A strong defensive performance and a cool Kacper Przyblko’s finish from the penalty spot saw Philadelphia Union climb into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 1-0 win over Nashville SC.
With a passionate crowd filling Subaru Park to the brim, the battle for second place in the East saw Jim Curtin redeploy the Starting XI he rolled out for the Union’s midweek showdown at Minnesota United FC. Jamiro Monteiro and Daniel Gazdag split the role of playmaker and were given ample time on the ball as Nashville SC conceded possession willingly in the first half.
Philly’s attacking combination gave Nashville an early taste of their abilities in the 10th minute with a decisive build up through the heart of the Tennessee side. Kai Wagner kicked off the forward-looking play with a bullet pass to Monteiro. The Cape Verde midfielder thought about a long-range shot but turned instead to a soft volley for Gazdag inside the 18. With a defender pressed against him, the Hungarian flicked a header into the path of Kacper Przybylko but Nashville cut off the certain tap-in goal with a last second clearance.
In the 17th minute, the Union’s set piece strength was on Nashville’s mind as Wagner and Monteiro stood over the ball from 30 yards out. Wagner peeled off the play and Monteiro sent a teasing looper toward the near post. Seconds later the referee pointed to the penalty spot, flagging Nashville’s Taylor Washington for a handball as the defender sought to snuff out the chance.
With the Union faithful on their feet throughout the stadium, Przybylko was the man with the pressure on his shoulders. Avoiding the distractions on the pitch and from the goalkeeper, the forward walked straight to get a new ball and seconds later rifled a blast down the middle for the 1-0 lead.
The Union kept their foot on the gas after going up a goal, looking for a first half knock out punch. Leon Flach nearly set it up with an interception from near the midfield circle as Nashville looked to break out after a long defensive spell. Flach wouldn’t have any of it, starting yet another Union attack at the backline. Showing off his Flash-like speed, the young midfielder’s strong left foot sent a cross in for an open Gazdag only to be denied by a last second block.
Nashville immediately turned to their defensive talisman, Walker Zimmerman, to start the second half.
Zimmerman’s defensive nous and passing range allowed the visitors to be more expansive in attack, but it remained clear that attacking push was in service of a point rather than three.
After a gritty opening 15 minutes of the half proved both teams capable of canceling each other out, Curtin used his attacking depth to add Paxten Aaronson to the mix. Daniel Gazdag departed after another strong performance that saw him denied multiple times by a lucky Nashville leg.
The addition of Abu Danladi had done little to stimulate the Nashville attack, so they turned instead to long throws from MLS veteran Dave Romney.
In the 84th minute, Przybylko, only two goals behind CJ Sapong on the all-time Union scoring list, broke in alone but a driven left-footed shot found only Joe Willis’ body.
In the end, a dominant performance from the Union helped Andre Blake earn his 11th shutout of the 2021 season, pulling him into a four-way tie for second place in MLS in shutouts.
Philadelphia Union continues its push to secure a spot in the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs with another midweek contest as they head to Toronto FC on Wednesday, October 27th. Kick off from Toronto is set for 7:30 p.m. ET with fans able to catch the action on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.