Union match reports

Match report: Alianza FC 0-0 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Howie Pollard

Philadelphia Union returned to the Concacaf Champions League in full Concacaf style on Tuesday night, a physical game on a choppy pitch in San Salvador ending scoreless against Alianza FC.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jim Curtin opted to rotate his lineup heavily, handing eight players their first starts of 2023. Chris Donovan and Quinn Sullivan partnered up top, with Joaquin Torres slotting in behind them. Jack McGlynn and Andres Perea manned the shuttler positions, backed by Jesus Bueno at the No. 6. Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, and keeper Andre Blake maintained their places in the back, with Nathan Harriel and Damion Lowe slotting in alongside them.

Kickoff came on a torn-up pitch at the Estadio Cuscatlan, and the two sides spent the early minutes coming to grips with the surface. The Union had the first chance, a ball over the top springing the strikers, Sullivan spotting his shot just over the bar. Moments later, Donovan went one-on-one with the keeper, but his poor touch slid out of play. Donovan, who wore a mask to accommodate a preseason broken nose, misfired on a header not long after.

After Philly controlled the initial spell, Alianza grew into the game, keeping the ball in the Union half and generating pressure. A 33rd minute free kick forced Blake into an assertive save, and Bueno picked up a yellow not long after for a crunching tackle.

In the end, neither side created much danger in the first half, and the halftime score of 0-0 frankly flattered both teams.

Sullivan had a good chance to take the lead eight minutes after the break, as a ball from Torres fell to him near the penalty spot. Under pressure from the onrushing keeper, the Homegrown attacker popped his shot high. Five minutes later, Torres should have had the opener, with a far-post header that looked goal-bound. Alianza’s keeper, Mario Gonzalez, had to spring to full extension to keep his net pristine.

Curtin threw on some of his preferred starters just after the 60-minute mark, introducing Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag, and Jose Martinez for Sullivan, Torres, and Bueno.

In the 69th minute, a dog sprinted onto the field, making a perfect tackle as he attempted to eat the ball. It was easily the most entertaining thing that had happened to that point of the match.

Perhaps inspired by the dog, the game grew more physical. Martinez, naturally, was at the heart of it, throwing himself into challenge after challenge. The substitutes looked to up the pace, but they couldn’t fully connect, with Gazdag looking warily at the turf after one attempted cross soared into the stratosphere.

After the late introduction of Leon Flach for Jack McGlynn Philly upped the pressure on the hosts, with Gazdag at the heart of everything. But Alianza stood firm, and the final whistle blew on a scoreless draw.

The Union return to MLS play for one match before the second leg against Alianza. They’ll host Chicago Fire at Subaru Park this Saturday night; kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

Three Points
  • Pitch imperfect. The field at Estadio Cuscatlan shaped the entire match. Neither side looked particularly comfortable trying to play the ball on the ground on the bumpy, uneven surface.
  • Line change. It was interesting to see Jim Curtin trust his depth and heavily rotate from the standard starting group. Jesus Bueno and Quinn Sullivan stood out as two players who made their presence felt.
  • Job done. A 0-0 draw is rarely pretty, and this one was no exception. But the Union have teed things up well for the return leg in front of their home crowd next Tuesday: win, and a date in the quarterfinals awaits.

Philadelphia Union 

Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Damion Lowe, Nathan Harriel, Andres Perea (Alejandro Bedoya 87′), Jesus Bueno (Jose Martinez 63′), Joaquin Torres (Daniel Gazdag 63′), Jack McGlynn (Leon Flach 79′), Quinn Sullivan (Julian Carranza 63′), Chris Donovan

Unused subs: Holden Trent, Joe Bendik, Matt Real, Olivier Mbaizo, Jakob Glesnes, Brandan Craig, Mikael Uhre

Alianza FC

Mario Gonzalez, William Canales, Henry Romero, Camilo Mancilla, Alexis Montes, Oscar Rodriguez (Miguel Murillo 78′), Marvin Monterroza, Narciso Orellana, Isaac Portillo, Rodolfo Zelaya (Emerson Mauricio 90+3′), Michell Mercado (Emerson Hernandez 90′)

Unused subs: Yonatan Guardado, Mario Jacobo, Hamilton Benitez

Scoring Summary


Discipline Summary

PHI: Jesus Bueno — 41′ (foul)
PHI: Damion Lowe — 65′ (foul)


  1. MOTM (Mutt of the Match): the dog

  2. I liked Sullivan out there. Shoulda gotten the 90 instead of Donovan.

  3. I love the way the dog didn’t hesitate and went straight for the ball…had more control than most on that horrid pitch. Bottom line, Union got a result with their backups despite the conditions. Of course they should have won, but we should feel confident they can handle Alianza at home.

  4. I understand how and why neither team wanted to play the ball on the field, but with all the “boom balls,” it reminded me of watching youth soccer. The Union should do much better at home with more of their usual XI and being able to roll the ball. They need to guard against a slow start.

    • THey will be playing on the third day after the Chicago match and the fourth day before they go to Montreal. Do not be surprised if there is a similar degree of squad rotation.

      • Vince Devine says:

        I would expect the rotation occurring with the Chicago and Montreal games, both bottom of the table clubs, with the starters mostly going in the must win CCL game.

      • Atomic Spartan says:

        Won’t happen. You do know Jim Curtin, right?

  5. Sullivan had the best touch of any Union player on that pitch. Shout out to the fields of Northeast Philly.

  6. Quinn had the best touch of any Union player out there. Shout out the fields of Northeast Philly.

  7. Gruncle Bob says:

    It was wonderful to see a well officiated game. The difference between the Liga MX ref and Penso is gigantic. Last night – no “touch fouls”, on Saturday, every Miami player touched by a defender leapt in the air, went to ground and grabbed a body part and was rewarded by Penso with a foul call. Last night – no time outs, 2+ minute breaks while a player writhes on the ground. There were at least 3 on Saturday. There are good officials in North America. Why doesn’t MLS have any?

  8. I’ll take the win of none broke an about there. Looking forward the 2nd leg at home.

  9. Considering how hard it is for anyone to sneak anything into the Soob, how did someone sneak in their dog? I get that the game was in San Salvador but that’s impressive.
    The game reminded me of Curtin’s quote from last year, “if you want a street fight, we can do that. If you want to play soccer, we can do that, too.” When it became clear that Alianza wanted to play a typical CONCACAF game the Union players adjusted and changed how they played to use more of those dark arts. Martinez seems to be rubbing off on many of them, in particular Bueno showed he had a good understanding of what he could get away with and how far to push the Alianza players.

  10. pragmatist says:

    That was ugly. There were more than a few passes that simply didn’t make their target because the turf was so slow. The players never got used to the slow speed. It was like watching pro golfers trying to putt at a muni.
    We could have/should have snagged a goal at some point, and the away goals are huge in these competitions. I just hope that doesn’t come back to bite us.
    But it’s still a good position and no one got hurt. We’ll call it a mild success.
    It will be an entirely different game on Tuesday for so many reasons, mostly the field and the urgency of the players. It will be a good early test for this group.

  11. I’d add Damion Lowe to the list of players that impressed.
    I don’t know what Curtin sees in Donovan. To me he screams “not good enough.” I’ll give him half a break for last night, though, that mask looked brutal to play through.

    • Cory Burke was not immediately an MLS-level super-sub at striker. Give the kid some time. He got himself some chances. We are criticizing him because he didn’t finish them.

      • pragmatist says:

        I agree. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t finish his chances, and he had a couple of loose touches, but he’s still young and that mask makes things tough. On top of that, he was trying to navigate that landmine field.
        I realized that last night needs to be thrown out the window on evaluating him. Let’s see a larger sample size before jumping to conclusions. And believe me, I was doing the same jumping last night! But in the light of day I realize it was a poor sample of his abilities last night.

  12. Evildunk99 says:

    Lowe – physical, quick, communicated well from what I could see, decent touch. Was late to a 50/50 ball in a dangerous spot that Glesnes probably would’ve recognized in the build up; overall gave me confidence he could step in if needed.
    Torres – great header opportunity that was saved by the GK. Had trouble controlling the ball on the terrible pitch, lacked some chemistry with the new faces resulting in some missed connections. Would like to see him develop something with Sully as they will be regular subs together.
    Sullivan – the talent is there, just needs more time on the field, hopeully JC can give him more spot starts.
    Donovan – really fast, saw glimpses of technical ability on the ball, but needs refinement and some strength development. Not giving up on him like others might be, give him two-way mins with U2.
    Perea – looks like a natural MLS D-mid.
    Bueno – a bit too excited in the moment with some overly aggressive challenges; want to see him on a normal pitch to verify on-the-ball improvements.
    Harriel – may be a bold call on him, but i wonder if we’ve seen his ceiling already? We know he’s great on defense, I like his service into the box, and a great aerial threat on corners, but doesn’t seem like there’s any improvement on the ball. Reminds me of Flach in that sense.
    Mcglynn – kid has earned more mins, but how do we give them without losing our defensive bite with Flach/Brujo? I’ve concluded his lack of athleticism does not matter at the MLS level. We’ll see in Europe eventually.
    Others – can we give mins to one of: Craig, Raff, Sorenson, Pierre vs Chicago?
    JC – wondering if the rotation means JC will try a new formation look vs. Chicago with Uhre as lone striker? He usually subs off in the 60th min anyway and they can then revert to the normal 4-4-2 if it isnt going well. If it goes well he can get more mins. I feel like JC wants to get him a goal to kickstart his confidence.

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