Needing a win to advance, Philadelphia Union turned in a strong performance for a 4-0 victory against Alianza FC to secure their spot in the Quarterfinals of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. Damion Lowe gave the Boys in Blue the lead just before halftime and a penalty kick finish from Daniel Gazdag early in the second half set the stage for a Andres Perea brace.
Union Head Coach Jim Curtin said ahead of the first leg against Alianza FC that two leg competitions breed mini rivalries and it was clear from the opening whistle neither squad will be exchanging holiday greetings in 2023. The physicality was set in the opening minute and didn’t relent at all in a cold breezy night at Subaru Park.
With a home crowd pushing them on the Union dominated possession in the opening half but were unable to break down the El Salvadorian size that sought the upset. Like they did against Chicago in league play, the attack came from the Union’s right side with Alejandro Bedoya and Nathan Harriel involved in nearly every chance at some point. In the sixth minute the Union captain flicked a curling cross to a wide opener Daniel Gazdag on the counter. The Union playmaker went 1v1 against Alianza’s keeper and was taken down but couldn’t get the call. Three minutes later the duo combined again once more with Gazdag ripping a right-footed shot from the top of the box that forced a difficult save by the keeper.
The visitors chances were few and far between in the first half with Damion Lowe destroying a counter attack in the 16th minute as they looked to switch flanks. Back in possession, the Union went back to the right side with Bedoya who bore the brunt of a hard tackle and forced the referee to his pocket for a yellow card on Alexis Mentes Renderos.
In the 22nd minute the thought they had bagged the opening goal of the matchup as Kai Wagner sent in a spectacular corner kick that connected with a diving header from Bedoya at the penalty spot. Seeing there wasn’t enough pace on the header, Gazdag taped it in to send Subaru Park into a frenzy was called offside by the assistant referee.
After the missed chance, Alianza FC’s confidence grew with a pair of great scoring chances. In the 27th minute the visitors held possession and worked the Union defense side to side but had to settle for a shot from outside the box that sailed over the goal. Alianza got one more look as an unfortunate bounce off Jakob Glesnes produced a 3v1 counter attack. The Union’s hungry homgrowns of Harriel and Jack McGlynn mde long recovery sprints to force the opposing forward wide and unable to find his teammates.
The hustle play gave live to the Boys in Blue who found themselves up a man for the remainder of the match in the 40th minute as Jose Martinez foresaw the attacking run from Harriel up the right side. With just one defender before the goal, Harriel was pulled down just outside the 18. While it didn’t net a goal, it did see the referee issue a second yellow to Alianza’s Alexis Mentes Renderos.
Up a man, the Union found themselves up a goal just before the halftime whistle as Wagner sent in perfect cross for Lowe to flick past the keeper and inside the far post.
Knowing a one-goal lead wasn’t enough due to the away goals tiebreaker in Concacaf Champions League, the Union came out on the front foot in the second half. Three minutes after the half resumed the Union bagged another goal but again Gazdag was denied by an offsides flag for his goal line finish off corner.
Despite the setback the Union kept their heads down and saw VAR go in their favor after a cross from Wagner was spotted for a handball. There was no doubt who would take the penalty as Gazdag stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way to double the Union’s advantage.
Up a man and a pair of goals, Curtin turned to his depth to see out the result. Hungry to impress and push for more minutes, the depth of the Union took over. Entering in the 65th minute, midfielder Andres Perea entered in place of Bedoya and continued to fill the space vacated by the sent off defender.
Down 2-0, Alianza nearly flipped the match in their favor in the 71st minute off a set piece. Seeing a free kick chance on the Union side of the field, Isaac Portillo saw a back post run by Elias Rivas and floated a long volley into the 18-yard-box. Rivas took it off the volley and went for the near post but goalkeeper Joe Bendik made the key save to keep the shutout.
Fueled by the big defensive stop, the Union’s offense erupted with two goals in the three minutes to send the Union faithful home happy. In the 81st minute, substitute Quinn Sullivan was patient on the ball going up against a pair of Alianza defenders. Seeing the space on the far side, Sullivan sent a strong cross to a wide open Perea. With just the keeper to beat, Perea struck a smooth shot past the keeper to make it 3-0.
Three minutes later the Union but a bow on the match in the same fashion. Mikael Uhre filled of Sullivan but delivered another perfectly placed ball to Perea who again beat the keeper.
With the victory, the Union will host the first leg of their Champions League Quarterfinal against Atlas FC and CD Olimpia with the date and time to be announced in the near future.
Philadelphia Union returns to MLS play this weekend with a road trip north of the border to take on CF Montreal in an Eastern Conference showdown on Saturday, March 18th. Kick off from Stade Olympique in Montreal is set for 7:30 p.m. ET with the match broadcast on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.