March 8 to July 9.
An epic banger to a seeing-eye winner.
Philadelphia Union waited many months to get back on the pitch, but when they returned they brought their All-Star goalie and a captain’s finish.
Alejandro Bedoya’s second half goal was the difference in a messy morning matchup, but Andre Blake had to prove his bona fides late to secure the points in the Union’s first Group A game in the MLS Is Back Tournament. The Union surprised the world by honoring Black lives lost on the backs of their jerseys.
Jim Curtin was limited up top with injuries to Sergio Santos, Michee Ngalina, and Andrew Wooten. Ilsinho stepped into the breach and paired with Kacper Przybylko ahead of the same diamond midfield that started in March’s 3-3 draw against LAFC. Jack Elliott and Kai Wagner — the latter making his first appearance of the year — stepped into the back line in front of Blake.
Both squads knew the heat was coming as the morning wore on, so after looking to grab an early lead, they slowed the game down and sought to force the opponent into defensive running. El Brujo Martinez was active in the center for Philadelphia, but a 34th minute yellow card meant he had to control his aggression in the second half. Jamiro Monteiro also picked up a yellow card late in the first half and Jim Curtin had to ensure his midfield didn’t lose its edge even as he sought to keep all eleven players on the pitch.
Przybylko and Aaronson both looked to get behind NYC’s high line and last year’s leading scorer latched onto a throughball from Bedoya in the 24th minute but didn’t trouble Sean Johnson from a tight angle.
Taty Castellanos knocked into Ray Gaddis with an early elbow before he began threatening Blake’s goal late in the first half. First a flying volley was pushed away by the Union goalie, then early in the second frame Blake stood tall when Castellanos found space in the center and rifled a chest-high shot at Blake. Lightning quick, Blake palmed the ball away and left the NYC attacker stunned.
Blake completed a hat trick of saves against Castellanos in the 61st minute before Bedoya challenged Sean Johnson from the right side of the box and won. Monteiro found his captain with a long crossfield ball and Bedoya led Aaronson as the homegrown midfielder streaked into the box. A late tackle knocked the ball loose but Bedoya recovered and drilled a left-footed shot under Johnson’s hand.
In the final minutes, with Jack de Vries on for his Union debut and Jakob Glesnes added to a five-man back line for defensive solidity, Blake showed why Curtin calls him the league’s best.
First, the Jamaican No. 1 flabbergasted Heber with a sprawling fingertip stop before flying out to stone Gary Mackay-Steven as the match expired.
The victory leaves the Union 1-1-1 in the regular season and tied with Orlando City at the top of Group A in the MLS Is Back Tournament. The team returns to action on July 14 at 10:30 p.m. for their first ever matchup against Inter Miami CF