Philadelphia Union scrape out a 2-2 draw in bounce-back performance against Austin FC

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Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

In the simplest of terms, Philadelphia Union’s historic 6-0 loss to Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Tuesday night down-right sucked. A humbling of seismic proportions – a butt-whooping on an International Stage against one of Liga MX’s top teams. Yet another instance of taking 1 step forward for this club, and then immediately taking multiple lengthy steps back.

But sports are so much more than a single result, and often times how you bounce back from a disastrous performance can be more indicative of a team’s attitude and mentality moving forward. So while Tuesday night’s loss was one that Union should undoubtedly take some warning signs from, their response on Saturday night against Austin FC could be a tell-tale sign of things to come from this Union team for the remainder of the 2024 season.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

After Tuesday night’s unacceptable performance against Pachuca, many fans were calling for Jim Curtin to send a message to his team by way of squad selection. Some hoped to see Curtin bench a few guys – Uhre, Gazdag, Glesnes to name a few of the candidates being thrown around – who may be a little too comfortable and didn’t show fight and pride for the club on Tuesday night in hopes of keeping them on their toes and not allowing them to become too complacent in their positions.

If Jim Curtin sent any message with his Starting XI selection to face Austin FC on Saturday night, the message to be received is that Curtin believes in the players that have gotten him to this point. He isn’t reluctant to go back to them even after such a disappointing performance. Here’s how Union lined up to start against Austin FC:

FORMATION: 4-4-2 (4-3-1-2) Diamond
Andre Blake (GK)
Kai Wagner (LB), Damion Lowe (CB), Jack Elliott (CB), Nathan Harriel (RB)
Jose Martinez (CDM)
Jack McGlynn (LCM), Quinn Sullivan (RCM)
Daniel Gazdag (CAM)
Julian Carranza (ST), Mikael Uhre (ST)

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union clear conscious with early PK

What’s the one thing that can turn the mood around after suffering quite literally the worst loss in club history? An early goal – and Union got just that against Austin FC on Saturday night. 10 minutes into the game, the Union was awarded a penalty after a free-kick attempt by Kai Wagner was deflected out of play by the stray hand of Austin defender Alex Ring.

Daniel Gazdag stepped up and made no mistake with his chance from the spot, giving Union a 1-0 lead early on – exactly what this team needed. It was the 20th consecutive converted PK for Daniel Gazdag since joining MLS – a new league record set by the Hungarian midfielder – and the 53rd goal scored for Gazdag in a Union shirt, which puts him just 4 goals behind tying Sebastian Le Toux as Union’s all-time leading goal scorer across all competitions.

Before the teams went into the locker room, Jader Obrian laid off a ball to Emiliano Rigoni inside the box, but his attempt on net was blocked away by Damion Lowe. The two teams would go into the locker room with the visiting team on top by a score of 1-0 thanks to Daniel Gazdag. Union did a nice job of controlling the first half against Austin even while being on the road, limiting Verde to just 3 shots and 0.13 total expected goals in the opening 45 minutes, but know a full 90-minute performance is needed to secure all 3 points.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union let the lead slip during 2-minute mental lapse

Although there was still plenty of work to be done, going into the half with a 1-0 lead was a much better feeling than Tuesday night. In 7 games so far this season, it was the first time Union has gone into the half-time break with a lead, something to build on. Resiliency in the second half has been the story of the season thus far – if they can eliminate slow starts and the occasional mental lapse and put a full 90-minute performance together, we might have a decent side on our hands this year.

But just 10 minutes into the second half, Union switched off for a minute or two and suffered the consequences. In the 55th minute, the substitute Hector Jimenez lifted a ball into the box from the right side of the field. Both Damion Lowe and Jack Elliott nonchalantly observed the ball flying through the box towards the far side of the net and neither were able to make a play, leaving Diego Rubio unattended at the back-post for a tap-in header.

Two minutes later, Kai Wagner gets beat down the right side of the field and a ball is played into the box by Owen Wolff. The ball was touched on by another Austin attacker before making it’s way to John Gallagher, who made no mistake with the opportunity and beat Andre Blake to his left side to give Austin the 2-1 lead.

Two goals were conceded in as many minutes for Union, a team whose identity is built around defensive solidity. It’s frustrating. It’s unacceptable. It’s a shell of the Union team that smothered and choked the best attacks in MLS out just a few seasons ago.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Mikael Uhre saves Union a point on the road

Jim Curtin refers to a lot of the goals scored against Union early on this season as “uncharacteristic” for them to concede, but you have to wonder if mental lapses leading to goals IS in fact a characteristic that this team possesses at this point. But as frustrating as that can be, Union has also exemplified a lot of fight so far this season, earning a win or draw after trailing in 4 of 6 games coming into Saturday night. And once again, despite such a spineless performance on Tuesday night, Union showed their mental fortitude against Austin FC

Trailing 2-1 on the road after such a disastrous performance on Tuesday night, the easy thing for Union to do was to put their heads down and throw in the towel as they did against Pachuca, but they kept pushing and in the 65th minute were able to find an important equalizer. High-pressing from Jose Martinez led to a turnover in Austin’s final third.

Martinez carried the ball towards the penalty area and played a ball out to the right for Quinn Sullivan, who whipped the ball into the middle of the 6-yard box with pace. The ball took a deflection off a defender and landed on a silver platter for Mikael Uhre who was waiting at the back-post. Uhre made no mistake and slid the game-tying goal into the back of a wide-open net, drawing the game level with his 2nd goal of the MLS season and completing a come-back for Union again in this early season.

Seconds later Quinn Sullivan returned down the right side and this time put his ball into the box right on the feet of Austin keeper Brad Stuver, but Stuver stood strong, made a kick-save, and kept the game level at 2.

Late in the match, Quinn Sullivan and Sebastian Driussi – making his 2024 debut – would trade chances to become the hero on Saturday night, but neither player’s attempt from outside the box did enough to find the winner.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Knee-Jerk reactions

I think you have to look at this 2-2 draw from a few different perspectives, so I’ll do my best to lay that all out for you here

First things first – Union has yet to put a full 90 minutes together. Slow starts have been an issue so far this season, which Union seemed to find a remedy for on Saturday night with an early PK goal. But just as one issue is addressed, Union turn off for a matter of minutes and are made to pay for it. Two goals in two minutes only happen when a team isn’t fully attentive to their opponent, and that’s what happened Tuesday night. Maybe saying both goals are preventable is a bit of hopeful thinking, but It’s on this team for not regrouping after the first goal went in and subsequently conceding the 2nd goal just seconds later.

But once again, this team showed the resiliency it has and the ability to come back in games even when their back is against the wall. The need for a late come-back could be erased with a full 90-minute performance…but something needs to be said about this team’s ability to claw their way back into games. It’s a quality any trophy-winning team possesses.

At the end of the day, this looked much more like the Union that we’ve come to know than the team that showed up (or didn’t show up, I guess) in Mexico on Tuesday night. The result doesn’t necessarily make or break the season for me, but the effort and fight that they put on the field might, and I feel like it was a much more brave, and prideful Union team on Saturday night.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Looking Ahead

One bright spot of exiting the CONCACAF Champions Cup is that the Union can now put their full focus toward the MLS season and won’t have to shuffle their lineup as much to handle competing in multiple competitions.

Unfortunately for the blue and gold, Union are set to miss a total of 10(yes 10!!!) players for their match against Portland Timbers next weekend due to International Call-Ups, which leaves Jim Curtin and co with a giant headache while on the road. We’ll have to wait and see what Curtin’s plan for Portland is, but it’s safe to say we’re going to see a handful of younger names in the lineup next Saturday night.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union