Match Report

Match report: Philadelphia Union 1 (2) – 1 (0) Nashville SC

Photo by Stephen Speer

A blinding sunset gave way to a cold but otherwise pleasant fall evening on the Delaware River as the Philadelphia Union stopped and then resuscitated the hearts of fans everywhere, winning their second round playoff match in dramatic fashion: on penalties.

First Half

The parking lots were full well before kickoff, but as start time neared the lines outside every gate were each a hundred fans deep. Ten minutes later, the backlog resolved, the stadium was packed to the gills and pulsating.

On cue in the 1st minute, a transcendent diagonal ball from the foot of Jack Elliott found Alejandro Bedoya behind Nashville’s 5-man back line. His centering pass was behind the free Kacper Pryzbylko and nothing came of the chance.

It was clear early on that the Union were willing to invert the midfield of their 4-3-2-1 to pin the visitors in their own end. Several early chances spoke to the wisdom of that approach, as the saying goes: “who dares wins.” Nashville matched one inversion with another though, bringing their outside backs high when the Union were in their own end – a strategy that has neutralized the Boys in Blue all year.

The chess match became a soccer game in the 10th minute when Alvas Powell took the competition’s first shot off a cleared corner. His attempt with the left was high and wide, but the Union began to press in earnest thereafter. That meant the counter was on as well however, and Nashville answered the host’s attempt with one of their own, also high and wide (and out of the stadium in fact, to the glee of the River End supporters).

The Union continued to probe the Nashville backline, but center back Walker Zimmerman was as-advertised, winning and clearing everything that came near him. More generally, for the second week in a row the visitors seemed more keen to attack the ball than the Union, except in the 26th minute when a fizzing Nashville cross was left to the back post where it was cleared harmlessly away. Had anyone attacked it, the score would have been 1-0 to the visitors.

Just moments later, the Union needlessly gave possession away and only a lunging Jakob Glesnes stood (again) between the hosts and a 1-0 hole. For all the good Zimmerman had done at that point, the play was another example of A+ defensive recovery work, just on the home team’s half.

It was in the 34th minute when the Union’s press turned Nashville over again in a dangerous spot. The ensuing interplay resulted in Daniel Gazdag receiving a Bedoya pass one inch outside of the visitor’s box and being scythed down in turn (fans chanted “VAR” in hopes of a penalty, but to no avail). Jamiro Monteiro and Kai Wagner stood over the free kick, but it was the Cape Verdean who hit the chance into the wall.

The next moment, Nashville had the opener.

Pushing five players high, they temporarily outnumbered the Union’s backline. When the visitor’s switched the ball from left to right, gaps formed as the defense rotated – the ensuing cross was perfectly hit into one of them, with Hany Mukhtar flicking a header into Andre Blake’s far post. Nashville dared to push numbers forward and were rewarded, their league-best defense with a lead to protect – almost immediately, the visitor’s line of engagement dropped 25 yards.

With one minute of stoppage time announced, only a last second corner kick brought the frustrated crowd back to its feet. Daniel Gazdag needed two scissoring volleys – the first one was blocked – to tuck the bouncing ball in the back of the net, but the Union had equalized at the very last second. It was a momentum-swinging play if ever there were one, and Nashville’s heads were hanging, CJ Sapong picking a fight at midfield and Dax McCarty’s hands in the air in disbelief. Both players made their feelings known to referee Alan Chapman, who had his hands in his card pocket lest their opinions stray too far.

It was level at 1-1, and though the Union played well, Nashville had better chances and the scoreline was no more than either team deserved.

Second Half

There were no changes for either team when the second half started, the Union looking to pin Nashville in their own end and get an early lead. The timeless Dax McCarty, certainly no stranger to the Union or their Red Bull system, was there to break the press, checking into windows and pulling his opponents out of shape. His work rate continues to be all but unrivaled in the league.

The Union’s right-sided tilt was in full effect to start the second stanza, with free kicks, rondos, and some chippy play all occurring in that corner of the field. It culminated in a 53rd minute corner off the foot of Kai Wagner, and his in-swinger was bounced around before rolling out to Alvas Powell. The Jamaican’s half-volley skipped wide, and just a moment later the right back cleared a dangerous cross near the goal mouth.

In the 57th minute, the Union decided their stalemate was not good enough. They brought in Sergio Santos to replace the slightly injured Leon Flach and switched formations into the 4-4-2 diamond, a switch that opened last week’s match against Red Bulls wide open. It clearly did the trick for Daniel Gazdag, who was buzzing around the pitch and fed Santos over the shoulder of the Nashville defense. The Brazilian faded his chip wide of the post, another chance gone wanting – and what a chance it was. As was the tenor of the match, Nashville had a great chance moments later as well, again sent over the bar.

The Union were indeed growing into the match, moving the ball with more poise than fans have seen most of 2021. It wasn’t perfect though, and Nashville wasn’t going to let them pass or dribble without a fight. A 67th minute cross from Santos, played behind by Monteiro, was nearly redirected on goal – the scrum that came from the ensuing corner was cleared away, but only after about a dozen hacks at the ball.

The game was opening up for both teams, and getting chippy in the process. Alan Chapman was content to let both things progress without much interference – it was good refereeing, but a card or two was certainly warranted up to that point.

A bad Nashville giveaway in the 75th minute should have resulted in a quality chance for the Union, but Santos was content to let his teammates and their defenders catch up to him – not once, but twice including another chance moments later – with neither opportunity resulting in a shot on frame. Two corner kicks later, the Union thought they had themselves the lead through Daniel Gazdag again. Chapman finally found his whistle however, and called a foul against the Union – the kind of physicality that happens on every corner kick in every league in the world. It was a disappointing way for the match official to make his mark.

The Union may have been frustrated, but they didn’t show it. Instead, they kept fighting, rallied the crowd, and earned another dangerous free kick precisely from the spot where Jakob Glesnes broke Red Bull hearts just a few days prior. It was the team’s other center back Jack Elliott who whipped the ball in, but couldn’t get it up and down in time.

Just ten minutes remained, with Nashville seemingly content to ride out regular time minus the odd ball lumped forward. They were working for more, but only out of luck and not out of purpose. Meanwhile, the Union’s burst of energy that came with Santos’s introduction seemed to have worn off. The chemistry was still there, but not with the final ball – or, the story of the Philadelphia Union in 2021.

Four minutes of stoppage were announced, but already several minutes into a Jose Martinez injury break. For the second week in a row, the game seemed destined for extra time – though a flicked header by Bedoya found Santos’s foot, but his chance was pushed wide. A last second free kick was hit into the stands by Jamiro Monteiro, his role in taking those chances long since past its expiration date.

The game was headed to extra time.

Extra time

CJ Sapong exited the match as the extra frame began, and the former Union man should have been proud of his ninety-minute effort.

The Union came out flat though, with Nashville calmly, cooly, and professionally doing their best to kill off the game. Legs were tired, to the home side’s detriment and visitor’s delight. In the 98th minute, Jamiro Monteiro’s trickery on the ball against the Nashville bunker won the team a dangerous free kick on the end line and Kai Wagner stood over the ball. He took a chance on frame and nearly nestled it in the top corner, with Gazdag and Elliott running for chances at a header.

A moment later, Monteiro’s antics resulted in a giveaway at the top of his box. Nashville won a header on the chance, but couldn’t put it on frame. Then Wagner nearly scored an impossible goal again, running up the left side, but the shass landed on top of the net rather than inside it. The Union needed fresh legs, having used only one substitution and with a handful of player’s hands making homes on their hips.

Those legs came when Jack McGlynn came in for Monteiro and Cory Burke for Pryzbylko at the interval. Both subs were the kind that make or break seasons for a team or coach, but the Union needed a jolt.

In a moment, Santos had an open chance at the top of the box. Again he waited for a crowd to gather before shooting directly at the Nashville keeper. Down at the other end, Andre Blake was forced into a dive to protect his left side, but the shot was always wide. A handful of changes for both sides came, but Nashville was still not interested in getting forward without a major Union mistake.

The best chance of the frame came in the 115th minute, with the Union out of shape and chasing the counter attacking visitors. Calling the chance “flubbed” is as kind as this author can be and the tie carried on. It was only a minute later though when a Union corner was recycled by Jose Martinez directly to the toe of Sergio Santos. He could only redirect the ball wide, a fitting capstone on what was a rough night for the speedy attacker.

It was on to penalties.

Penalties

Hany Mukhtar hit the first shot into Andre Blake’s belly and Subaru Park came alive. The press box shook with the crowd’s chants of “Union.” Jack Elliott brought the decibel level higher, slotting his shot home to the left.

Anibal Godoy turned the crowd volume up to “11” when his shot hit Blake’s hands, but Sergio Santos continued his night to forget by getting stopped.

Alex Muyl skied his turn, as improbable and unlikely three penalties as Union fans will ever see. The young Jack McGlynn, cold as the Delaware River, paused his run, watched his helpless opponent dive, and slotted home to the left.

When Walker Zimmerman skied his shot as well, four of a kind, the Gods of Chester smiled down on the home side once again. Drama at every turn, on the edge of tragedy, a happy ending that saw the unbeaten goalkeeper carried off his spot by his teammates.

Three points
  • The bad – At no point did the Union’s striker corps look likely to score, and including penalties none of them did. Santos and Pryzybylko had their own moments of quality, but Burke was anonymous and none of the three rose to the occasion on the night. This author has long opined that their issues are only partially of their own making, but watching the redundant runs, the lack of cohesion, and the galling lack of a killer instinct was maddening.
  • The good – The Union’s defense was stalwart again, with Nashville getting their goal on the game’s only real chance on frame. This unit is rock solid and deserves all the accolades thrown at them, the kind of group that carry a side all the way to a cup final.
  • The survival – There is only one way to advance in a playoff: by beating the other team. As time goes on, no one counts the “how.” History continues to write itself at Subaru Park, one “heart-in-your-throat” moment at a time.
Lineups

PHI – Blake, Wagner, Elliott, Glesnes, Powell (Harriel, 109;), Flach (Santos, 57′), Martinez, Bedoya, Monteiro (McGlynn, 105′), Gazdag, Pryzbylko (Burke, 105′); SUBS – Freese, Findlay, Bueno, Aaronson, Ilsinho

NSH – Willis, Lovitz, Maher, Johnston, Miller (Anibabi, 118′), Zimmerman, McCarty (Anunga, 105′), Mukhtar, Godoy, Leal (Muyl, 105′), Sapong (Jhonder, 90′); SUBS – Daniadi, Washington, Haakerson, Meredith, Ake Loba

Scoring Summary

NSH – Mukhtar (38′)

PHI – Gazdag (45′)

Discipline Summary

NSH – Leal (90+4′)

35 Comments

  1. Man, if we had a striker who actually was good at finishing we could be really great.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Andre Fucking Blake
    .
    Sergio Fucking Santos
    .
    Hol E Shit.
    .
    I cannot pretend to be anything other than genuinely happy tonight. I thought they actually played pretty clean and well and if we had some finishing —generally would be content they Played Well.
    .
    The strikers are an issue but I’m resolved to think they factor in for them more positively on Sunday when this team sidles into the conference finals.
    .
    Would love an NYCFC upset since it’s been a full three weeks since NE played.
    .
    Well done.

  3. I am of the opinion that nobody deserved to win that game. But the Union deserved to lose the least.

  4. So fitting that Blake deservedly gets to be the hero. Had that match gone the other way, I would have put the watch at the Cliff of Despair on the lookout for Santos, who would likely be the first to raise his hand and admit he had a shocker.

    Also, how gangsta is McGlynn? What a boss. Let’s go. 1 game away from the final. Another from the cup.

  5. To my mind, not as exciting a finish as last week but I’ll take it. The Union have officially made it farther in the playoffs than ever before so hopefully this will at least somewhat silence some of the naysayers.
    .
    Kudos to Curtin for having the faith in McGlynn to let him take the PK. Wondering who the other two would have been if they were necessary. I’m guessing Bedoya and Gazdag.

    • I’ve seen confirmation in one of the articles on MLS.com that Gazdag would have taken the 5th kick. Don’t know for sure (guessing Bedoya or Burke) who would have taken the 4th.

    • I think I saw a post game quote from Gazdag saying he was slotted to take the 5th PK and was hoping he would get to be the hero but was glad it went to Blake instead. I’d think Bedoya would be the other as well. Would not have guessed McGlynn before but man was that a philthy kick he made. Another one too young to know he shouldn’t be so bold. Love the attitude these academy kids have developed.

  6. In Tanner We Trust says:

    So many thoughts, mostly positive. I’ll only write out the positives, as criticism can wait.
    .
    Andre Blake, I don’t really know what to say. He was already the greatest player in the history of the team, now it’s a landslide.
    .
    Gazdag was quite good, deserved to have a brace. I wanted to see Aaronson, but Gazdag and Monteiro both looked dangerous enough to keep that from happening. They’re really starting to find their space in the tree, although Monteiro was definitely rusty given his absence.
    .
    Martinez was very composed given his yellow card jeopardy. Did any of them get a yellow all game? Great composure all around.
    .
    Santos continues to space the field well, but he definitely needs to start converting
    .
    And as mentioned above, how about the BALLS McGlynn had? So calm, you could just tell the moment wasn’t too big for him. His future is so bright.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Find the replay after McGlynn hit his penalty. He does like a needle in his arm – an “ice in my veins” type thing. Bad ass and hardcore for an 18 year old.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Yeah I saw that, the “Damian Lillard” if you will. Oof, that may still be a sore subject haha.

  7. I loved the Union’s play for huge stretches of this game. Santos looks lost finishing but he makes plays and gets into space. He’s useful. Burke…ditto.

    Did Curtin take Montiero off set pieces? Because, if so, that was a great idea. His services and shots were putrid. R

    I loved McGlynn’s penalty shot and Andre stopping Muktar to kick it off was epic. EPIC!

    • He took the set piece at the end of regulation but sent it into the River End. I don’t remember if the Union had any he would have taken in the first overtime and he was taken out before the second began.

  8. Two really good defensive teams, one with a red hot striker, meet in a playoff, yet Philadelphia advances on penalties including one by a teenager. I mean, who sends a teenager to take a penalty in a big match? Besides Gareth Southgate obvs

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Haha as a major Saka fan, that’s rough. But as someone who very much dislikes England’s team as a whole… mwahahaha.

  9. Initial thoughts from the River end…
    .
    I can’t do this three weeks in a row. I want a boring 3-0 park the bus game next week.
    .
    After the first Nashville goal, the U looked lost. Glad they woke up and got the equalizer.
    .
    Can’t say enough about the balls on McGlynn. I hope one of the “adults” sent him up to the line with a reassuring “just like in training…” (and who that adult was”…

  10. Well I’m really pulling for NYCFC! The last2 home games are why your a fan! Improbable endings in both! And a new hero from each game! Come on New York!! Ok…I have to go wash my mouth out with soap!

  11. Congrats to all. Shake it off, Sergio. Head-up. Keep working.

  12. Has to be the best atmosphere in the park. I’ve been there for them and I’ll say it was better than the Open Cup finals.
    We showed up. Really hope we get more at home this season.

  13. John O'Donnell says:

    Conference final at home or payback to this year’s Supporters’ Shield winners? I’m fine with both…

  14. OneManWolfpack says:

    Incredible atmosphere. Just an awesome night. Blake is Superman… period. Dude is a stud. Back to work for me tomorrow after some great time off and a vacation… what a way to end it! Let’s do it again Saturday at Subaru… get it done NYC

  15. I am only now jacking down from having attended surely the Union’s most significant win in its history.
    1) Let’s start with this: Andre Blake generally makes one big mistake per night which usually does not result in a goal. Both in real time and on replay, you can see as the cross comes into the box, Blake takes a step to come out and challenge it (which was the right choice), but he then stepped back and defended the box from the middle and was helpless when the header directed the cross to Andre’s right. I have seen Andre Blake defend that cross many, many times over the years.
    2) At the same time, Andre Blake nearly always comes up with a huge save that the Union need, and tonight he saved them for the PK shootout. As one of my friends noted, it is hard to believe that Andre Blake is not playing in Europe somewhere. Let’s celebrate his play with the Union while he is here.
    3) The Union’s strikers had a difficult night. Przybylko lacks speed and in my judgment, he is often an impediment in the Union’s pressing and counter-attacking style. Corey Burke has speed and strength, lacks skill. Sergio Santos has both speed and skill, but he had a very tough night. Not counting the PK that he took poorly, he should have had a brace, at least. I think a change in hairstyle is warranted–he did better as a blonde.
    4) Alejandro Bedoya is a warrior, period. Yes, he is on the downhill side of a great career, but he gutted this one out after he was quite clearly injured.
    5) Which leads to the question of why, from the 85th minute on when it was obvious that Bedoya was limping, Nashville did not exclusively move up its right hand side where Bedoya was playing. I think that was a coaching failure.
    6) Before the game, I asked my son who attended with me which team was better rested, a team that played 120 minutes a week ago or a team that played 90 minutes 5 days ago (and had to travel). Seems like sort of a dead heat. By the 2 OTs, virtually all of the players who started were gassed, which is why players on both sides missed chances. I thought that it was interesting that Curtin had subs Santos and McGlynn take PKs after Elliott (!) converted. Nashville only used one sub to take PKs (Muyl, who skied the 3rd PK).
    7) For the most part, Referee Alan Chapman had a good night. He let a lot of physical play go, and he was pretty consistent about what would be called. The one gaffe was on the Union’s disallowed goal, which both in real time and on replay looked fine. Joe Willis tried to knock the ball away from a Union player who was also trying to head it, and Willis tripped over backwards. But it did not appear that his losing his balance was due to a foul, IMHO.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Yeah to Blake’s credit, he only makes 1 mistake per game because he’s amazing at keeping composure and not spiraling. And how in the world does Chapman call that off? We should’ve won 2-1. I guess Chapman is gonna start a tradition of one abysmal mistake every year in the playoffs. Remember the NYC-Orlando shootout last year?

    • George Dorshimer says:

      In fairness, on the TV replays, it seemed pretty clear that Santos impeded Willis, maybe even intentionally. The sad part is, Willis probably wasn’t going to get to the ball even if not impeded.

      • That was what I thought seeing the replay on the scoreboard. That being said, when it is reasonably close as to whether Willis would have been able to get to it or not, he has to be given the benefit of the doubt when interfered with.

  16. What a game. I think Jack McGlynn has fallen a bit under the radar this season with Aaronson and Sullivan having more successful seasons as goal scorers, but McGlynn reminded us why he is a huge prospect himself. It’s amazing, most clubs would be over the moon with one of those three kids as prospects and the Union have all of them.

    • If someone told Union fans back in March that two homegrowns would be playing a key role in a playoff game in Novemeber, McGlynn and Harriell wouldn’t have been high on the list. Just incredible from them.

  17. In case NYCFC doesn’t pull off the win tomorrow night, if anyone is thinking of making the 5.5 hour drive, the current forecast for Foxborough on Sunday is partly cloudy, high of 35. (Partly cloudy and 43 in Chester.)

  18. Observations:

    – Another epic win, love this team!
    – Andre Blake
    – Martinez had a great game, and no yellows! Only criticism is that he sprinted way out of position from 30 yds away to try to win a 50/50 ball. We wound up with possession, but had Nashville won it, the middle of the field would have been wide open for a chance. Fits with his aggressive persona I suppose.
    – Great game from Gazdag. Man is in form at the right time!
    – Sullivan was used as a 2nd striker when the regulars were injured or needed subbed off in the early season. Wish Curtain kept him fresh as an option to replace Kacper/Burke.
    – We still look more dangerous in the traditional 4-4-2 diamond compared to the Xmas tree.
    – On some of these free kicks, I wish they used Glesnes as a distraction.
    – Hop on those tickets vs. NYC asap!

  19. What an atmosphere!! What a game! Enjoyed it except for all of Santos’ misses. Where was Sullivan? Not even his grandparents were at the game….

    • Not sure why he wasn’t even on the bench. Hope it wasn’t just to make room for Ilsinho.

    • After being the HG with the most minutes earlier in the year it seems like he has been supplanted by Bueno in most instances. At this point I think Aaronson and McGlynn now have more minutes than Sullivan too.

      It could be innocent. Maybe he hit the fitness wall sooner than the other HGs since he started getting minutes first. Maybe its a small knock or Curtin just isn’t seeing as much from him in practice.

      However my 100% guess based on nothing but blind fandom is that maybe a transfer has been arranged? Sullivan trained in Europe in the past and had some interest. Maybe a team saw enough to buy him and at this point we are just shrink wrapping him.

  20. Good to see RSL on a roll. If they win against Portland, then we’ll get a home MLS Final if we get through our own conference final. Of course if NYCFC wins then that’s also a home match without Goliath in the conference final.
    . . .
    We know what’s worked so far. We need to focus on what didn’t. Our lack of finishing showed up again. It’s hurting us with all missed shots and ineffective play. Even the MLS app made a talking point and video collage of our blown opportunities after the Red Bull match, and they don’t like to overly criticize anything in MLS. They could make another one from the Nashville match.
    . . .
    What’s everyone’s thoughts on working on this issue for the upcoming conference final? We have a real chance to win our first MLS Cup, and this issue is the critical part.

  21. I wrote down my five PK takers (Bedoya, Burke, Gazdag, Wagner, and Elliot) and was so wrong! haha very curious who 4 and 5 would have been. Flach seems like the palyer to come in to protect a lead, because he has no ability going foward. I would like to see the ICEMAN mcglynn start. burke > kacper and santos is better than both, finishing or not he creates 5x as many chances

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