Union Advance in Concacaf Champions Cup Thanks to Thriller at Subaru Park

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It was a rainy evening at Subaru Park on Tuesday night, as the Philadelphia Union faced off against Deportivo Saprissa in the Concacaf Champions Cup. Philly came into the match with a 3-2 aggregate lead, using a second-half hat trick from Julian Carranza to lead the club to victory in Costa Rica.

The second-leg tie between the Union and Saprissa was expected to be a well-fought match, as both sides were looking to advance to the next round. The winner of this tie would be taking on Liga MX side C.F. Pachuca in the Round of 16, who have five titles in the competition (winners in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009-2010, and 2016-2017). This would be Philadelphia’s third match in seven days, so rotation was expected in the Starting XI, and Jim Curtin did not disappoint.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

The Starting XI

In his press conference following the draw against Chicago, manager Jim Curtin hinted that there would be some changes for this match, saying: “Obviously, like I said, we have a third game now on short rest that we’ll probably tweak and adjust things for sure.” The Union manager was not lying when he said that, as he did in fact make a couple of changes in the Starting XI. There were four changes made, as we saw Markus Anderson make his first-ever start for Philly, along with Jack Elliott, Jesus Bueno, and Oliver Mbaizo making their first starts of the season. 

With these four changes the Union lineup went as follows: (4-4-2 Diamond: Oliver Semmle; Olivier Mbaizo; Jack Elliott; Jakob Glesnes; Kai Wagner; Jesus Bueno; Quinn Sullivan; Jack McGlynn; Daniel Gazdag; Julian Carranza; and Markus Anderson). The substitutes included the following: (Holden Trent; Matt Real; Nate Harriel; Damion Lowe; Olwethu Makhanya; Jose Martinez; Sanders Ngabo; Alejandro Bedoya; Jeremy Rafanello; Tai Baribo; Chris Donovan; and Mikael Uhre). 

Back and Forth First Half

Going into the match, the last thing that Philadelphia wanted to do was concede an early goal and give Saprissa some hope that they would be able to fight and climb their way back into the tie. But unfortunately for Philly, the exact opposite happened, as Saprissa would be awarded a penalty kick in the 14th minute. Jakob Glesnes would be the one who gave up the penalty, after a foul after Deportivo Saprissa striker Javon East.

Glesnes would catch East on the calf, and after a VAR check for a penalty, the referee would call it. Luis Paradela would convert the penalty, giving Saprissa a 1-0 lead on the night, but tying the score 3-3 on aggregate. The Union would still lead in the tie due to the three away goals they scored, but it was still early in the night and more would happen. 

Just three minutes after allowing the penalty, the Union would strike right back with a goal from Julian Carranza. Quinn Sullivan would receive a pass from Jakob Glesnes and then would proceed to make a run down the right flank of the field. Quinn would send a cross into the box, where he would find Carranza. The Union’s Argentine striker would connect with the cross with his head, and send it past the Saprissa keeper to equalize the match at 1-1. This goal would restore the Union’s lead on aggregate, giving them a 4-3 lead overall.

The Union would strike once again in the 26th minute, as it was Quinn Sullivan giving the home side a 2-1 lead in the match. Markus Anderson would have his initial shot saved by the goalie, and the rebound would fall to Daniel Gazdag. Gazdag would take a shot only to have it blocked, and finally, it would fall to the feet of Quinn Sullivan, who has been one of the hottest Union players to start the season.

The youngster would get the ball near the top of the box, and send it past Chamorro to give the Union a 2-1 lead on the night, and a 5-3 overall lead on aggregate. Many would think that this would wrap it for the Union, but remember, this is a Concacaf match, and things will only get crazier. 

Not even three minutes would pass after the Quinn Sullivan goal, and Deportivo Saprissa would find an equalizer. Saprissa would have a corner kick, and the Union would lose track of Warren Madrigal. Madrigal would make the Union pay for this, as he slotted the equalizer past Oliver Semmle, giving Saprissa fans another glimmer of hope that they would be able to do the unthinkable and defeat the Union at Subaru Park

The goal in the 28th minute by Madrigal would just about be the last action that occurred in the first half, as the whistle was blown with the score being drawn at two a piece. Even though the game was drawn, the Union would still be in line to advance, as they held a 5-4 aggregate lead overall in the tie.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Much Quieter Second Half   

While it would be hard to repeat the events that took place in the first half of the match, the second half was much quieter than the first. The Union did string together a couple of chances to try and grow the lead on aggregate that they had, but they could not do so.

About an hour into the match, Jakob Glesnes continued his rough start to the season, being caught with a handball right outside the Union box, giving Saprissa a free kick in an extremely dangerous position. Mariano Torres would take advantage of the good position, and slot home the free kick past Oliver Semmle. This goal made things interesting, as the aggregate was now tied 5-5, with both teams scoring three away goals. This means that if it ended up being needed, extra time would be how the two teams would fight things out. 

Chances were fairly quiet for both sides for the remainder of the second half, but there was a big moment that occurred. Javon East was making a run through the Union’s half when Jack Elliott would slide tackle him from behind to stop the attack. The referee would give Elliott a straight red, causing the Union to go down to ten men for the remainder of the match. There would be no other goals in the second half, so with the aggregate score tied at five a piece and both away teams scoring three goals, it was headed to extra time.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Uhre, Mikael Uhre!

Going into extra time, the Union would be looking for a miracle as they were down to ten men. But in the 94th minute, the Boys in Blue would get just what they were looking for. Jack McGlynn would send a cross in from the corner kick, and it would trickle through the box to Mikael Uhre. Uhre would catch the ball and one time it right past the Saprissa keeper, giving the Union the lead they would be looking for in the tie. 

Saprissa would do everything they could to find an equalizer in the tie, forcing Oliver Semmle into a good save in the 108th minute. Kendall Waston would break through the Union’s defense and had a one-on-one against the Union’s young goalkeeper. Semmle would come out of his box up towards the 18, and make a phenomenal one-handed save.

Saprissa would not be done with their attacks, as they would strike the post twice during the 118th minute, sending a wave of nervousness around Subaru Park. That would just about be the last chance of the night for both sides, as the score would end up tied 3-3, but the Union would end up going through on aggregate by a score of 6-5. What a night, and what a match!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Takeaways from the Match

The second-round tie between the Union and Saprissa was one of the more intense matches that the club has played in recently, and the Boys in Blue ended up leaving Subaru Park with a 3-3 draw, but they did advance on an aggregate score of 6-5. I had three takeaways while watching the match and they are as follows:

1. Quinn Sullivan is a must-start for Jim Curtin in the Union Starting XI

Throughout their young history, the Union has been known for developing its homegrowns. Names such as Brendan Aaronson, Paxten Aaronson, and Mark McKenzie have made the voyage to Europe, and it looks like Quinn Sullivan could be one of the next ones.

Sullivan has been phenomenal in the opening two matches, and it continued on Tuesday night. The 19-year-old was a constant threat in the Union attack, contributing both a goal and an assist within the first 30 minutes. If Quinn continues to play like this, Curtin will have to play him in just about every match, as he has proved to be such an important part of this squad.

2. The Union has a good one with Oliver Semmle  

The Union acquired goalkeeper Oliver Semmle from USL side Louisville City in the winter, as he was expected to be the backup to Andre Blake. But due to an injury to Blake, Semmle has stepped into net for the last two matches and has looked impressive. Yes, he has conceded five goals in those two matches, but he has also made some incredible clutch saves that saved some matches.

In the match against Saprissa, Kendall Waston made a run through the Union defense and had a clear run forward on Semmle. Semmle moved up in his box and made a huge save that allowed the Union to keep their 6-5 lead on aggregate. No one expected that we would see Oliver Semmle this early on in the season, but he has for sure made his name known and made Union fans more comfortable for when Blake will be going off to international duty with Jamaica.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

3. Markus Anderson had a good 45-minute cameo 

One of the big surprises from the Starting XI in the match against Saprissa was Jim Curtin’s inclusion of Markus Anderson in the lineup. The 20-year-old made the move to the Union in late January from Rayo Majadahonda in the Spanish third division, but Jim Curtin praised him a lot in the preseason.

Anderson’s hard work in preseason gave the youngster a start in the second-leg tie against Saprissa, and he did not disappoint at all. He showed a good work rate up top and also had a nice pace on him. This cameo should definitely earn him more minutes soon, and he is one hundred percent a player to keep an eye on.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Up Next for the Union

The Union will be resuming play in the MLS for their next match, as they will be traveling to Kansas City to take on Sporting Kansas City. The two clubs have not faced each other often, only playing once since 2021. This match took place on April 1, 2023, and the two teams drew 0-0.

Sporting Kansas City have only played their one MLS match this season, where they drew with the Houston Dynamo 1-1. Erik Thommy scored for the visitors, while Gabriel Segal scored for the home side in Houston. Kickoff for the match will be 8:30 PM, and it will also be the Union’s first road trip of the young MLS season.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports & Philadelphia Union