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Match Report: Deportivo Saprissa 0-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo via CONCACAF

The 2021 Philadelphia Union season kicked off on Wednesday night in Costa Rica as the Union made their debut in CONCACAF Champions League with a 1-0 against Deportivo Saprissa.

Kacper Przybylko scored the lone goal of the game in the 34th minute, nodding in an unmarked header from a great cross from Olivier Mbaizo.

Jim Curtin rolled out his standard 4-4-2. With Cory Burke and Sergio Santos both out injured, Anthony Fontana started up top along Przybylko. Jamiro Monteiro slotted into the #10 role, flanked in the midfield by Alejandro Bedoya and debutant Leon Flach.

Monteiro had the first chance of the match in the 21st minute. Bedoya found time and space to cross from the right side, rolling a low cross into the path of a wide open Monteiro. The midfielder took his shot first time, but couldn’t find the target from 12 yards out.

The Union would take the lead in the 34th minute through Przybylko. Martinez lofted a great ball over the top from near midfield that Bedoya was able to win with a cushioned header into the path of Fontana near the top of the box. Fontana rolled a pass out wide right into the path of Olivier Mbaizo. The defender hit a perfect, curling cross that an unmarked Przybylko ran onto, heading into the bottom left corner of the goal from 8 yards.

Saprissa had a great chance to equalize in the 67th minute. After a foul in the midfield, the free kick came quickly and Kendall Waston met the cross with a free header from the penalty spot, but he couldn’t find the target and the ball spun wide of Andre Blake’s right post.

Saprissa would come closest in the 71st minute. A well struck corner kick was met by Christian Bolaños at the near post on the right, but Kai Wagner was on hand at the far post to clear off the line with a header of his own.

Saprissa would continue to press for an equalizer and Andre Blake was forced into action a few times late on. In the 87th minute, he saved with his legs from a shot on the left and then on 90 minutes he came confidently to pull in a high cross.

The end of the game was marred by a melee in stoppage time when Ricardo Blanco, who had been cleaned out by Matt Real earlier in the half, made an absurd, two footed challenge on Kai Wagner as the Union man went to clear the ball. Blanco somehow only received a yellow card for the challenge. Jakob Glesnes was on hand to defend his teammate and shoved Blanco to the ground after the challenge. Players and coaches from both teams came together and a series of yellow cards were shown before the full time whistle was blown.

The teams will square up again at Subaru Park next Wednesday at 8 p.m. for the second leg.

Three Points

  • Job Done. The Union went to Costa Rica and won with a huge away goal.
  • Consistency. The Union looked like the Union, and that’s a good thing. They possessed the ball well, knew their pressing cues, and looked like the better team for the most of the match.
  • Men of the Match. It was a great team performance, but a few players stood out with particularly strong performances: Jose Martinez, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya were all terrific.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake, Olivier Mbaizo, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya, Leon Flach (Matt Real 64′), Jamiro Monteiro, Anthony Fontana, Kacper Przybylko (Quinn Sullivan 90+4′)
Subs: Matt Freese, Jack McGlynn, Nathan Harriel, Jack McGlynn, Stuart Findlay, Aurelien Collin

Deportivo Saprissa

Aaron Cruz, Luis Jose Hernandez (W. Cortes 86′), A. David, Kendall Waston, Esteban Espindola, Ricardo Blanco, Christian Bollanos, Mariano Torres, Michael Barrantes, Jimmy Marin (J. Ballestero 85′), Daniel Colindres
Subs: A. Gomez, D. Sequeira, F. Aleman, J. Evans, J. Martinez

Scoring Summary

PHI: Kacper Przybylko – 34′ (Mbaizo)

Disciplinary Summary

PHI: Matt Real – 75′ (foul)
SAP: Ricardo Blanco – 90+5′ (foul)
PHI: Jakob Glesnes – 90+9′ (argument)
PHI: Jamiro Monteiro – 90+9′ (argument)
SAP: M. Barrantes – 90+9′ (argument)
SAP: D. Colindres – 90+9′ (argument)


  1. A just result. Philly kept excellent shape throughout the match, and did not look like a preseason squad. Credit to the coaches.
    That four minutes of extra time was some serious bs.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      …a life time watching that clock tick. Agree. I thought all in all they were well prepared. Tired legs by the end for sure, but kept it together.

  2. Oh, and our lesson for today is, don’t leave Mbappé or Przybylko unmarked in the box.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I’ll be the first. Some things never change.
    Well done. A bit sanguine, till the end. Stu Holden, who I am not a big fan of is spot on. Playing in that stadium -empty- is a walk in the park- so take the 1-0 win and come home, manage your business and carry on in the event.
    Otherwise, I give my word not to do this all season, but I need to get two things off my chest. Olivier Mbazio is likely going to drive me crazy. I know its the first game. I know its Costa Rica. He defends a little bit. He gets crosses in and they will on occasion be successful but the kid is a total liability in the attacking half because he has the touch of a two by four and the 1v1 skills of a Matchbox car. I swear I think he turned the ball over nearly every time he was forced to make a decision that wasn’t playing square or whipping it through the box…. which is the age old Union Way from pre academy to academy and often to first team…of scoring. It will not be long, until I’m either ready to see N.Harriel or pine openly for the days of Raymond Gaddis.

    Second…. Matt Real is a cupcake. I know I know. He’s One of Ours and I’ve been grinding on the player for a couple years (maybe unfairly)…. but he had the opportunity to lay wood to a Saprissa player twice in the final few minutes of that game -in the midfield- to win a ball, send a needed message, show a strong spine and choose instead —to ole ole ole—- with a half hearted Coerver toe taps toe poke. I screamed at the TV both times—stopped the game rewound and showed my son TWICE how not to play… since it seems –at every station of the soccer cross we have played at over the years with sideline coaches who yell …‘PLAY ON!”…after nearly every mugging and egregious dangerous challenge…from YSC, to Union Juniors to Delco and everywhere in between because they are hyper focused on aggressive physicality. Come on man… this is Philadelphia….Matt Real… put your ass, hip or shoulder into the guy and win a fucking tackle or be called for a foul to stop the play… for once– please.

    • Re: Real. I know you are talking about two other specific incidents. I’m sure he did need to do better there. But I do think the one you did not mention was his yellow card tackle shortly after he came on. I think that was a big and important play

      Now, should he have been mature enough to not do that. Probably. That expected maturity is probably why he was the only relevant sub by Curtin all game. But by god, it was the perfect tackle at the perfect time.

      Up until that point, Saprissa was building up steam. We were on the back foot and under attack. We needed something. In comes Real to give us the CONCACAF version of “something”. After that tackle, the game slowed down in that we actually started to see more of the ball and we were able to get a bit of a breather before the crazy last few minutes.

      I think that tackle was important and gave us a needed bite before the game started to truly get away from us.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        This is a fair point and I stipulate. Matt Real is in my crosshairs… and has been for a lot of years relative to my perception of his temperament.
        careful….in seeking to confirming biases.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      el P, he did, egregiously, and got a card for his trouble, right after Kacper got cleaned out yet again. 75′ Mike says above.
      Give him credit for restraint, and keeping 11 men on the pitch thereafter, please.
      I completely agree he does not have the defensive bite of Wagner, but few do.

    • Gerald DeMoss says:

      Ah the new Gaddis has arrived

    • T.Coolguy says:

      Mbaizo is a real mixed bag. I’m not thrilled with him as our starting RB as I am skeptical with his ability to hang with the best wide players MLS has to offer, and he had so many bad giveaways tonight. On the other hand, he had a fantastic pass in to Przybylko that got the Union their only goal today, so can’t knock him too much I guess.

    • El Pach,
      So Mbaizo looked pretty good in his position. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve seen a stellar cross from the flank and a finish like that in like at least 3 years. We never score from crosses or corners so If Mbaizo can put them in the box like a Willian I’m fine with that. He had a good defensive game as well. I like that he takes on players one v one. If you’re talking about turnovers you should take a look at Montiero. He turns over the ball in the middle of the pitch, the worse spot to concede the ball.

  4. Gruncle Bob says:

    Huge win, great effort! Nice debut from Flach. Truly horrible officiating, not great for either side but worse for us.

    Any word on tickets for the 14th?

    • Tickets went on sale to season ticket holders for the 14th and the 24th (two game package) about a week or two ago. Given they were limited in number (I think the it’s probably closer to 3000 than the 5000 they mentioned during the telecast last night) I’m guessing the STH bought out the allotment.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    Incredibly impressed with this only being like their 4th game in 2021!? To go there and get a draw would’ve been it for me… to get a win was just awesome. Congrats to Curtin on his 100th overall win. And I can’t wait to watch em get it done live at Subaru on Wednesday. Welcome back Union… and welcome back everyone!

  6. Solid win. Lovely goal from Przbylko. Looking forward to the second leg.

  7. Bravo and congrats to Union for taking care of business — impressive start at this stage of the (pre) season, to be that prepared and push 90+ with only one sub used.

  8. The Walter Cortez sighting was unexpected. I had forgotten that he ended up with Saprissa.

  9. Wracked Opinion says:

    Any update on Wagner?

    I didn’t see the match, but only a clip of that egregiously dangerous tackle.

    On the clip Kai looked seriously injured by that play.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      he writhed in pain, neymar rolled… squirmed as chaos ensued…. Glesnes coming over the top to enforce—-then with the fastest turkish get up I’ve ever seen —went and put himself into the fray.

      I imagine…he is fine.
      terrible tackle though. sheesh.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      He got up when the melee was dying down, got in ref’s face about the color of the card, and played the last few seconds.

  10. Well done Union, way to hang on. Despite the overly tired legs in the end and the injuries,they got the road win. Seriously if Blanco’s not suspended for 2nd leg, it would be the biggest injustice ever.

  11. Blanco’s foul on Wagner was of course a nasty one, but Curtin should temper the tempers of the lads in situations like that, and as professionals players, they should know better. The team picked up unnecessary yellows for not keeping their cool. Quite frankly, some reds could have been handed out, and maybe because the ref cut slack on Blanco’s foul and earlier cardable violations is why he didn’t reach for the reds. However far the team might go, it’s likely shorter when card accumulations bench players.
    Other than that, a win on the road in the first leg…what’s not to like about that.

  12. Andy Muenz says:

    Would have liked to see the Union push for the second away goal, even at the risk of giving up the equalizer, but I understand they were gassed by the end.
    As it is, a win or a tie next week sends them through. A 1-0 loss means added extra time and possibly PK’s. Any other loss eliminates them.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I like Jim Curtin’s explanation of a two-legged home-and-home fixture for those who don’t follow soccer.
      “It’s halftime.”

  13. el Pachyderm says:

    You know…. its remarkable… ‘Fearless’ come to mind this morning.
    For 10 years people have come to this place and complained —about so many things- with damn good reason.
    I have. With good reason– I believe –despite what some have confronted me about along the way…. I mean, hell- what were they doing in Philadelphia?
    What was the Vision. The Philosophy. The Plan.
    I’m still an agitated supporter.
    “You say the hill’s to steep to climb?
    Chiding… (Them)
    Merciless, The Magistrate turns ’round
    frowning… (Us)”
    But here we are…. a clear -Vision.
    an obvious & supportable-Philosophy.
    an incontrovertible -Plan.
    From then…..Practicing in a kids playground. Playing games in a football stadium. Losing Open Cup finals. Just year after year…. they made us nearly Comfortably Numb. Quite a few people have stayed the course with this team … but the numbers have dropped, dropped, dropped- and now what?
    To now…..~.. the team gets on an airplane, plays pretty well in its first ever international event after winning— it’s first trophy– earning the 4th most points over a nice run of seasons…… and 12 hours later we have 21 lousy comments.
    Yea? Well …fuck all….
    (walk on. walk on. walk on with hope in your heart)
    my comittment to this team is bond and this morning- I am a happy Union fan. Too bad…. so many others seem to have fallen away.

    • I was curious if you were going to sing YNWA at the end………..

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Ad finem fidelis, Elephant

    • I don’t think it can be said enough how much the addition of Martinez has contributed to that. Playing and trusting the youth, getting the right veterans that play the right way all helps, but he seems to be the one that has taken this team to the “Won’t back down” level we have needed.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        agree. he’s a stud… a practice prancing beast in the midfield. I love his game.

    • I would not have you equate number of comments to amount of support. People will always complain more than congratulate. Some just some here to read the comments rather than make them. just because I have an opinion does not mean that I have to/want to share it here.

      I’d also think that right now some people are more focused on things more important than professional sports. It’s been a really rough year for some and I have been blessed to have a safe family and secure job and I am just enjoying the moment for what it is.

      I enjoy your comments el P. and I’m glad you take the time to come here and express them in your own way but stick to criticizing the soccer and not the number of post on the article after a win. Some of us have been around for the long slog with you but suffer in our own way. Maybe I’ll comment more going forward but I know I’ll keep supporting PSP and coming back to this site (and your comments hopefully) even when the Union aren’t playing as well as I’d hope.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I appreciate. And it is Philadelphia – we like to complain – so there is that.
        But if you think I am not going to draw attention to 21 comments after an International victory and 4 years of ‘success’…. after coming here since 2011 reading threads 100 posts long… I am sorry- I am going to call it out.
        As for the state of the world relative to the last 12 months…. this PSP commentors funeral dirge has been ongoing in excess of Covid19.
        Just is. Bums me out.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        By the way, Jimber —-I would like to clarify something I think I am assuming people understand.
        The authors’ who do this —do it for free. They have jobs. Families. They have mulitple constraints in their lives and still dedicate their time to report, analyze or invent thoughtful content. This is not their job. it is their passion.
        As a reuslt of this truth, We as Union supporters have — in my mind at least— a social contract… or should have a social contract which recognizes this effort and in kind- displays the support of good discussion to make the efforts worthwhile.
        I’ve written articles and submitted them here. I know it matters when people appreciate the content and comment and comment and comment. I imagine it makes the effort worthwhile and self energizing.
        All this in addition to… my upstream rants.
        Hell, I’m a happy man today, and still found something to through out there to bitch about in order to stir up commentary.

    • I just watched the game on replay. For some reason my DVR didn’t get it on Wednesday. It was tough to stay off social media and PSP until this morning but I’m glad I got to watch it without knowing the result.
      Personally, I agree that the Union looked tired by the end and still in preseason form. There were some bad passes by the Union but Saprissa also seemed slow to press and the Union were able to use the time to maintain possession. I did like seeing the Union players continuing to make runs late into the game. It was also clear they were communicating well. I wonder how much tougher that would have been with a full Saprissa stadium.
      I think the point about Real playing to avoid a second card makes sense. I’ll give him some time to show if he knows when he needs to get more physical but I appreciate the note and will keep an eye on him as he plays. M’baizo also worries me as his defense may be a liability.
      I remember hearing on the replay that Curtin diagnosed that Saprissa couldn’t contain M’baizo and tood him to keep getting forward. That seems to be more evidence that Curtin is maturing as a coach.

    • Well I’m here, admittedly s little late, to say:

      1. That was a lovely, pleasant surprise of a match; I expected the Union to look out of sorts, but they were rather cohesive, even playing with a bunch of injuries; and

      2. You, El P sir, are a serious Pink Floyd fan. I don’t think that many people know the Meddle disc…

  14. A very professional performance overall by the Union. I appreciated that they came in the first half and played to win by being themselves and not bunkering.

  15. Great win!!!
    That said, regarding confirmation bias as mentioned above,
    Mea culpa on saying so many times that I thought striker was a better position for Fontana. He was largely invisible this match. And while I thought Jamiro did a great job of connecting the midfield through his passing and dribbling, his passes don’t break lines or put people in goal scoring positions. Once our strikers are healthy, I’ll be happy to see Fontana go back to #10 and find out what he can do.

  16. This is a bigger win than I think most understand. The U went into a difficult place to play (admittedly without large crowd), in their first “real” match since the playoff loss last season, against a team well into their regular season, came away with the win, and were the better team for large portions of the match.

  17. This team has a great mix of talent young and old. I agree lots of grit as well, Think your too tough on Real. He not Kai but he can play just as tough and can deliver a cross and pass decently. I think he is trying to play with a little more self control and avoid cards. Watched him since he first arrived, would never have called him a cupcake. He filled in for Kai more than adequately last year. Mbaizo crossing abiltiy gives the union a threat on either side. Teams will now not always overcompensate for Wagners offensive ability. Mostly good things last night. Hope Santos is ready for season opener.

  18. I can’t remember the Union ever winning their season(al) opener on the road, let alone playing well. Monteiro and el Brujo are fun to watch and Flach made a stunning debut. Jack Elliot is Mr. Reliable and I think its possible we wont miss Mark McKenzie this year (!!!). Whats the deal with Scorey? travel visa issues?

  19. Straight Red card no question …Flach is gonna be real more thing…..God do I love Jose Martinez what an absolute monster, some errant passes but early in season they will get cleaner, but his defensive work rate is something to behold and admire

  20. I decided to sit with the win for a bit. I wanted to enjoy it without scrutiny. I’m proud of the boys and to be a Union fan. They went away to a foreign land and won on the opponents turf, just coming out of preseason while the opponent being already into the season and should be hitting form. They attacked, pressed and won battles. They held, passed and made intelligent decisions. They saw the other team’s baiting, showed grit and stood tall for one another. There was youth, vetterancy and guile. Some above may dither and dismay at things they saw last night, not I. There was maturity, class and the best our team has to offer on display . Is this not what has been hoped for? This journey just keeps getting better. Roll on boys, roll on.

  21. Stoked for a win and stoked to see the same cast of characters in the comments section year after year. Hoping we prove last year wasn’t a fluke and looking forward to seeing what the team can do. Cheers!

  22. When the draw came out weeks ago, I thought ‘oh well. Nice to get there. No chance winning in Costa Rica’. Last week read how Saprissa was struggling and changed my mind. The Union did exactly what they were supposed to do to a team that is struggling: attack, press and attack again. “It is only half-time.” Hopefully, we can jump to a lead early and coast with the teenie boppers!

  23. First and foremost, how does Kai Wagner not make the “Men of the Match”??

    That field was in bad condition. You can blame preseason legs for the errant passes if you wish, but me.. I blame the soggy, patchy field for 80+%.

    Overall, outstanding way to start the season and our CCL run. Go Union!

  24. QuakerFlaker says:

    Since El P was making a comment about participation, I thought I’d throw a comment in. I’m not a big commenter here but read religiously so just want to demonstrate a perhaps “silent majority” out there. I do enjoy the honest, varied, and entertaining banter here – all good and healthy in my opinion. What I will say is that this is a game the U would routinely lose in years past, given the road, injuries, no big additions, beginning of the season, etc. (not to mention the CONCACAF and Saprissa history for MLS). I think in the last few years, though, the U have been developing something that looks almost like grit. I think this is a work in progress but I don’t think this line-up was the best we’ve seen lately and I see some “better than the sum of parts” results with a consistent system and dare I say “vision, philosophy, plan”. Happy that the U are back and surprisingly good footy to boot.

  25. P.S. That tackle on Wagner at the end was absolutely egregious and I do not blame Glesnes or anyone else for wigging out. It was entirely merited.

  26. Disk…are you saying CD or 33 1/3??

  27. Disc…CD…or 33 1/3. I think I wore out 2 vinal copies of that one!

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