Jim Curtin earned his 100th win as a head coach as Anthony Fontana, Olivier Mbaizo, and Kacper Przybylko combined for the first half goal that led Philly to victory over Saprissa in Costa Rica. The Union welcome their opponents to Subaru Park on April 14th for the second leg of their first foray into the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.
Curtin gave new signing Leon Flach his debut and slotted Anthony Fontana into a striker role. Designated Player Jamiro Monteiro moved into the No. 10 role behind Fontana and Kacper Przybylko and Flach stepped into the left side of midfield.
Philadelphia’s opponents, Deportivo Saprissa, were veterans of the competition though they have struggled of late. Former MLS standout Kendall Waston started in the back for the home side, and the Union made him work early.
With only 15 minutes gone, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya had already shown off his vision by looking for both Przybylko and Fontana in behind. Saprissa’s line held and each striker was called offside but it was clear Philly could see space in behind.
Saprissa’s Mariano Torres unleashed a sighter from long range in the 17th just to give Andre Blake an introduction to the match but Philly’s aggressive defense blocked it away.
Przybylko continued to find space in the attacking third and Wagner picked him out in the 24th for a low shot to the left corner that Aaron Cruz covered well.
Next it was Bedoya playing provider to Monteiro, but the attacker pulled his shot around the post.
In the 34th minute, it all finally came together. Fontana held play up then slipped a pass out wide to Olivier Mbaizo on the overlap. The two players that graduated from bench roles to starters for the club’s first SCCL match opened space for one of the team’s most consistent performers. Przybylko tucked himself into space in the box and met Mbaizo’s curling cross with a laser into the back of the net.
Saprissa was always playing for the second half and when it kicked off they looked to put pressure on the visitors. Daniel Colindres ripped off a strike in the 47th after Torres once again proved a creative spark.
Bedoya and Torres exchanged attempts before Waston strode forward for a corner and threatened Blake’s net with a shot over the frame in the 54th minute.
A free kick in the 68th gave Waston another chance he couldn’t finish, but in the 71st Saprissa nearly broke through.
Wagner played hero when Christian Bolanos’ flick spun toward the far post. The fullback was stationed on the goalline and nodded the shot away from goal to keep the Union’s one goal advantage.
Matt Real replaced Flach when Philly moved to a five-back shape, and after Waston plowed into Przybylko from behind, the Union homegrown announced that he would not stand for such disrespect with a sliding tackle that brought chins together.
In the 92nd minute, Blake finally got his chance to shine. The best goalie in North America was called on to save his team late and, of course, he delivered with a massive save.
Then, before the match could end, Ricardo Blanco came in late and high on Wagner, flipping the Union defender in the air. Jakob Glesnes charged into the scene and Andre Blake was right behind him as he sought to separate an emotional group of players.
After conferring with his assistants, the referee only awarded a yellow card for the foul and added Glesnes, Monteiro, and Daniel Colindres to his book for engaging in the fracas after the foul.
The Union left Costa Rica winners and welcome Saprissa to Subaru Park on April 14 for what is certain to be a contentious second leg. Sync your calendar to the Union schedule and tune in on FS1 at 8:00 p.m. as Philly looks to advance toward another trophy.