Philadelphia Union extended its unbeaten streak to five matches with a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati thanks to strong homegrown performances. Kacper Przybylko notched 10th goal of the season in first-half stoppage time while Nathan Harriel registered his first professional assist, finding Paxten Aaronson for the eventual winner.
Missing eight players between FIFA 2021 World Cup Qualifiers, injuries, and Kai Wagner’s yellow card suspension, Jim Curtin showed trust in the club’s youth, starting four homegrowns from the opening whistle in Ohio. Just two minutes in, midfield duo Jack McGlynn and Paxten Aaronson showed they were unfazed by the road environment when the former picked out Aaronson to set up Santos but his blast was turned aside by Tyton.
Moments after the Union opportunity, Cincinnati got a scoring chance of their own as they looked to take advantage of players in unique positions. Spotting the Union pressed far up the pitch, Alvaro Barreal chased down a ball near his own corner flag and sent a dime into the center circle for Luciano Acosta. As the Union scrambled back, the MLS vet sent a throughball to record-signing Brenner to break free. Jack Elliott didn’t give up on the play, though, forcing a tough shot from the Brazilian that skirted wide of the Union goal.
Fifteen minutes in, Philly was forced into an early change with Quinn Sullivan becoming the fifth Union homegrown on the pitch. Replacing Sergio Santos, Sullivan brought another unrelenting press for the Cincinnati backline.
The hosts were also forced into a pair of early subs with changes at center back and on the wing which nearly led to a surprise lead. Five minutes after taking to the pitch, Isaac Atanga made his presence known, taking a pass from Haris Medunjanin that cut through the Union midfield and sent the forward in on goal. Matt Freese stood tall, and used his wingspan to control space and deflect the shot aside and to keep the match scoreless as the clock turned to first half stoppage time.
After Cincinnati fired a set piece shot wide, the Union made the most of their final possession of the half with McGlynn and Aaronson acting as playmakers. Instead of the safer pass out wide for an outside back, McGlynn connected with Aaronson and dripped a pass toward the endline that spun the defense and allowed Aaronson to get in behind. With FC Cincinnati flat-footed, the teenager sent a needle through the haystack of the box that Kacper Przybylko took in, corralled, transferred to his right, and pummeled into the netting.
In the second half, Curtin trusted his veterans and shifted to a 4-4-2 diamond with Jack Elliott at the base and Leon Flach at left back. McGlynn and Bedoya moved further up the pitch and found more space to start attacks with Aaronson, Sullivan, and Przybylko, working endlessly to provide outlets.
Early pressure from the home side met strong resistance from an organized back four, and after Edgar Castillo set up Brenner in the center the Union Homegrowns created the dos-a-cero scoreline more famous in Columbus than Cincinnati.
Rolling the ball in front of him, Nathan Harriel spotted Aaronson drifting toward the back post. A clipped, curling cross picked out Aaronson for a low finish against the post.
Philly’s attack wasn’t flowing but it was direct, and that kept Cincy from committing bodies forward. After creating two chances in under three minutes, Cincinnati forced Curtin to turn to his bench and reinforce the defense with Matt Real.
Philly took the sting out of the match and forced the hosts to play through Medunjanin rather than the trickier Acosta. For all his creative powers, Medunjanin played too far from goal to dictate the match alone.
And yet, the former Union midfielder pulled his team closer in the 82nd when he collected a loose ball in the center of the box and calmly lifted a finish into the near side netting.
In the 89th minute, Sullivan challenged the high-priced Brenner to a foot race up the right wing, leaving the talented Brazilian in his wake before picking out Aaronson, who set up Flach for a deflected cross.
Jesus Bueno, on for Bedoya, helped Elliott protect the back line as Philly took a pragmatic approach to closing out the three points. Even seven minutes of extra time wasn’t enough for Cincinnati to complete a comeback as the Union continue solidify their place as a top club in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia Union continues its October road trip with a trip north of the border next weekend for a showdown against CF Montreal on Saturday, October 16th. Kick off from Stade Saputo is set for 1 p.m. ET with fans able to catch the Eastern Conference showdown on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.