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Full team effort from across the club creates first win at home

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Philadelphia Union claimed their first home win of the season on Saturday against Minnesota United FC, knocking their opponent out of the top spot in the Western Conference standings, while extending their win streak to two.

The 2-0 win was as complete a match as the team has played all season, and it was one that featured contributions from all corners of the club, from the players on the pitch, to those on bench, and the coaching staff, making for one to remember at Subaru Park.

The first goal of the night came from Daniel Gazdag, who scored in the run of play on a set-piece in the 16th minute. The Hungarian designated player capitalized on Kai Wagner’s pinpoint corner to follow the ball into the net within a crowded box, putting them up 1-0 early in the first half.

“Restarts are a big part of what we're about,” Head Coach Jim Curtin said. “I use the three Rs all the time – whoever wins the redzone, our rested defending, then also restarts. Offensive and defensive restarts. [Assistant Coach Frank Leicht] does a great job with our group on them, and for Kai to whip in a good ball, Dani has a way of timing it to show up in the box at the right time.”

The second goal didn’t come until late in the second half, when Julián Carranza collected a headed pass from Alejandro Bedoya over two Minnesota defenders for an 84th minute score that solidified their lead.

Bedoya entered the match in the 66th minute, and with his addition, the coaching staff made the suggestion to Curtin to shift their formation to a flat 4-4-2, sending the team captain in at center midfield alongside Jose Martinez, while keeping Quinn Sullivan on the right side rather than pushing him to forward.

“I give my staff credit because I didn't want to do it today. I have to admit, I didn't want to because at home, I always think it's a little conservative to go a little bit deeper, but it wound up working and it gave us a calmness in the middle part of the field,” Curin said.

“So [Ryan] Richter, Frank [Leicht], and Phil [Wheddon] kind of said, just stick Ale in the middle, give us two sixes, him and Jose can share it, and leave Quinny to just do his thing on the right. I trusted them. When it first happened, [Minnesota] almost scored right away and I was pissed. But that's soccer and that's the fickleness of this game. But at the end of the day, I'm humble enough to say they were right.”

Between the first and second scores, the team prevented any successful attack from their visitors, setting the stage for what became their first clean sheet of the year. They did it amidst the changing of the net-protectors in the 74th minute, when MLS rookie Oliver Semmle came off the bench to replace three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake due to injury caution.

“That was huge,” Curtin said of the shutout. “I was angry about the goal we gave up in Portland and I say to the guys all the time the tiebreakers in the league how close it is at the end of the season. We all know that can be the difference between hosting a playoff game, making the playoffs, not making the playoffs. Those tiebreakers are huge so not conceding becomes a big thing with goal differential.”

Alongside Blake and Semmle’s combined four-save effort, centerback Jack Elliott played a monumental role in the result, earning MLS Team of the Matchday honors for his performance. He played the full 90, making six ball recoveries, a block, and an interception, while winning all three of his tackles and five of seven duels.

“I think that's what we’ve built our success on over the last five, six years, so getting back to two strong defensive performances in a row and a clean sheet is very important for us,” Elliott said of the shutout.

After the match, both he and Curtin shared the sentiment that their 3-1 result against Portland the weekend prior, in which many depth pieces were called upon to step up while eight players were away with their National Teams, created much-needed momentum that carried them through the Minnesota match.

“I think winning away from home, especially in tough environments in this league gives a lot of confidence to what we want to do. So grinding together, getting the result really helps,” Elliott said. ”I think it was an important week for us, it really helped our mentality and our confidence to come back this week and play in a tight game, and not give up many chances again.”

The team heads back on the road for a two-game away slate starting with Nashville SC on Saturday.