Carranza’s brace on the road helps shorthanded Union to first win of MLS Season vs Portland Timbers

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It’s the type of performance that jumpstarts a team’s season – on the road, missing 8+ key players due to International Duty, facing a team that just signed a new Designated Player, and under immense pressure to start the game – but with their backs against the wall, Union dug deep and put a 3 spot past the Portland Timbers. And suddenly, maybe things aren’t so bad in Philadelphia.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

Many Union fans came into Saturday night’s MLS After Dark matchup with low expectations, some chalking it up as a loss before evening seeing what lineup Curtin would deploy. But while there were a LOT of absences from Union’s roster on Saturday night, the blue and gold did have a strong core group of players both in the attack and the backline to build their foundation on, and Curtin voiced how big of an opportunity it would be for some of the younger guys on the squad to play some important minutes. Here’s how the Union lined up against Portland on Saturday night:

Status Report:

  • OUT: Leon Flach (left shoulder)
  • OUT: Isaiah LeFlore (right knee)
  • OUT: Holden Trent (finger)
  • OUT: Tai Baribo (international duty)
  • OUT: Andre Blake (international duty)
  • OUT: Jesús Bueno (international duty)
  • OUT: Dániel Gazdag (international duty)
  • OUT: Nathan Harriel (international duty)
  • OUT: Damion Lowe (international duty)
  • OUT: José Martinez (international duty)
  • OUT: Jack McGlynn (international duty)

Starting XI
4-4-2 Flat

GK – Oliver Semmle
RB Olivier Mbiazo, CB Jakob Glesnes, CB Jack Elliott, LB Kai Wagner
Midfield: Quinn Sullivan, Ale Bedoya, Jeremey Rafanello, Markus Anderson
Forward: Julian Carranza, Mikael Uhre

Bench: GK Andrew Rick, DEF Matt Real, DEF Olwethu Makhanya, MID Sanders Ngabo, FWD Chris Donovan

Union was extremely short-handed on Saturday night and once this lineup dropped, people were a bit confused about how exactly they’d line up with the names listed on the starting XI. But straight away you could tell Curtin wasn’t sticking with his normal 4-4-2 Diamond and had done some tinkering with his tactics, though the team’s outlook mostly stayed the same – pay no attention to possession, stay in front of the ball and be hard to break down, and look for opportunities to hit your opponent on the break.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Weathering the storm early

Union wasn’t the only team dealing with absences of key players due to International Duty. Portland too were without vital pieces of their defense on Saturday night – Kamal Miller and Maxine Crepeau to name a few. But in the attack, Portland was pretty much all there and looking more dangerous than ever after the Timber’s new Designated Player signing from Club América, Jonathan Rodriguez was put straight into the starting XI to combine with the likes of Antony and Evander against Union Saturday night.

Portland almost spoiled Jim Curtin’s gameplay just 10 minutes into the game when Jonathan Rodriguez was sent down the right side of the field and whipped a ball into the middle of the box. Union’s GK, Oliver Semmle – playing in the absence of Andre Blake – got a hand to the ball, but not with enough force to parry it away from danger and instead granted Portland’s Evander an opportunity to opening the scoring from around the penalty spot, but his one-time attempt fizzled wide of the post to Semite’s right.

Portland and Evander came knocking again in the 16th minute after Santiago Moreno slipped a ball to the Brazilian waiting in a very similar position as his first attempt – but this time Oliver Semmle laid out to his right and one-hand swiped the ball away from the net to keep the game level, a huge save from the German Goalkeeper.

Union would survive a 3rd scare of the opening half in the 22nd minute after Jonathan Rodriguez rang the post to Semmle‘s right. Though it felt like they were barely hanging on, Union was bending without breaking.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Carranza Opens the scoring against the run of play

Portland controlled much of the first 25 minutes. Union barely got a sniff of the Timbers’ attacking third and were lucky the game was still level with all of the looks Portland had on the net. Frustrations were starting to set in with Portland just a little bit, and Union was looking for their chance to snag a goal

Just a few minutes after Jonathan Rodriguez put an attempt off the goal-post, Union found themselves with an opportunity to create a chance from a corner kick. Wagner whipped in an in-swinger from Jonathan Panemis’ left side, and the ball was met by the head of Julian Carranza, out-jumping 3 Timbers’ defenders nearby and re-directing the ball to the near post and into the back of the net. Against the run of play, Union found a way to grab a 1-0 lead on the road.

In the 34th minute, relentless pressure from Kai Wagner and Julian Carranza forced Portland into a turnover just outside their own penalty area. Carranza picked up the loose ball and quickly sent it through a gap in the back-line, putting Mikael Uhre 1-on-1 with Pantemis and the prospect of a 2-0 road lead on his foot, but Uhre’s attempt was put directly into the face of James Pantemis and the game stayed at 1-0 for the time being.

During stoppage time and just before the conclusion of the first half, Oliver Semmle made his 2nd big save of the night to keep Evander and the Timbers from leveling the game. Evander collected the ball from Juan Mosquera just outside the penalty area and let a shot fly toward the net, but once again Semmle made a strong diving effort to his right side and was able to push the ball out of danger to keep Union’s first-half lead intact. The teams would go into the break with Union up 1-0.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union adds 2 insurance goals in 10 minutes

All things considered, it was a pretty good opening 45 minutes for a short-handed Union on the road. But I think they, like most people, knew that Carranza‘s goal was unlikely to be the only one scored in this match, and the next one would have huge implications on how the rest of the game would turn out. If Union could find that next goal, it would take an immense amount of pressure off their defense and a backup keeper.

Union came out strong in the 2nd half and had an opportunity to double the lead just 7 minutes in with an Uhre breakaway, but once again James Pantemis was up to the task and stoned Uhre to keep the game at 1-0.

In the 58th minute, Jeremey Rafanello let a shot fly from about 30 yards out and looked to be a pretty routine save for Pantemis to make, but Portland’s backup keeper left the save attempt inside the penalty area for none other than 19-year-old Quinn Sullivan to pounce and clean up the loose change. “Quadzilla” gives Union a 2-0 lead on the road with just over half an hour to play.

Portland knew they needed the next goal or their chance at points was probably out of reach. Frustrated and desperately looking for their chance back into the game, Union caught the Timbers sleeping with a quick re-start in the 67th minute. Jakob Glesnes stepped up and took a free-kick while Portland was still retreating to their defensive position, and the ball sent Mikael Uhre down the right side of the field.

Uhre chased the ball down before reaching the end-line and sent a cross along the ground and towards the middle of the penalty area for Julian Carranza, who made no mistake tapping the ball beyond Pantemis and into the back of the net. Against all odds, It’s a brace for Julian Carranza, a 3-0 lead for Union on the road, and the dagger in the chest of the Portland Timbers.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Portland gets a consolation goal

In the 80th minute, Portland would finally break Semmle’s clean sheet with a header at the back post from Timber’s new DP Jonathan Rodriguez. It was Olivier Mbaizo who was beaten in the air by Rodriguez, who scored 108 goals during his time in Liga MX – fair enough. But it served as only a consolation goal for Phil Neville and his Portland Timbers, as Union was able to wrap things up and earn 3 points with a 3-1 win against the Timbers.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Knee-jerk Reactions

It was a huge win for the blue & gold, and their first of the 2024 MLS season. Coming into this match 3 draws in 3 games felt like a slow start to the campaign, but after earning 3 points on the road with a short-handed side, 6 points from 4 games while juggling multiple competitions and playing 3 of those games on the road doesn’t feel too awfully bad. Win your game in hand and you’re right amongst the top teams in MLS with both Columbus and Miami dropping points on Saturday.

Saturday served as a big opportunity for several guys to step up while key players are away and to earn more minutes in the future. The two that stand out to me are Markus Anderson and Jeremy Rafanello. Rafanello didn’t look great in his first outing of the MLS season against SKC, but looked much more comfortable on the ball Saturday night, and showed he wasn’t afraid to put his fingerprints on the game with multiple shots from distance, one of which leading to the Quinn Sullivan goal – though it won’t show up on the score sheet.

Markus Anderson once again showed he’s a true team player who’ll do whatever Jim Curtin asks of him. He didn’t necessarily create a ton against Portland, but the guy will run and put pressure on the ball for days. I have a feeling the difference between him and Tai Baribo getting minutes at the moment comes down to sheer effort and work ethic, not skill or technical ability.

Oliver Semmle once again looked like the real deal. With 5 big saves against Portland in the place of an absent Andre Blake, Semmle is one of my 3 stars of the game and played an integral role in keeping Portland off the board and blowing up Curtin’s gameplay early. What a pleasure it is to have a backup you feel comfort and confidence in.

While Union has had no lack of quality back-ups behind Andre Blake over the years (John McCarthy, Zac MacMath, Carlos Coronel), Oliver Semmle is starting to feel like a real possible replacement to Andre Blake someday. The issue that’ll likely arise for Union and Ernst Tanner is the more that Semmle plays and shows his worth, the more likely a team looking for a relatively young starting goalkeeper to come in and make an offer for Semmle becomes.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

3 Stars of the Game

3rd Star – Quinn Sullivan – 90 Minutes Played, 1 Goal, 21/27 Accurate Passes (78%), 45 touches, 2/3 Accurate Long Balls

2nd Star – Oliver Semmle – 90 Minutes Played, 5 saves, 4 diving saves, 13 recoveries

1st Star – Julian Carranza – 90 Minutes Played, 2 Goals, 17/25 Accurate Passes (68%), 42 touches, 4 passes into final third

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

A look ahead

So it’s 3 points on the road for a short-handed Union – an unlikely result for many of us coming into Saturday’s game. But now that they’ve got their first win of the 2024 campaign, key players will be returning from International Duty, and the team can fully focus on MLS play now that they’ve exited CCC, I think the mood around this team might take a turn for the better.

Just a few weeks ago Union suffered a 6-0 loss at the hands of Pachuca and the morale felt lower than it has in years. But this result really does feel like one that jumpstarts this team’s season and turns the mood around going forward. If I were one of the Union players away on International Break, I’d be itching to get back to Philadelphia to join up with my teammates after grinding out a huge win. I do think this win could be the thing that brings this team together.

Up next for the U is another tough test in Minnesota United, one of Major League Soccer’s biggest surprises so far in 2024. Though they didn’t play this past weekend, Minnesota has started the season off with a record of 3 wins and 1 draw for 10 points, good enough to put them at the top of the West with a game in hand.

The Loons and their new Coach and youngest in MLS, Eric Ramsey will travel to Philadelphia with a full week of rest next Saturday afternoon for a matinee matchup. The last time Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia was on the opening day of the 2022 season, where Corey Burke scored a header in the 35th minute of a 1-1 game. A battle between 2 of MLS’ unbeaten squads at Subaru Park – next Saturday at 2 pm (yes, 2 pm!)

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union