Head Coach Ryan Richter’s squad come out on the front foot in the opening stage of the match, controlling the tempo while employing their high press that kept Real Salt Lake inside their defensive side of the field. That pressure generate the first big scoring opportunity in the ninth minute when Bajung Darboe collected as pass from Luke Zielinski on the dummy with the forward cutting to his left for space but firing the left-footed blast wide of the near post.
RSL gained confidence following the Union’s chance gone wide with goalkeeper Andrew Ricks called upon to make a key save off a visitor’s breakaway in the 14th minute that the calmly handled. Moments later, RSL grabbed the opening goal as Jude Wellings tapped in the goal after a strong run by a teammate on the wing that forced Ricks off his line.
Conceding for just the second time in the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs, the Union fought back but that allowed for counterattacking chances from RSL that once again saw Ricks come up with a spectacular save on the tournament’s leading goalscorer, Axel Kei in the 33rd minute.
Philly showed its fearlessness early in the second half by sticking with a high line and trusting their defenders to read the match intelligently.
With RSL sitting back and trapping effectively in their own half, the Union were fighting their way through a mass of bodies every time down the pitch. In the 53rd minute, a cheeky flick from Medrano released Darboe for a sprint at the defense. He bodied away a defender before unleashing a left-footed shot that zipped wide of the far post.
After absorbing pressure, however, RSL added a second off a set piece in the 65th minute. A break down the right resulted in a corner kick, and Evan Pickering created enough chaos to nudge the ball past Andrew Rick and into the far corner of the goal.
Richter immediately made two substitutions and pushed his team to answer with energy. They answered the call but spectacular play from Delgado in net kept Philly off the board. The RSL goalkeeper’s spotlight moment came late in the second half when Medrano beat his man to the endline and cut back for Darboe in the center. Delgado ranged back to his right and put his face in front of the close-range shot, deflecting it over the bar.
The western conference side held on for the victory, leaving the Union to settle for second place in the inaugural MLS NEXT Cup.
While they could not repeat the successes of Jim Curtin’s U15 side years ago, the U15s showed that the pipeline of local talent remains packed. Rick was a standout in goal, and Darboe made clear why he’s considered one of the highest-ceiling prospects at his level. Additionally, Ryan Richter is following in Curtin’s shoes by making a name for himself as a young coach at the youth level.
Though it was not their night, the U15s announced themselves to the nation. They will likely be back as a group in the U17 section of this tournament before long. And by then many more will know their names.