Philadelphia Union win 3rd straight match down in Music City

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Resiliency – It’s been the reoccurring theme for the 2024 Philadelphia Union thus far, and the Blue and Gold’s never-say-die mentality was on display once again on Saturday night with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Nashville SC down at Geodis Park.

It’s the 3rd straight win for the Union, bringing their record to 3W-3D-0L for a total of 12 points – just 2 points off the Supporters Shield lead with a game in hand. And oh yeah – The Philadelphia Union is the only undefeated team in Major League Soccer – I bet you’d never thought that was a possibility just a few short weeks ago.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

We saw a different look from Jim Curtin’s Starting XI down in Nashville mostly due to an injured Mikael Uhre, who seems to have picked up a slight foot injury during training leading up to the match. Also left off the roster on Saturday night was Goalkeeper Andre Blake, who Curtin says is pushing through the last bit of MLS‘ concussion protocol after suffering a blow to the head against Minnesota last weekend.

With the absences of Uhre and Blake, Curtin elected to go with a 5-3-2 formation on the road – the first time we’ve seen a 3-Center Back system this season. Here’s how Union lined up against Nashville SC

GKOliver Semmle
RBNate Harriel, CBJakob Glesnes, CBDamion Lowe, CB – Jack Elliott, LBKai Wagner
CMJose Martinez, CMJack McGlynn
CAMDaniel Gazdag
STJullian Carranza, STQuinn Sullivan

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Semmle Saves

What a gift the acquisition of Oliver Semmle has been for this Union team so far in 2024. Once again the 26-year-old German Keeper steps in for Andre Blake – whose shoes might be harder to fill than anyone else on Union’s roster – and can get the job done. Though he wasn’t tested as much as he has been in games past, Semmle was required to make a few big saves in the first half.

The first of which came in the 24th minute of the game and a Nashville corner – the ball was whipped in from Semmle’s left side and sailed towards the back-post. Nashville’s Josh Bauer was able to leap over Nate Harriel and get a strong header on net – but Oliver Semmle stood strong and trapped the ball against the post with his right glove to keep it 0-0.

In the 37th minute of the opening half, Nashville chipped a ball into the box from Semmle’s right side. Semmle’s attempt at punching the ball to safety was impeded when a Nashville attacker left the ball in a dangerous position in the penalty area. Anibal Godoy ran onto the ball just inside the 18, cut the ball back to his left foot, and ripped a shot towards net – but Semmle swatted the ball over the bar with the swing of his right arm.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Surridge sends Nashville into halftime up 1-0

With halftime approaching, Union had done well and were probably happy to keep the game 0-0 on the road, though they hadn’t done much to create scoring opportunities of their own yet. But in the 42nd minute of the game, Nashville opened the scoring when Jacob Shaffelburg delivered a ball into the box from Oliver Semmle’s right-hand side, which found the head of Sam Surridge at the back post to make it 1-0. It seemed that Jack Elliott and Sam Surridge got tangled up while the ball was being sent into the box which led to an almost uncontested header for Surridge to grab his 2nd goal of the season.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

2nd Half Adjustments Flip Momentum

The 5-3-2 formation just wasn’t working out on Saturday, in my opinion. The defense, who looked pretty good against Minnesota, seemed a little discombobulated when adding a 3rd CB to the equation and might have been lucky to only be down 1-0 at the half. But just around the hour mark, Jim Curtin would make some substitutions and tactical adjustments that would have an immediate impact on the game.

In the 59th minute and down 1-0, Curtin sent Ale Bedoya into the game for Jack Elliott, and Oliver Mbaizo in for Kai Wagner, who seemed to be dealing with an injury. The changes meant Union was shifting from a 5-3-2 to Curtin’s preferred 4-4-2 diamond, with Nate Harriel moving over to LB, Mbaizo taking his spot at RB, and Bedoya moving into the diamond of the midfield – and it paid off almost immediately.

Olivier Mbaizo’s first touch of the game was a beautiful ball from the right flank near the top of the penalty area for Daniel Gazdag, who one-touched Mbaizo’s pass toward the net but Nashville’s keeper Elliot Panicco was up to the task, keeping the score at 1-0.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Carranza Equalizes with 4th Goal in 4 Games

The minute Jim Curtin made his substitutions and tactical adjustments, the entire momentum of the game switched and you could sense an equalizer coming for the Union. In the 62nd minute, Jose Martinez with possession near the midfield line sent a ball towards the top of the penalty area for an awaiting Quinn Sullivan.

Due to his effort, Sullivan beat the Nashville defenders to the loose ball after the initial header and tapped it into the path of Julian Carranza, running towards the top of the 18. Carranza took one touch, toe-poked the ball with his second, and put the shot past Elliot Panicco’s right side to draw Union level with just under half an hour to find a winner on the road.

The equalizer for Carranza marks his 4th goal in as many games, signs that the Argentinian – whose contract with Union ends at the end of this season – is heating up and finding confidence early in the season. The best part of this goal? Carranza’s celebration, which involved him grabbing the Corner Flag and playing it like a guitar in front of the Music City crowd.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Gazdag steals 3 points with 90th-minute header

Nashville didn’t have much of an answer for Curtin’s changes around the 60th minute and looked like a team just desperately trying to hang onto a 1-1 draw even while playing at home. Union had several half-chances to find the go-ahead goal – A header from Damion Lowe that went just wide, and many opportunities squandered by Quinn Sullivan – but they just couldn’t unlock that final ball to find the winner.

But just as the amount of stoppage time that Nashville needed to survive was being put on the board, Jack McGlynn floated a corner kick into the box from Elliot Panicco’s left-hand side. The ball sailed over 8 Nashville defenders and a goalkeeper in the penalty area and found its way on a silver platter to an unmarked Daniel Gazdag, awaiting the ball at the back-post for an uncontested header to win the game for Union in the 90th minute – and he made no mistake with the opportunity. Shout out to Dave Leno for the incredible radio call on Gazdag’s 90th-minute winner.

The 90th-minute winner for Gazdag was the Hungarian’s 55th goal across all competitions in a Union shirt, putting him just ONE shy of tying Sebastien Le Toux’s as Philadelphia Union’s all-time leading goal scorer. Gazdag will have an opportunity to cement himself in Union history next weekend as the Union takes on Atlanta United on the road – though I’m sure fans and his family would love to see Danny tie/break that record at Subaru Park.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Kneejerk Reactions

  • Resiliency

    As I said to start this article, resiliency has been the theme of Union’s season thus far. Across all competitions, Union has managed to scrape out 2 wins and 4 draws after falling behind to their opponent. I’d love it if this team could put 90-minute performances together, but showing this much never-say-die attitude early in the season is something that builds toughness in a team through a long season.
  • Stick with what’s working

    I think many people were surprised to see Jim Curtin change things up and go with the 5-3-2 on Saturday night, even with the possibility of Mikael Uhre not being in the lineup. To me, it feels like this team is starting to find its footing and find confidence and chemistry with the guys around them in the system they’re working – why try and throw a wrench in that?

    I suppose the argument is that it leaves a guy like Ale Bedoya as an option off the bench in the 2nd half – which is admittedly a huge fan of – but Quinn Sullivan staying on the right side of the midfield and Markus Anderson or Chris Donovan taking Uhre’s spot up top and staying in the 4-4-2 Diamond would have been fine for me, and the game completely flipped on its head once Curtin went back to the Diamond in the 2nd Half once Bedoya came on. I’m glad Curtin was able to make the changes with enough time to affect the outcome of the game.
  • Gazdag approaching Union history

    If you didn’t hear, Daniel Gazdag was straight-up called out by Marco Rossi – Hungary’s National Team manager and Gazdag’s former Manager at Budapest Honved – after the last International Window. He wouldn’t be the only one wanting more from Gazdag though, with Union fans being vocal about his lack of production outside of PK’s for quite a while now.

    But the opening goal against Minnesota and now the 90th-minute winner against Nashville marks 2 goals in as many games for Gazdag since being called out why Rossi. I’ve been following Gazdag’s climb up Union’s All-Time Leading Goal Scorers ladder for a while now, but I still feel like it’s something that’s not being talked about nearly enough.

    55 Goals for Gazdag in Blue and Gold, just ONE short of Club legend Sebastien Le Toux. It took Le Toux 189 games to set Union’s all-time goals scored record. Daniel Gazdag sits 1 behind him after 123 games played for the Blue and Gold.
  • “Next Man Up” mentality

    Another thing that’s impressing me about this Union team early on in 2024, is their ability to persevere through absences in their lineup. Whether it’s Oliver Semmle, Nate Harriel, Markus Anderson, Jeremey Rafanello – heck, even Ale Bedoya now – whoever is called upon in a tight spot to step up and help the team is pitching in to help get the job done. Oliver Semmle once again stepped in for an injured Andre Blake and kept Union in the game, ultimately doing enough to earn his 3rd win and 5th positive result for Union in MLS play.
  • The Only Unbeaten team in Major League Soccer

    After 2 draws to start the MLS season and a 6-0 butt-kicking from Pachuca in CCC, I don’t think any of us had Philadelphia Union as the last unbeaten team standing in Major League Soccer. 3 Wins and 3 draws for a total of 12 points isn’t half bad – especially when you consider how badly MLS teams competing in CCC start the season.

    3 consecutive come-from-behind draws to start the year against Chicago, Sporting Kansas City, and Austin, and now 3 consecutive wins against Portland, Minnesota, and Nashville has the Union just 2 points off the Supporters Shield lead with a game in hand. Is it time to start talking about Union as serious Shield contenders again, or are we jumping into that convo a bit too early?

    I’ll tell you what – A positive result down in Atlanta next weekend and I’ll probably be one of the first to jump aboard that wagon. But we’ll cross that road when it gets here, let’s just enjoy being unbeaten for now
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

A Look Ahead

Coming off a come-from-behind 2-1 win in the Music City, Union will now turn their attention to another difficult match on the road down in the South next Sunday afternoon – this time against Thiago Almada and Atlanta United. Hoping to extend their win streak to 4 and to remain as Major League Soccer’s only unbeaten team, Union will have to do it on the road against one of MLS’ best home sides. In 3 games at home this season, Atlanta United have a record of 3W-0D-0L and have outscored their opponents by a total of 9-1.

Union fans should note, that next weekend’s game is SUNDAY at 2:30 pm – a much different timeframe than we’re used to.

Be on the lookout for coverage from Philly Sports Network leading up to the game, and please go give PSN’s Podcast covering all things Philadelphia Union, DOOP On The Volley a follow/subscribe. We’ve been doing shows talking all things Union every Thursday night, and have been running pre-game shows on Saturdays before the game. The response has been amazing so far and we’re excited to see where this goes. So if you haven’t yet, go check out DOOP On The Volley on Youtube, Twitter, Spotify, and Amazon – literally anywhere you listen to Podcasts, and join in on the fun in the future!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union