Philadelphia turned to its depth to open its run in the 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League and earned a scoreless draw against Alianza F.C. in a hostile road environment.
After preseason had wrapped up and the focus had turned to the Union’s long journey of 2023, Head Coach Jim Curtin grinned ear to ear when he spoke about the amount of depth on the squad. That depth was on display in the club’s first leg against Alianza F.C. with seven players getting their first start of the year after the Boys in Blue battled Inter Miami CF on Saturday. Homegrowns Nathan Harriel, Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan got the start for Philly and looked to make the most of their moments against an El Salvadorian squad chalk full of national team players and held their own against players well seasoned compared to them.
With both coaches asked about the challenging field conditions inside Estadio Cuscatlán the previous day, the two teams chose to play direct and through the air in the first 45 minutes as dribbling on the ground could see the ball do mysterious things. After the opening 10 minutes saw both sides get their footing in the North American competition, the Union started to take control with Joaquin Torres dazzling with some moves to get to the endline before seeing a cross blocked by Alianza’s defense.
Sullivan was joined by Chris Donovan to lead the Union front line and the duo presented some challenges for the backline but also showed moments of growing pains for the partnership. In the 12th minute the duo combined for a scoring chance as the Union homegrown flicked a ball into the box for Donovan who attempted a shot off the bounce but missed. Sullivan was the benefactor as he recollected possession in stride and attempted his own shot off the volley but overcooked it.
Donovan picked up another pair of scoring chances early in the first half as he timed his run to get behind the defense and go 1on1 against the keeper. With the Alianza F.C. keeper off his line, the forward took a touch around the keeper but lost his footing to end the chance. Just before the 20th minute the Union earned the first corner of the night, with Wagner picking out Donovan inside the box but the headed effort went over the crossbar.
The host side took control after the match, putting the Union defense under pressure but Harriel and center back Damion Lowe withstood the attacks in the first half.
Both teams came out of the locker room on the front foot in search of the opening goal and saw key defensive plays maintain the clean sheet. First it was the home side in the 50th minute as they sough to score off a long throw in but Lowe reacted first and got a touch inside the box before the opposition could generate a shot. Three minutes later it was the Union’s turn as Torres floated a volley into the box for Sullivan who looked in on goal but pressure from the bull rushing keeper forced a rushed touch that went over the bar.
The biggest scoring punch was thrown by the Boys in Blue in the 58th minute with a combination play from Torres and Andres Perea. Playing on the ground, Perea drifted centrally and laid off a pass for Torres near the top of the box. Torres quickly tipped it back to Perea who sprung a pass out wide to Kai Wagner to open up a crossing chance. The German left back teed up a perfect cross for Torres who flicked a header toward go but was denied by a remarkable reaction save.
Chance | Torres header denied at Alianza FC
Jim Curtin turned to his loaded list of substitutes in the 62nd minute with the insertion of Jose Martinez, Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza in hopes of getting a crucial away goal. Martinez was quickly into the contest with his physicality just as things heated up, standing up for his teammates and cutting down any ball kept on the ground as Alianza sought to counter.
After a pup ran onto the pitch that stole the spotlight on social media in the second half (no we’re not kidding), both sides lined up for one more punch to break the deadlock. Alianza F.C. swung first in the 81st minute with a counter that saw a far post run in on goal with a perfect pass to switch the attack but Wagner raced back to head off a shot with a crucial recovery sprint. Just before stoppage time, Alejandro Bedoya was introduced and played a perfectly weighted ball to the end line for Harriel who teed up a cross across the front of the net but the keeper reacted first to prevent a sure tap in.
Philadelphia Union are back at Subaru Park this weekend looking to continue their impressive winning streak at home as they take on the Chicago Fire on Saturday, March 11th. Kick off is set for 7:30PM with tickets going fast!