Union match reports

Match report: Philadelphia Union 2-1 Chicago Fire FC

Photo: Paul Rudderow

There was a city-wide curfew following protests and looting stemming from a police killing in Philadelphia. In a statement made just hours before the match, Philadelphia Union announced a player had tested positive for COVID-19. And the Union are on the cusp of winning the Supporters’ Shield as the best in MLS.

Yeah, it’s still 2020.

The home side eked out an ugly, error filled 2-1 win Wednesday evening over a 10-man Chicago Fire at Subaru Park.

Chicago center back and captain Francisco Calvo made the biggest impact on the match, gifting the Union an early penalty before earning a first half red card. Despite the numerical advantage, Philly found the winner only through super sub appearances off the bench in the second half. It was a game defined by the eight cards handed out by referee Guido Gonzales Jr.

Union head coach Jim Curtin was forced to make two changes to his midfield after their best performance in club history, the 5-0 thrashing of Toronto FC. Designated Player Jamiro Monteiro missed out serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. In his stead started an in-form Anthony Fontana, who entered the match with six goals in his last nine appearances. The surprise absence was José Martinez, leading to speculation it was the Venezuelan who tested positive for COVID-19. Traditional center back Jack Elliott again deputized at the base of the midfield diamond for the second time in three matches.

Chicago were coming off a disappointing home draw in their last match, conceding in stoppage time to drop points against New York Red Bull. Swiss head coach Raphaël Wicky made only one change from that match. Former Union alum Fabian Herbers was relegated to the bench in favor of Gastón Giménez, who occupied the No. 10 role of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

It took a while for the Union to get going in the match. Maybe it was a comedown from the high that was Saturday night. After unleashing 27 shots against Toronto, it took 26 minutes for Philadelphia to manage their first of the evening. While it didn’t beat goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, it did indirectly lead to the game’s opening goal.

During the buildup, right back Raymon Gaddis’s cross met the hand of Calvo. After a brief pause, referee Guido Gonzales Jr. pointed to the spot. Up stepped Przybylko, looking to snap an eight-game goalless drought. As the goalkeeper dove to his left, the Pole powered one to his right. It gave the Union a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute and provided some much need relief for the forward.

For Philadelphia, it was their first penalty attempt, coming in their 21st game of the season.

Just ten minutes later, Calvo erred again— for the final time. With Union captain Alejandro Bedoya possessing the ball in no real position of danger, the center back stomped on the midfielder’s ankle. Gonzalez reached in his pocket and pulled out a red card.

It should have killed the game. It didn’t.

The Union relaxed. The Fire pushed forward. The visitors, sitting just outside of the playoff picture, were fighting for their postseason lives.

Chicago launched a counter in the 42nd minute. From the left portion of the penalty area winger Ignacio Aliseda curled a wonderful shot denied only by an equally wonderful save from goalkeeper Andre Blake. As the ball nearly bounced over the end line, Chicago Homegrown Djordje Mihailovic flicked a pass back in front of goal. It found the head of a red hot Robert Beric, who buried his eighth goal in his last ten games.

It left the Union with work to do against an undermanned but determined Fire side in the second half.

Curtin’s first change came on the right side, with Olivier Mbaizo replacing Gaddis to start the final frame.

The referee’s whistle rung out often when play resumed. It was ugly and disjointed, with more fouls than fair play following the restart. Fontana and Sergio Santos were replaced by Ilsinho and forward Cory Burke as the Union attempted to regain control of action.

Those changes made the difference.

In the 65th minute, Mbaizo whipped in a cross from the right. Burke was there to head home his first goal since returning from his hiatus from MLS. It was poor marking from a Fire side that was outplaying the Union despite being a man down.

Four minutes later, Ilsinho nearly broke the game open, shredding Chicago’s defense before finding Przybylko in the box. Shuttleworth, though, was their to deny the striker’s brace.

In his own attempt to regain control with substitutions, Wicky made a triple change in the 72nd minute— one of which was Herbers.

Momentum shifted after eight minutes of stoppage time was announced. The save of the game didn’t come from a keeper, but from a forward. Andrew Wooten, who replaced Przybylko minutes earlier, made an impossible goal line clearance after some chaos in the box to preserve the three points for Philadelphia and their place at the top of MLS.

The first of Philly’s final two games comes in Columbus this Sunday. The Union will look to cement the Supporters’ Shield and avenge the 1-0 loss to the Crew earlier in the season.

Three points
  • 2 + 2 equals. The Union didn’t want to release Martinez to the Venezuelan national duty due to concerns over COVID. FIFA forced Philly’s hand, and the player left for a meaningless friendly. Martinez was a surprise absence from the gameday 18 after the club announced a player tested positive. You do the math.
  • Fright fest. Three days before Halloween, the Union had their own fright. On a Beric header which drifted wide, MVP candidate Blake banged his right hand against the post. After a lengthy stoppage, the keeper was able to continue. But he was replaced in the 89th minute, hopefully as a precaution.
  • Scoreboard watching. The Union are just one win away from clinching the Shield following New York City FC’s 1-0 win over Toronto. The latter can’t make up the goal differential. Seattle Sounders, who will play one fewer match this season, can only finish with 44 from 22 games (2.00 ppg). Philly would guarantee a 2.04 ppg with one win in their final two matches.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake (Joe Bendik 89′); Raymon Gaddis (Olivier Mbaizo HT), Jakob Glesnes, Mark McKenzie, Kai Wagner; Jack Elliott, Alejandro Bedoya, Brenden Aaronson, Anthony Fontana (Ilsinho 60′); Kacper Przybylko (Andrew Wooten 87′), Sergio Santos (Cory Burke 60′)
Unused subs: Aurélien Collin, Jack De Vries, Cole Turner, Michee Ngalina

Chicago Fire FC

Bobby Shuttleworth; Boris Sekulic (Elliot Collier 72′), Mauricio Pineda, Francisco Calvo, Jonathan Bornstein (Miguel Ángel Navarro 72′); Djordje Mihailovic, Álvaro Medrán (Carlos Terán 78′); Przemyslaw Frankowski, Gastón Giménez, Ignacio Aliseda (Fabian Herbers 72′); Robert Beric
Unused subs: Connor Sparrow, Andre Reynolds, Nicholas Slonina, Michael Azira, Brian Gutierrez

Scoring summary
PHI: Kacper Przybylko — 28′ (penalty)
CHI: Robert Beric — 42′ (Djordje Mihailovic)
PHI: Cory Burke — 65′ (Olivier Mbaizo, Brenden Aaronson)

Disciplinary summary
PHI: Jack Elliott — 16′ (unsporting behavior)
CHI: Francisco Calvo — 36′ (red, violent conduct)
CHI: Rober Beric — 45′ (unsporting behavior)
PHI: Anthony Fontana — 48′ (unsporting behavior)
CHI: Álvaro Medrán — 57′ (unsporting behavior)
PHI: Alejandro Bedoya — 68′ (unsporting behavior)
CHI: Djodje Mihailovic — 88′ (unsporting behavior)
PHI: Ilsinho — 90′ + 4′ (dissent)


  1. There’s something about this club where even when they don’t play their best, they pull out a win. Not having Martinez and Monteiro at the same time really hurt the midfield, but the Union gutted this one out somehow. Nice to see both Striker Muffin and Scory Burke get goals too.

  2. I love the way Aaronson glides with the ball. It’s beautiful. I’m going to miss him. It is so pretty watching him float past the first defender while turning on the boost to create a transition opportunity.

  3. Tonight we saw how important Monteiro and Martinez are to the club. The passing was back to being sloppy and the team was fortunate to escape with 3 points.
    Was anyone else worried that there would be a late free kick for Chicago and that we’d see Bendik do his classic PPL Park/Talen Energy Stadium pose?

    • If memory serves, Bendik has only ever ‘done the Bendik’ (been caught flat-footed on a free kick goal) in front of the River End, and not at the end under the video board, so hopefully we were safe.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    That was just so weird. At times I couldn’t tell who was Shemp, Curley, Larry or Moe. The ref set a precedent early by carding Elliott for a very light foul and the game devolved from there. Kudos for earning the three points which even I -the aesthetic snob- at this point attest to winning ugly is winning on those nights when ugly just is.
    I’m bummed Ray was subbed. Thought he was a model of consistency and dangerous but Mbazio tossed the grenade that went boom so- I acquiesce. Beyond that—- at this point this team has to see this through right? Full tilt. No excuses. Win the fucking Trophy. Whatever happens after that can be argued away on here.

    • Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

      Subbed with no explanation… maybe he popped positive too?

    • Just listened to Curtin’s press conference and he Ray had a knock on his quad and his hip was hurting.

    • John O'Donnell Jr says:

      I can care less about the trophy and more about home field advantage for the playoffs. The Cup is the prize and winning it at home would be the goal for me.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Ah. Understood- particularly home field. For a team to have the best record in the league with a business plan that’s been mid table for so many years- I can be good collecting some silverware at this point.
        Don’t stop on that account though- carry on and win the whole damn thing too.
        And if you look good doin it too— “well hell, I’m in” ~William Bonney, Young Guns.

      • John O'Donnell Jr says:

        You rent the shield for a year and it doesn’t go in a trophy case. Hey it’s a nice thing but to me it isn’t the Cup. The champion of the league is the MLS Cup winner. Silver medals look nice but….who really remembers them? In case of a tie the ninth tie breaker is…Coin toss (two teams) or drawing of lots (three or more teams). Now that would be so MLS if it ever happened.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        John I always apreciate you. Resident literalist. Taking me to task on nearly everything always…..rent the shield. don’t rent the shield. Supporters mantle or not. It’s one of three ‘trophies’ a team can win at the highest level in our ecosystem.
        And as Tim so eloquently states somewhere along the way here, it looks like the team is going to be decimated come the international window, so I’ll take the former version of Ultimate Success and observe with hope what happens regarding the latter version of Ultimate Success.

      • John P. O'Donnell Jr. says:

        It’s fair point. I find it hard to believe if a player left the country and returned with the virus how MLS wouldn’t have a problem with FIFA. Changing how teams are now qualifying for the playoffs because of virus does cheapen everything.

  5. Only able to watch from the moment Blake was subbed off… Wooten’s goal line save was CLUTCH.

  6. Fantastic play by Wooten. A lot of people rag on him but if nothing else, he saved 2 extremely important points for this season.

    Having gotten great help tonight with Toronto and Columbus losing I’d be in favor of something more conservative for the Columbus game. Not really feeling Jack at the 6 though he’s giving his all. Scrap the diamond and go to a 4231 in Ohio with Bedoya and Montiero as the 2. Even a tie eliminates Columbus from passing them and guarantees they would have Supporter Sheild lead heading into last game.

    • Agree on the shift to a 4231 for the Columbus matchup. And we don’t even have to be defensive in that shape, just sound.
      It has proved to be an effective switch when our best are not available.
      Get Aaronson and Ilsinho on the wings and put Ant at the withdrawn forward spot.

  7. Atomic Spart says:

    Bad ref. Bad, bad ref. Officiated a soccer game like it was basketball and fell for every cynical dive Firemen made. They made a meal out of every slight contact and he ate it whole. Cynical game Chicago should be ashamed of.

    And the U didn’t rise above. Lucky to get 3. Thank goodness for Mbaizo, Burke and Wooten.

  8. In Tanner We Trust says:

    So after some extensive standings watching, we guarantee the Shield with 4 points in the last 2 matches. Because Toronto is so far behind on GD, I’d say Seattle is the biggest threat. If we get 3 points, Toronto can’t possibly make up the difference. Seattle, on the other hand, would have to win all 4 games left so realistically they’d be very close in GD. But long story short, if we win against Columbus, there’s almost no chance we lose the trophy. As others have said, I think the 4-2-3-1 is the way to go.

  9. Union of old would have conceded a goal in the last 10 minutes. I was certain it would happen having spent a good 10 years watching this team ship so many results, especially when up a man. Instead we get Deus Ex Wooten — a clearance so improbable that I didn’t believe it, even on the replay.

    We cannot… MUST NOT … let up now. This has to happen. The soccer good have surely spoken…. Right?

  10. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Read Tannenwald’s article in the Inquirer about the likely effect of the November international window on the Union’s roster. They will lose lots of players says Curtin, according to him. Monteiro for African Cup of Nations Qualifiers. Martinez for CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, like the ones he’s already been absent for. Blake and Burke for Jamaican friendlies in Saudi Arabia. And Tannenwald says that Curtin says there are more.
    Win the shield.
    Wait and see about MLS Cup, especially because of the Required Qarantine when returning from overseas. Only the date of the final has been announced. What happens with all Colorado’s make up games is still TBD. The pandemic is intensifying and may alter the ability to play games.
    In re the positive COVID-19 test, these are the players who were not dressed. It has to be one of them. The release said specifically it was a first team player. Monteiro, Real, Creavalle, Martinez, Freese, and Oravec.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      This is it. No guarantees for anything this season, win what you can before it’s gone.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I 100% agree. A trophy is still a trophy. With that in mind, don’t forget what this team is capable of. They just grinded away a victory without arguably their 2 most irreplaceable players. They have no excuse if they lose first round. The standard has been set.

    • Vagabond Ben says:

      Martinez’s agent reported it was him who was positive.

  11. That was a “put on your shit kickers” match…………what a bunch of blades from Chitown…….

  12. Looks like there are some real POS’s in our fan base as well……….sheesh. Glad the club is responding swiftly. I wish some of the fans had some stones to confront them……maybe they did, I don’t know……but I hope.

    • Any idea what happened? I just saw the statement from the club but didn’t notice anything untoward near me.

    • It’s about time that the Union says or does something, although I fear it is just lip service. I don’t know exactly what happened. I was there last night and of course you can hear a lot more than when the stadium is packed. I think the only reason the Union are finally acknowledging any of it is because it can be so easily heard now.
      If the Union are really so concerned, why don’t they start with the Sons of Ben, who routinely have foul language in their chants?
      I for one think that you can cheer on your team without offensive language or putting down the other team.

      • Cursing and bigotry are two different things…..to equate the two is ridiculous…….I have no problem with cursing in the terraces……big problem with racism!

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Agree… though- “Hey ref suck on my balls” still makes me squirm when I think of it.

      • Hahaha!

      • I also think we haven’t made cursing the art form it is in England yet……..

      • I think we all have a competitive side that gets amped up at the stadium. My bride has been know to yell stuff I have never heard beforehand! I’m NOT condoning any of the crap that was yelled at players in derogatory fashion! I think the Union FO has asked the S.O.B.to curtail the language. The “you suck@$$hole” on goal kicks stopped.

  13. Three years ago, I would have laughed in your face hearing the Union were 3 points away from clinching the Supporters Shield.
    What a difference a proper management team/FO makes!

  14. I’d like to point out that four of Curtin’s second half subs made that win possible. Wooten cleared it off the line just ahead of two Chicago attackers and before Bendik could get to the ball.
    M’Baizo made the run into space and then hit that wonderful cross.
    Burke made the far post run and produced the clinical finish to get the ball DOWN and past the Chicago keeper to get the game-winner.
    But many people overlooked Ilsinho’s late run into the box on that cross. You can see him run near-post/center which pulls the far post defender two steps towards Ilsinho. That puts him two steps too far away to make a play on Burke to stop his header, and the goal.
    Four of Curtin’s substitutes won that game for the Union last night. Great work all around.

    • I’ll subscribe to this take. M’baizo might have had one of his best performances after coming on. Ilsinho added a nice new dimension to that attack from the right. Those two really boosted the Union. Wooten’s clearance was just amazing. I’m still in disbelief. And Burke got the goal you needed. Jim pulled the right levers.

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