In El Salvador, Philadelphia Union were defensively stout against Alianza FC with Damion Lowe and Nate Harriel making their 2023 debuts, but they were unable to nab an away goal on a bumpy, coarse field. The few chances Philly created went unfinished and Leg 2 has become 90 minutes to decide who advances to the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.
Coming off a last gasp win over Chicago, Jim Curtin has a few tough decisions to make as his side looks to take advantage of their home crowd and get on top early against Alianza. Julian Carranza has been a sprint machine and both Jack Elliott and Kai Wagner have logged heavy minutes in a short timeframe over the past eight days. If Elliott and Carranza are rested, Jakob Glesnes and Joaquin Torres are the natural replacements — with Quinn Sullivan also a strong option up front. Wagner, as Curtin said in his midweek press conference, is a difficult drop because of his set piece service. However, Matt Real is a trusted replacement and could step in at left back with Daniel Gazdag or Jack McGlynn taking over dead ball deliveries.
Philly is likely to have a lot of the ball at home, so McGlynn’s presence in midfield is highly likely. Last Saturday, Chicago sought to make Jose Martinez the Union’s primary playmaker in buildups, and while the Venezuelan is capable, distribution is not the most consistent piece of his game. McGlynn allows the Union to be rhythmic and precise in their attacks, and pairing him with Gazdag, who came off the bench for Leg 1, could give both players the spark they need to take over matches.
The biggest question for the Union concerns who those creative midfielders will be setting up. Carranza, Mikael Uhre, and Joaquin Torres are the three most likely attackers, and while Uhre needs a chance to kick his season into gear, Alianza arrives with a very strong defense and Curtin may not be able to afford to use the match to help the Dane find his form.
Given these attacking questions, the Union could slot Lowe between Glesnes and Elliott in back to give the fullbacks more attacking freedom and pull players out of the center to open room for Gazdag and McGlynn. The goal would be to stretch Alianza horizontally then play balls into the gaps behind the back line and let the speed of Uhre, Carranza — or Chris Donavan, who found chances in the first leg and would love to finish one in leg two — shine.
With this match at home and Montreal, a relatively short road trip, next on the horizon, expect the Union to throw everything at Alianza early to grab a quick lead and force the visitors to come out of their shell. Philly hasn’t held a first half lead yet this season, and doing so will bring the 12th man, Subaru Park’s rowdy crowd, into the fray.
The Union and Alianza kick off Leg 2 of their Round of 16 CCL showdown at 8:00 p.m. ET at Subaru Park. The match streams live on Fox Soccer Plus.