Match Report

Match report: Philadelphia Union 4-0 Alianza FC

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

On a night when fans of the winter calendar ought to have eaten their hard, frozen words, the favored Philadelphia Union gave them something to cheer for anyway, demolishing El Salvadora side Alianza FC 4-0 at Subaru Park. The stadium was roughly half full (8,137 was the announced number) including a bevy of visiting tifosi, and without a national broadcast partner, fans who weren’t in the stands were more than likely to be following along on Twitter than on the small screen.

The home side featured a lineup that was halfway between what the team rolled out in El Salvador and the one they used in the league over the weekend. That made sense because game time temperature was roughly half of what it was over the weekend which was another half again below the mercury in Central America a week prior.

Early on there were chippy fouls, attempts at possession from both teams undone by the ball being literally a solid piece of frozen nonsense, and a Jose Martinez rocket from 40 yards that nearly found the bottom corner. In other words, it was Peak Concacaf immediately. In the 6th minute, the Union forced a turnover on the wing that was quickly pinged to an overlapping Bedoya. His cross found the foot of Daniel Gazdag who, in rounding the goalkeeper, was brought down. No initial call was made and after a long pause, no video was reviewed either. Union fans booed heartily but the team’s attacking midfielder ought to just have scored instead.

Bedoya put another cross in a few minutes later that was dummied by Joaquin Torres and smashed into the keeper’s outstretched hands by an onrushing Gazdag. The Union were going for blood right from the start – and this was not just Route 1 Union, but “2018, ABAC, tiki-taka Union” – inasmuch as that’s possible with this team.

A third chance on the right, this time off the foot of Torres, was gobbled up by the Alianza keeper before it could find Julian Carranza’s far post run. The Union were nothing if not their right-sided selves. In fact, the first goal of the night came off a Union corner from that side, bouncing around in the box and eventually slid into the net by Gazdag at the far post – but after some consultation, as neither the official nor his linesman had a good view of the play – the goal was called back. It was the second controversial call of the night, but certainly not the last.

To that end, the visitor’s first shot came in the 27th minute after a few fouls in the midfield went ignored. The team worked the ball from right to left and took a chance that ended up in the 10th row. In the 33rd, the visitors nearly had their prize – a caromed ball bounced almost impossibly through the entire home team’s pressing line, springing a break. Only Nate Harriel’s full-field defensive effort stymied the possession for naught.

The game turned completely in the 40th minute when Alexis Montes, already on a yellow card, was caught behind an overlapping Harriel and brought him down from behind. He was given a second yellow and sent off, though from the press box it appeared as though the Union’s right back was actually offside before the call was made. There was no video review for either infraction and thus the Union were up a man.

Just before halftime, the Union finally opened their account in this two-legged tie. Off a Kai Wagner corner kick, center back Damion Lowe flicked his near post header to the bottom corner of the far piping. It was not more than the hosts deserved and given the moment in the game, a massive tally. Former Philly Soccer Page contributor Kevin Kinkead all but Babe Ruth’d the goal, and apparently Jim Curtin and Co. were watching.

The second half started with Lowe flicking another corner toward the far post. This time, Gazdag ran onto it and put it in the net. It was 2-0 Union before most fans had found their seats after the interval – and then it was 1-0 again as VAR took the host’s tally back for offside. Gazdag was summarily brought down in the box moments later with a hard shoulder, but the official wasn’t having any of that either, nor the video assistant.

The game felt like it was cooling down when Gazdag switched fields for Harriel overlapping with Bedoya. The right back sprayed a ball toward Carranza at the spot and, after it popped up on him, tried a bicycle kick. Rather than the ball however, the Union attacked’s foot met the head of an Alianza defender and he was shown a yellow. In Concacaf, “cooling down” means “kicking the opponent in the face,” naturally.

In the 58th minute, there were Union shouts for a penalty when Carranza’s half volley soared over the net. There was no initial call but the referee went to the monitor as the ball certainly touched a hand on replay – he determined the infraction was worthy of a spot kick and Gazdag was already there, waiting with the ball, ready to strike. The team’s number ten put the keeper to the right and the ball to the left, scoring just where his disallowed goal went in, re-making the scoreline 2-0 in favor of the Boys in Blue. A Union triple substitution happened shortly thereafter and the hosts began to kill the game with possession.

Damion Lowe continued his strong night in defense and the Union continued to possess, counter, and stay firmly planted in the heads of the Salvadoran guests. A Joe Bendik save earned an “Ole” of a cheer from the Sons of Ben, the supporters knowing the odds were in their team’s favor despite the half chance. Jack McGlynn, who had already put his stamp on the match with some poised possession, nearly scored but his top of the box shot was parried away. It was a great sequence, but one that felt like a rounding error on an already-solved problem – though the Union kept swarming, not letting the white-shirted visitors out of their own defensive third.

The intensity paid off when Wagner won a long ball in his own corner and fed McGlynn down the line, who then played Sullivan through. The homegrown picked up his head, switched fields, and found Andres Perea making the trailing run. The new midfielder settled the cross and smashed the ball past an onrushing goalkeeper into the bottom left corner. Perea got his second just a few minutes later when another cross, this one calmly slid through by Mikeal Uhre, found his right foot. He finished equally as cooly in the far post again, passing the ball in for a 4-0 lead. But for a diving keeper, he’d have had his hat trick too just a minute later. Jesus Bueno nearly made it five but for a diving save too but it wasn’t to be.

There was no additional time as the officiating crew, for the sake of both team’s health, pride, and core body temperature, called the match at exactly 90 minutes.

Three Points
  • Pressure makes diamonds, and avalanches – The Union weren’t perfect, but they were as good as they’ve been in 2023. They pressed, passed, and possessed their way to a well-deserved victory – man advantage or not.
  • The Beautiful Game – The Union aren’t always beautiful in their build up, and that’s generous even given the idea of beauty being subjective. However, they were objectively locked in with the ball on the night, running circles, triangles, and other geometric shapes all over the pitch.
  • “The unlock” – Sometimes it takes a big win for a team to realize or remind itself it’s actually good. This might have been that game, for all the reasons mentioned above. The tech community calls this “an unlock.”
Philadelphia Union

Joe Bendik, Nathan Harriel, Jakob Glesnes, Damion Lowe, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez (Jesús Bueno, 65′), Alejandro Bedoya (Andrés Perea, 65′), Jack McGlynn, Daniel Gazdag (Chris Donovan, 84′), Joaquin Torres (Mikeal Uhre, 65′), Julian Carranza (Quinn Sullivan, 77′)
Subs: Holden Trent, Damion Lowe, Matthew Real, Olivier Mbaizo, Brendan Craig, Jack Elliott, Andres Perea, Leon Flach, Jeremy Rafanello

Alianza FC

Mario Gonzalez, William Canales, Henry Romero, Ivan Mancia, Alexis Montes, Oscar Rodriguez (Mario Jacobo, 45′), Elias Rivas, Narciso Orellana, Isaac Potrillo, Rodolfo Zelaya (Miguel Murillo, 70′), Michell Mercado (Emerson Hernandez, 89′)
Subs: Yonatan Guardado, Jose Palacios, Emerson Mauricio, Hamilton Benitez

Scoring Summary

PHI, 45+’ – Lowe

PHI, 63′ – Gazdag (PEN)

PHI, 81′ – Perea

PHI, 84′ – Perea

Disciplinary Summary

AFC, 18′ – Alexis Montes

AFC, 40′ – Alexis Montes (2nd Yellow, Red)

PHI, 55′ – Carranza

PHI, 73′ – McGlynn


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    It took awhile for the team to adjust to the wind but once they got going, the Union were clearly the better team.
    The third goal was really well played by the team as the transition from defense to offense was flawless. That’s the kind to hopefully get them untracked for the season. I was hoping Uhre would find the back of the net at some point but alas we are still waiting for him to get going (although his pass on the 4th goal was top notch).
    It was a bit chilly but still not as cold as a year ago yesterday when they beat San Jose 2-0.

    • That San Jose game was colder by my feel as well! Maybe this one felt warmer because we DOOPED more??
      Good solid work by all the Union players. Even keeping their heads with the choppy nature of the fouls. On to the next!

  2. Good work by the Union to get the win. I do wish we could’ve watched the game either online from a Union feed, or through one of the broadcast partners, or even Apple TV. I did appreciate the live feed on the Union page at least to track what was happening and reading about some of the high points. and kudos to both the Union players and to the fans that attended for braving the weather that was brutally cold out there.
    Hopefully this return to a multiple goal game will lead to good things for the Union. It would be nice to see them get back to their scoring ways. This game was probably a warm up for what’s going to be another cold game on Saturday at Montreal. Hopefully their experience in the weather will lead to further good performances from the Union.

    • I fumbled around trying to find a way to watch online. I have Hulu live tv and was able to use Hulu as a provider at Fox SP for a sign in. I don’t believe FSP is available on Hulu, but the sign in worked. I was going to use a free trial of Vix+, which was pointed out on this page yesterday in the comments.

      • I was happy to pay the $15 for FSP on DirecTV. Loved the intensity of the game and the players looked like they did not miss a beat from last year (contrary to the game on Saturday).

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Looks like Atlas also won 4-0 to overcome there 1-4 loss in their first game so the Union will play Atlas (Guadalajara) in the next round.

  4. Deez Nuggs says:

    Well that was fun. We DOOP’d. In fact I think we DOOP’d twice extra before we knew it was taken back. This easily could have been 8 or 9-0. How that early takedown wasn’t a DOGSO penalty I’ll never know. It ended up not mattering and the game never looked in doubt. Allianza really struggled with the cold, and by the time Perea scored I had already commented that they had no shape whatsoever. And then they let him make that same run unguarded 4 more times. They’re lucky he only bagged two.

    • I thought the keeper had gotten a touch on the ball. What I didn’t understand is how it ended up being a goal kick. I would of thought it was either a penalty or a corner. By the 70th minute Alianza looked like they had no interest in being there any longer.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        That would be the explain, except from where I was sitting, it looked pretty clear that Gazdag had played past the keeper. The keeper was trying to reach behind himself to get to the ball and took the foot instead. That’s the thing right, if the keep got a finger to it, I would argue still a foul because it would have been more played into him than anything he did and he took down the man, especially since it looked like Daniel could have got to it and played in, but it would have been a corner. If Daniel played it last, then it is also a pen.

      • It should have been a pen. That happened right in front of me in 138. Gazdag knocked the ball forward to round the keeper, and the keeper then took him out.

  5. Deez Nuggs says:

    You know how Man City rotates the lineup incessantly and never really looks worse because of it? That’s starting to look like the Union. I am blown away by that. We now have a complete backup depth without downgrading at any position (except perhaps keeper, though Bendik is mls caliber).

    • This
      I’ve been waiting for a long time for Jim to trust his bench and I think we have finally reached that point
      We acquired the right pieces this year (have we ever had 3 new guys come in an make an immediate impact?)

      • Aside from year one when everyone was new!

      • Atomic Spartan says:

        Hope you’re right. But it’s still a small sample size. Curtin has a history of rotating lineups only when there’s a gun to his head. That’s been the case so far. I’ll believe he’s really learned to rotate when he has done so in MLS games more than 3 days apart.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        It is a small sample size. BUT… whether Curtin does rotate more or not, I didn’t feel like there was a massive gulf in quality like we have had before.

  6. Deez Nuggs says:

    It felt like Gazdag was just having fun out there. Trying stuff. Nutmegs, dummies, rainbowing defenders, backheels. He just looked like he was feeling it. Particularly second half.

  7. Gruncle Bob says:

    Very very nice. It’s great to see the new acquisitions/younger players contributing so much.

  8. No where near as cold as I thought it would be. We seemed to be sheltered from the wind. It has been a while since I’ve seen a ball blown off the the goal kick line by a howling wind.
    No smoking at the stadium, all beer and soda poured into cups: CONCACAF rules or changes at the Park?

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I was wondering whether the cups were because of CONCACAF or because of the wind (wanting to limit what objects got blown onto the field.
      Where were you sitting that the wind wasn’t a problem? I know along the bridge side sidelines it was pretty bad, especially in the second half when most of the play was away from the river end.

      • I was in 108 about 10 rows up and it was surprisingly calm. Walking along the upper concourse to get to the stadium club the wind was really howling, so we really lucked out.
        Before heading out my son and I were debating the over/under of 2000 in attendance and I was so pleased to see the stadium at least half full. In years past it would have been mostly empty, and it’s so great to see and feel the fan energy this year.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        Cups were because CONCACAF. I noted the opposing fans throwing stuff around the time of the 3rd goal, when the game was well and truly gone.

      • When we asked at our concession stand about the cups, the server said it was because it was an international.
        That was consistent with the thoroughness the security check upon entry.
        WE have to remember that back in the really early 70s there is a Central American event called the Soccer War, fought between Belize and Honduras I think. Now it lasted only a few days, but there is a reason why pitches down there are surrounded by heavy cyclone fencing sometimes topped with razor wire.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        El Salvador and Honduras, actually.

  9. Mrdivothead says:

    Gazdag had an interesting game. Ball appeared to be going in off Lowe’s head before he finished it for the goal called back for offside. Then he converts the penalty. Followed by being in the line of fire for a Union shot that was goalbound that would have made it 3-0.

  10. Evildunk99 says:

    Braved the cold last night and it was worth it, great to see the team having fun.
    Applause to the traveling away fans, they gave everyone in attendance some energy which may have not been supplied if they had not been there.
    Love the depth of this team!
    With Alianza kind of giving up in 2H, hard to take much away tactically, but going forward, I’m hoping the depth of the team allows JC to try some new tactics and formations. I’d still like to see a formation with Uhre as a lone ST when we rotate.
    If you have to play @Montreal, what better time to do it? 0 goals on the season for them, some injuries + outbound transfers looking like a bottom feeder this year.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I don’t think you’ll see too many single striker formations from Curtin. He likes having 2 so they can hold the other team’s center backs and then pull them wide with their diagonal runs. Perea’s second goal is exactly what he’s looking for (Uhre’s run), and that’s less effective without a second striker up there to occupy the other center back and therefore open the space into which the midfielder runs.

      • Evildunk99 says:

        Explained well, thanks. I was thinking single ST as a different look to throw off opponents when they prepare for us.

    • Uhre alone up top runs into the same problem Kacper had – he’s not really a hold up forward
      Uhre is all about running into space, and that’s a lot tougher to do with two CBs tracking you

  11. I think this was a game the Union needed. They seemed so much more relaxed the second half.
    Couldn’t make it. Last minute call based off the weather. (Was going to take Father-in-law to the game, but he said “no way”).
    So, I got a free 7-day trial of FUBU with the extra sports package to watch the game (and the very end of the Austin debacle) then cancelled.
    Love this team, love how everyone steps up. Uhre will get there. He isn’t a hold-up striker…nor should we expect him to be. He is a runner, space creator, and will eventually punish teams who give him the space.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      Uhre did well with the time he had. His assist was on a platter. But I was watching the first half, where Alianza was squeezing the midfield and keeping the lines together. There was so much space and I said “this is tailor made for Uhre to run into”. Carranza was trying to stretch the field by standing just offside a lot of the time and trying to get the cb to drift. But Uhre would have just run through. By the time he got on though, they were bunkered in and a man down, and so I think he did well for that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *