Resilient Philadelphia Union battle back to save a point against Chicago Fire

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Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The MLS is officially underway for the 2024 season, and the Philadelphia Union kicked off their new campaign against the Chicago Fire.

This was technically the second match of the season for the Union, as the club faced off against Deportivo Saprissa last Tuesday in the Concacaf Champions Cup. The Union came home with a 3-2 victory, as they look to close out the Costa Rican side on Tuesday, and move on to face Pachuca.

The Union’s Starting XI to face Chicago

When looking at the Starting XI against Chicago, Jim Curtin went with a similar lineup as he did in Costa Rica, with only one major change. 

Most would have expected Curtin to rotate his squad for this match, especially with yet another fixture against Saprissa coming up in a couple of days. But the Head Coach decided against this, with the only change being in the goalkeeper position. Oliver Semmle made both his MLS and Union debut as he replaced the injured Andre Blake in net. 

With the one change, the Union lineup went as follows: (4-4-2 Diamond – Semmle; Wagner; Glesnes; Lowe; Harriel; Martinez; McGlynn; Sullivan; Gazdag; Uhre; Carranza). The substitutes would see Jack Elliott return from his injury, and also Oliver Mbaizo return from the red card that he had in the CCC. They went as follows: (Elliott; Bedoya; Trent; Rafanello; Mbaizo; Bueno; Donovan; Baribo; and Anderson). 

Quiet First Half

The first half of the match was a quiet one, but it did see Philly create some chances and honestly dominate the run of play early on. There were a couple of plays where the Union thought they should have a free kick outside of the box, but the replacement refs decided otherwise, and play was allowed to continue. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The best chance in the first half for the Union came through a pass by Julian Carranza to Daniel Gazdag. But the pass was just a little too far for Gazdag, going out of play for a goal kick. The Fire would respond to the Union’s chance in the 39th minute. Brian Gutierrez scored the first goal of the game after a shot outside of the 18. That was the lone goal in the opening stanza.

High Energy Second Half

If three points were to be captured, another comeback like they did on Tuesday night in Costa Rica would be needed.

Right when the half started, Philadelphia thought they had an equalizer with Daniel Gazdag, but VAR had other intentions. The goal was ruled offside, which meant that the score remained 1-0 to the Chicago Fire.

But it did seem like that offside goal lit a fire under the Union and showed them that they could equalize and make this a game. The offense kept creating more and more chances, and in the 55th minute, the Union finally found their equalizer. Daniel Gazdag would find Quinn Sullivan in the box, who would then see Mikael Uhre making a run right in front of the goalie. Sullivan’s pass would find Uhre, and Uhre would slot it home for his first goal of the season.  

In the 82nd minute, fortunes changed for the home club. Oliver Semmle made a good save on a shot, but the ball ended up bouncing around the box after a parry. Fabian Herbers would eventually find the ball, and he slotted it home to make it 2-1 to Chicago.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Jim Curtin’s side did not stop fighting back and were adamant about walk out of the season opener with a point.

Nate Harriel thought he found the equalizer just three minutes later, but for the second time in the night, VAR would call the goal off as Damion Lowe was found offside.

Fast forward to about eight minutes later, and the boys in blue would officially find their equalizer. It was a great team play by the Union started by Quinn Sullivan. Sullivan sent a ball to Alejandro Bedoya, who would then find Jose Martinez. Martinez sent a cross into Gazdag, who connected with his head and it was now 2-2! 

The second-half fun was not over yet, as there were a few other chances in the remaining minutes of stoppage time. Mikael Uhre hit the bar off a rebound from a deflected corner by Kai Wagner, and then Oliver Semmle made a huge stop on a Tom Barlow breakaway. Philly would have one more chance with a Jakob Glesnes header off of a free kick, but it went wide, and the game ended 2-2. Both teams went go home with a point on the night in their MLS opener. 

Takeaways from the Match 

Once again, there were moments in this match where the Union looked like they were the better team on the pitch, and there were moments where the Fire looked like the better team. But all in all, it did end in a 2-2 draw, and there are a few takeaways from the match that I noticed from watching it live, and rewatching it again as a replay.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The right side of the diamond has been a huge positive so far this season

In past seasons, it seemed that the U seemed to love playing down the left-hand side with Kai Wagner being as dominant as he has known to be. But so far throughout the two matches in the 2024 season, the right side of the diamond seems to be a real strength for the Union.

Quinn Sullivan and Nate Harriel have a top-tier chemistry that will only continue to grow as they keep playing together, which is only a plus for the Union. It also leaves a choice for manager Jim Curtin when he decides to rotate his team around, as Quinn’s play has been phenomenal as of late. 

This Union team will always fight back, no matter what

When the halftime whistle blew in both matches so far this season, the Union have been down by a score of 1-0. But, the team has stormed back and ended up winning one and drawing the other.

In Costa Rica, a second-half Julian Carranza masterclass led the Union to the 3-2 win, but Saturday night was a little different. As we all know, the Union thought they had an equalizer early on in the second half through Daniel Gazdag, but it was ultimately called offside by VAR. Some teams would be demoralized by this, but the Union went right back on the attack and scored the equalizer in the 55th minute through Mikael Uhre.

After being knocked back for a second time, the team got right back up and started peppering the Chicago goal. They were ultimately unlucky not to walk out with a win, but the resilience of this team being displayed so early is something just as valuable.

Up Next for the Union

The next match for the Union will be coming up soon, as the boys in blue will face off against Deportivo Saprissa in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup tie. The Union will hold a 3-2 advantage, with three away goals being an important thing in play. If the Union were to fail to advance to face off against Pachuca, they would need to be severely outplayed at home, which is something that does not happen often. Kickoff for the match will be at 8:15 PM, and I am expecting it to be yet another cold one!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union