As rain fell at Estadio Azteca, the Union, playing in their first-ever Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League semi-final, almost nabbed an important road goal in the opening 90 seconds through Golden Boot leader Kacper Przybylko. A quick attack through Daniel Gazdag developed, and, drifting left, the Hungarian flicked a pass to Przybylko for a back-heeled shot that rolled just wide of the post.
Reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake was called upon in the 11th minute, making a reaction save after Richard Sánchez snuck inside the box for a dangerous header. Blake, as he has done over 500 times for the Union, made the difficult stop look easy before reacting quickly to snuff out a shot from Roger Martinez on the ensuing play.
In the 17th minute, an unfortunate deflection gave Club America the lead. Las Águilas were stymied on the free kick chance from 20 yards out as the wall blocked the attempt from Sebastian Cordova, however the ball fell to Sánchez. The midfielder ripped a shot that glanced off the back of Gazdag and spun away from Blake as he dove to his left.
Down a goal, the Union fought back with yet another scoring chance moments after falling behind to Club America. MLS All-Star Kai Wagner sent forward a cross that landed at the feet of Przybylko at the top of the box. With the defense focused on the Union’s leading scorer, he sent a pass through the defense to Sergio Santos but the Brazilian’s effort was right to the keeper.
Jim Curtin was forced to make a change in the first half, bringing on Concacaf veteran Alvas Powell after Olivier Mbaizo caught a hand to the face that left the Cameroonian right back missing a tooth. Club America immediately shifted its attack at Powell but the Jamaican stood tall like his countryman in net to ensure no more than a one-goal deficit at the halftime whistle. Jack Elliott nearly equalized in first-half stoppage time off the Union’s first corner of the night but the defender sent Gazdag’s cross just over the bar.
For all the possession Club America kept, they looked vulnerable to the Union’s direct counterattacks. In the 55th minute, after Przybylko was climbed in midfield, Jakob Glesnes lined up an incredibly long look at goal from the dead ball. His hot spun and bounced with the top spin intended but dropped too far in front of Ochoa, who handled it easily.
Now familiar with each other, Roger Martinez and Kai Wagner upped the physicality of their battle and others followed. America did not have the same control over the match as they did early on. Endless work from the Union front three opened lanes for Bedoya and Flach to bomb forward.
Philly had taken America’s best shot – and now they were ready to open the game up.
Przybylko broke up the left wing and sniffed out Gazdag in behind but left his pass too close to Ochoa.
A 76th minute penalty call gave America the security they wanted heading into the second leg. Jose Martinez slid in front of Roger Sanchez, who leapt into the air grabbing his leg. After no call was made on the play, VAR intervened and a penalty was awarded to the home side. Emanuel Aguilera dispatched the spot kick and gave the Union a much larger hill to climb on September 15th at Subaru Park.
There was no quit in the visitors, and with Santos and Cory Burke tirelessly running at the defense, Philly felt they could steal a late goal.
The opportunity came in the 92nd minute, after Burke sprinted onto a ball in the box and was plowed over from behind. VAR declined to send the referee to the monitor.
Philadelphia Union returns to MLS action with a two-game homestand that begins against Eastern Conference rivals New York City FC presented by the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association. Tickets for the Wednesday night match are still available with kick off from Subaru Park set for 7:30 p.m. ET.