1 advantage with less than 15 minutes to go. 

Union kept their foot on the pedal and found their 3rd goal just 3 minutes after Carranza’s 2nd.  It was the link-up of Sullivan, Gazdag, and Carranza again – this time Quinn Sullivan used his speed to chase down a ball behind the backline. Sullivan held the ball up and cut back in the box while he waited for reinforcements to join the attack.

Sullivan sent a ball to Daniel Gazdag at the top of the box who one-touched a pass to Julian Carranza running onto the penalty spot. Carranza one-touched the ball himself with incredible composure, swinging the ball into the far corner and giving the keeper zero chance at making a stop. A Hat-trick for Julian Carranza in the opening game of the season, and a 3-1 lead for Union after trailing in the first half. 

Saprissa would draw one back in stoppage time, which would take some of the joy out of this one for Head Coach Jim Curtin.  But all-in-all – Union fought back from an early mistake in a really tough environment and put themselves in a really good position to advance to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.  It’s pretty simple, really – Don’t lose at home and you move on.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


There are certainly some things from this match that Jim Curtin will want to address and clean up, but I think there are also some real positives coming out of this one as well.  Outside of Julian Carranza’s hat-trick, Quinn Sullivan looked like the best player on the pitch for many stretches of the game, especially in the 2nd half.  He won’t get credited for an assist, but Sullivan played a huge role in Carranza’s 2nd and 3rd goals and looked to be a huge threat on the right side of the 4-4-2 diamond. 

Speaking of the right side of the 4-4-2 diamond, Ale Bedoya came off the bench last night, which I’d expect to see more of this season, and I thought he actually looked pretty lively. Though the 36-year-old may lack the pace and stamina to make him a constant threat throughout 90 minutes – he’s got the fineness and mental fortitude to find space and make things happen against a tired defense late in the game. 

Another thing I loved to see, but also raised some questions for me, was the debut of newly acquired 20-year-old Markus Anderson.  Anderson checked into the game in stoppage time and didn’t get much time if any at all to show what he’s got – but Curtin getting him into the first game of the season after speaking highly of him all pre-season is a sign that Curtin has high hopes for the young forward. 

But it does rain some concern – what is going on with Tai Baribo?  Are both Chris Donovan and Markus Anderson now in front of Baribo on the depth chart? Is Baribo still not fit enough to play? Is Curtin saving Baribo for a quick turnaround on Saturday night?  I have no idea – but I still know almost nothing about the Forward Union reportedly spent $1.5 Million on last season. Regardless, Curtin seems set on giving minutes to whoever he thinks is creating the most competition for the 3rd and 4th forward spot amidst another busy season – let’s see who wants that spot the most.

All-in-all, I think Union fans should be happy they stayed up to watch this one.  Some things to fix? Certainly.  Some things to build on? Absolutely!  There are definitely things to be excited about this season, even if we lost sight of that with a less-than-exciting off-season. Things keep moving fast and Union won’t have much time to recover.

They’ll shift their focus immediately to start preparing for their MLS Season home-opener against Chicago Fire on Saturday night in hopes of kick-off league play on a positive note.  I can’t believe we’re already back – but I can’t wait to be back at Subaru Park with all you sickos in the 32-degree Delaware River wind.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Best Philadelphia Union Bets

Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union and other soccer content!

Follow our Union team on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth | Jimmy King | Paul Frenzel
Eric Frysinger | Liam Jenkins | Regina Ham
Steve Beavon | Justin Friedberg | Zach LoBasso

Doop on Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union