Match Recap

Union see Concacaf Champions League run end in Semifinals


Philadelphia Union battled hard for the City of Brotherly Love but fell on the road to LAFC by a 3-0 margin in the second leg Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Semifinals.

Both sides made changes to their Starting XI from the opening leg, with LAFC turning to Mateusz Bogusz and Timothy Tillman in the midfield while Jim Curtin turned to Leon Flach to start at the base of the Union’s diamond in place of Jose Martinez.

The chess match resumed in the opening minutes of the first half, with both sides punting the ball forward to stretch the legs and establish a bit of physicality that resulted in five yellow cards in the opening half. The hosts needed just over a minute into the match with outside back Diego Palacios testing Andre Blake from long distance that was right at the Union goalkeeper. Seconds later a sliding challenge from team captain Alejandro Bedoya saw him into the referee’s book after clipping the LAFC defender.

The hosts continued to push for the opening goal and broke through in the 13th minute after earning the first corner of the match. Tillman played the catalyst, sneaking behind the Union during a LAFC throw in to earn the set piece chance as the collected possession and cut up the end line that was defended out. On the set piece, Carlos Vela floated a strong cross to Ilie Sanchez from the six that forced a remarkable reaction save from Blake. However the ball spilled out to the right side of the Union keeper where Tillman reacted first and put it into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Down a goal, the Union came into the contest knowing they would need two to advance and didn’t hang their heads but pushed on. Five minutes after the opening goal, Philly nearly answered with a set piece chance of their own. Turning to the left boot of Kai Wagner, the German left back struck hard a cross to the near post into the path of Jakob Glesnes. The center back timed his run perfectly but dummied the ball to set up a chance that came as LAFC failed to clear it cleanly. Gazdag pounced on the ball but couldn’t get a clean shot as a half touch put it right into the hands of LAFC’s keeper.

The two heavyweights continued to battle with the ebs and flow of the match seeing both sides trying to create the next goal. The Boys in Blue were turned away in the 23rd minute after a quick throw in saw the Union build from the back patiently. Again ending with Wagner, the left back went for the far post cross that skipped over the LAFC defense and right to Gazdag open inside the box. The Hungarian quickly forced a right-footed blast but former Union goalkeeper John McCarthy came off his line to clean down the angle and have the shot crash off his chest.

Just past the 36th minute, the Union turned defense into offense with Jack Elliott heading away a direct attack intended for Bogusz. Working from the back, Glesnes stepped forward into the midfield to pull trigger LAFC’s counter press before flicking a pass to Elliott on the left side. With the LAFC defense unsettled the Union got to work as Elliott sent a hard pass forward to Gazdag at the midfield stripe. The Hungarian attacked into the central space to collapse the defense even more and went to his left for Wagner for another direct attack. Instead of a cross, a quick touch inside put the ball on Wagner’s right where he opted to pass it on the ground for Gazdag. With a play off the training ground, Gazdag ran a dummy with Julian Carranza sneaking behind the midfielder to play a quick pass behind and into the space for Gazdag. Unmarked from the top of the box, Gazdag went for the low shot across the grass that forced a fingertip save from the keeper.

Just before the halftime whistle, LAFC sought to extend their lead with Bogusz drifting to the left side of the Black and Gold attack. The former Leeds United midfielder opted to go for the flashy finish instead of attacking Olivier Mbaizo and instead used the Union defender as a shield for a right-footed curler that forced a save from Andre Blake.

The Union needed only 30 seconds into the second half to put the pressure on LAFC’s halftime substitute Denil Maldonado as the Hondurian center back conceded a corner. Dealing with the intial clearance, Julian Carranza recovered possession and was fouled by Vela to set up a déjà vu moment from 35 yards out. Glesnes grabbed the ball and lined it up to his exact rotation but saw the blast sail over the crossbar.

In the 50th minute the Union were tested at the back as LAFC pushed forward on the right side. The hosts tried to cut it back with a cross but got an even better scoring chance as it crashed off a player in the box and fell to Bouanga. Philadelphia Union defender Olivier Mbaizo came up huge, reacting perfectly to get into position and get a clean block on the forward’s shot.

LAFC started to tighten the pressure with back to back set piece chances around the 55th minute as they sought to slow down the match and draw fouls. After the Union blocked a free kick chance, a corner kick skipped into the box where Ryan Hollingshead attempted a back heel finish that snuck through the flood of players but Blake read it all the way to make the save.

In the 59th minute the hill got steeper for the Boys in Blue as a quick touch from Bouanga got him past Mbaizo and connected with the outstretched leg of the Union right back. The referee quickly went to his pocket since the forward was off into space and flashed a second yellow to the Cameroonian to give LAFC the man advantage.

Curtin quickly reacted with Uhre making way for homegrown Nathan Harriel to re-establish a back four for the Boys in Blue and put the front line pressing squarly on Carranza and Gazdag. Down a man and a goal, set pieces became crucial opportunites for the Union to attack despite the lack of numbers. In the 68th minute, Wagner hit a free kick to the near post for Bedoya but the captain’s header dipped over the LAFC net.

Moments later the Union’s press set up another attack with Flach intercepting a pass from LAFC’s Maldonado just outside the Black and Gold’s box. Funneling again to Wagner, the ball spilled out to Harriel as the homegrown blasted a shot that went wide.

In the 76th minute the Union exchanged homegrowns with Quinn Sullivan entering for Jack McGlynn. After Gazdag drew a foul in the 77th minute, the Union again got a free kick chance to tie things up. Wagner’s service was cleared out by Aaron Long but only to the edge of the box where Bedoya drove a hard cross on the ground for Carranza at the edge of the six. The ball from the captain somehow snuck through and allowed LAFC to exhale.

After the scoring chance, LAFC sought to put the match away in the 79th minute as Sanchez regained possession and unleashed a shot from the top of the box that Blake again turned away.

Three minutes later however, LAFC got the insurance goal with their numbers advantage paying off. Forcing a turnover in the Union’s defensive side of the pitch, substitute Kwadwo Opoku pushed the attack forward with a centering pass to Vela. Using the run from Jose Cifuentes to pull the Union centrally, the Mexican international hit Opoku in stride on the left side for the one-timer to double their lead.

Needing a pair of goals to extend their stay in North America’s biggest club tournament, the Union pushed all they had into the attack which game the hosts another chance to score which came from Bouanga as he timed his run in behind to finish off a pass from Cifuentes.

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