Philadelphia Union rallied back from a two-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes to secure a 2-2 draw at Charlotte and with it a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
A scoreless first half broke into a four-goal final frame with the hosts scoring a pair of goals in six minutes only to be countered by the visiting Boys in Blue. Homegrown Quinn Sullivan sparked the comeback, finishing off a hard pass from Julian Carranza to trim the deficit in half. In stoppage time Olivier Mbaizo darting run was rewarded with a point to the penalty spot where Daniel Gazdag remained automatic to tie it up and secure the playoff-clinching point in Charlotte.
With the Union playing its second of seven games inside a four-week span, Head Coach Jim Curtin made four changes to the lineup for the road match on turf. The biggest came atop the formation with forwards Chris Donovan and newcomer Tai Baribo leading the front line for Philly. Youthful energy saw veterans behind them with captain Alejandro Bedoya returning to the midfield alongside Daniel Gazdag, Jesus Bueno and Jose Martinez.
Charlotte FC earned the first corner kick chance of the evening 90 seconds in ,but it was the Union’s first attempt that nearly saw an early goal from the visitors. Left back Kai Wagner went fast on the corner just past the fifth minute with an in-swinging ball into the six. Charlotte defender Adilson Malanda had the first header but saw the effort redirected by Donovan and the ball crashed off the post and out.
A dozen minutes after the opening whistle, the hosts were reminded that the Union have a three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year between the posts in Andre Blake. With a quick counter press near the sideline forcing a Union turnover, Charlotte shot a pass into the box before laying off a touch for Nathan Byrne to unleash a blast that was collected by the Union’s shot stopper.
The tactical chess match saw the Union playing with a deeper defensive line which Charlotte countered with an aggressively high line. With speed up top, the Union sought to exploit the opportunities but were just off early in the first half. In the 17th minute Gazdag collected a pass centrally and went into attack mode as he dribbled into the box. With Charlotte collapsing on the Union’s second all-time leading scorer, the Hungarian sought to thread the needle with a pass into the box for Baribo but it was just too strong. A minute later the Union were again on the attack with Bedoya winning a headed duel and getting the ball out wide to Donovan. With the forward out on the right side, he cut a bouncing pass back to Bedoya inside the 18 but the Union captain couldn’t keep the shot below the bar.
Philly grew into the match throughout the first half with Bueno following suit with a commanding run down the heart of the Charlotte defense before cutting a pass out wide again for Donovan. The Drexel graduate chose to have a go from the edge of the box, with a left-footed shot skipping across the NFL stadium turf but right to the keeper. Bueno again was a chance creator in the 26th minute as a quick build up saw the Venezuelan just missing on a hard cross for to an unmarked Baribo positioned near the penalty spot.
The Union kept Charlotte FC’s leading scorer Karol Swiderski quiet for the majority of the opening half with the forward registering his first shot in the 31st minute. The Polish international was quick when presented the chance, nearly making the visitors pay for a turnover near their 18, with a one-timer off a Brandt Bronico cross.
Both teams exchanged scoring chances within minutes of one-another with Baribo pushing for his first Union goal with a pair of headed efforts that was saved by Charlotte’s Kristijan Kahlina. After the pair of stops the Mint City squad nearly had a golazo with forward Enzo Copetti attempting a bicycle kick shot but saw the cross pass through his try. It did however end at the boots of Justin Meram but Blake quickly covered the bottom corner to deny any chance of breaking the deadlock before the halftime whistle.
With over 60% of first half possession, the hosts were hard pressed early in the second half to turn it into a lead. Copetti earned a free kick chance for Charlotte just outside the Union’s 18 which pinned the Boys in Blue tight on goal but the defense fought back to clear it away. The hosts finally broke through in the 55th minute as a combination play sparked by Swiderski. The forward raced into the Union box and cut a hard pass to his DP partner Copetti. 1on1 against the Union the duo again combined for a series of quick passes before Lowe tackled it away. However the Union couldn’t clear and Meram made the most of his second attempt of the night to send the home fans into a frenzy.
Needing a goal, Curtin quickly turned to his pair of DP forwards available as substitutes in Carranza and Uhre. Before the pair could get a touch of the ball, the deficit was two as the hosts doubled their lead via Swiderski. A pass out wide sent Lowe tracking to the edge of the box on Brandt Bronico who went for a quick cross but was blocked by the Jamaican center back. The ball fell right back to the Charlotte midfielder who picked up the one-time run from Swiderski for the finish at the near post.
Homegrowns Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn joined the contest after Jose Martinez was forced to depart for an injury alongside Bedoya to add to the all-out attack for the Union. Philly’s additions nearly turned into a goal as Carranza sent a hard cross to the backpost for Sullivan but the play was called offside in the 69th minute.
One minute later the duo were perfectly aligned as Sullivan shot a pass out wide to the Argentinian forward with acres of space. Racing on the right side, Carranza hit the Union homegrown right in stride for a right-footer curler that dripped into the corner to make it 2-1.
Big plays continue in the half with Charlotte FC searching for a third and were presented a pair of golden chances in quick succession. The hosts won possession after a long goal kick service and put the ball at the feet of Ashley Westwood. With the Union spread out, he shot a hard pass to the boots of Swiderski. The Polish international was just a decoy as he flicked a pass for a delayed run from Copetti to set up a 1v1 against Blake but again was denied. Moments later former Union midfielder Derrick Jones found himself on the attacking end of a counter attack but fired a shot well over the bar when staring down his former teammate.
With running out the Union again tried to exploit the right side of the attack with a long-ball for Uhre to race onto and win near the corner flag. Stopping the ball near the endline, Uhre hit a cross for Carranza who had a diving attempt but saw the headed effort to wide.
Seven minutes were added to the final frame due to goals and numerous stoppages and the Union fought until the final seconds. In the fourth minute of stoppage time Oliver Mbaizo got in behind via a Sullivan and was taken down by Brecht Dejaegere’s diving tackle that quickly resulted in a point to the spot. The Union turned to Gazdag for the equalizer and he delivered with a smooth finish to the right side to even the match at 2-2.
Philadelphia Union is back in action this weekend as they host LAFC back at Subaru Park. The match serves of Fiesta Hispana presented by Bimbo Bakeries USA with Union Yards and the Plaza hosting events in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Night. Kick off from Subaru Park is set for 7:30PM ET with the match free on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.