Match Report

Match report: Philadelphia Union 1-1 Los Angeles FC

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The Philadelphia Union drew Los Angeles FC on a rainy night in Chester in the first leg of the team’s Concacaf Champion’s League semifinal.

First half

The visitors started the match sitting deep, with all eleven players well inside their defensive half. As a result, the Union had the bulk of possession early on and nearly an early goal. After Jakob Glesnes nutmegged his mark at midfield, he switched the ball to Kai Wagner on the left. The Union’s left-sided fullback switched fields again, and his ball across the face of goal was headed back where it came to Julian Carranza. The striker’s flick hit the near post and the chance was off.

The result of their bunker meant the Angelinos’ counterattack was blunted – there was simply too much space between them and the Union goal. For the first twenty minutes, two boxers simply danced around each other, not quite throwing punches so much as seeing what kind of punches they might throw, should the time moment present itself.

In the twenty-fifth minute, such a moment came. After a rough touch from Carranza checking back to the ball, the counter was sprung. It was Dennis Bouanga, who else, who received a quick pass on the left, cut inside, and attempted to curl a ball to Andre Blake’s far post. The keeper was rooted to his spot, but the chance was wide.

For as much as the home side led the first fifteen minute movement, the visitors conducted the second. The Union looked nervy; lots of possession, but too many unforced giveaways in breaking down their guests. Both Daniel Gazdag and Jose Martinez looked up for the game, but only just without their regular touch to match.

Half chances in the mid-thirties saw both Mikael Uhre have a close shot deflected and Carranza nearly find a skipping pass from the cultured left foot of Jack McGlynn. Neither found the net, but the match was opening and the Union weren’t simply settling for lofted balls over the top – though that was a preferred and continually useful option for them against the FC back line, as the visitor’s line of engagement crept forward and gaps opened behind them.

Right on cue, it was Uhre through thanks to some savvy defending in the Union’s defensive third. His first touch took him a few paces wider than he preferred however and John McCarthy came out to snuff the chance. Suddenly the match was wide open and creeping toward its ever-expected level of physicality.

In the forty-third minute, that level arrived. Jakob Glesnes’s loose touch out of some high pressure in the back put a ball squarely between his feet and Carlos Vela’s. Vela didn’t touch the ball during his sliding attempt and Glesnes clattered the attacker’s legs as they both stretched. Some pushing and shoving ensued, but it was mostly saber-rattling and neither player was injured, the game continued, and no cards were issued – it was a very solid piece of officiating in a moment that could’ve boiled over.

In nearly the half’s final touch, Carranza found the team’s second best chance of the night on another ball over the top, but again it was McCarthy smothering it out.

Second half

Los Angeles opened the second half a solid forty yards further up the field than they did the first, clearly looking to catch the Union in possession and grab an early goal. Instead, it was the Union who pinned their guests in the River End, with throw ins and corners galore. Any time the ball managed to make its way to midfield, large gaps formed in the LAFC back line with Union runners streaming through – but still with nothing to show for it.

In the fifty-eighth minute, the Union finally did have something to show for it. Two passes from front to back, and Carranza put a shot on frame. McCarthy’s parry laid the ball directly in front of Gazdag, who calmly slid the ricochet home. The only problem? The assistant referee’s offside flag. It didn’t count, but it wasn’t more than the Union deserved.

The Union were frankly making LAFC’s backline look pedestrian on first balls, loping passes over the top time and again while constantly finding a friendly head or empty space. The visiting defender’s recovery runs on second balls however were something to be applauded.

The next round of cheers was for Superman himself, Andre Blake. Another back to front exchange, this time from LAFC, saw the visitors running free down the wing – while most of the rest of the stadium assumed the ball had gone out. As a result, the cross found some charging feet and only a full extension by the goalkeeper kept the ball out, and then a second chance from a back heel as well. It was really Blake’s first major action of the night and he was nearly perfect.

The match felt like a draw, like a judge’s decision, with ample amounts of quality on both sides but not quite enough to tilt the scales. Near the eightieth minute, the substitutions began – most notably with Leon Flach replacing an apparently injured Jose Martinez. The latter had been very good, despite his yellow card.

In the eighty-second, some lovely interplay on the left found the ball on the foot of McGlynn in the box. His shot was blocked by Kellyn Acosta’s outstretched arm – an initial call of corner kick was made, but after a VAR review a penalty was awarded. Much like the Union’s home match against Atlas, a tense affair had in its final act a chance from the spot. As it was in the quarterfinal, Daniel Gazdag stood over the ball – but with a much more interesting adversary this time a dozen yards away from him. This time it was the Hungarian celebrating a Union lead.

Given how well Acosta played in MLS Cup, but with a gift of a goal on a deflection that day, perhaps there was some additional poetry in his errant elbow too.

Five minutes of stoppage time were added, for injuries and the official review, and just after the board went up a late-running Acosta atoned for his penalty sin – writing his own poetic prose. The Union’s clearance didn’t make it far enough and as a result the midfield was caught on the back foot. Acosta passed both Alejandro Bedoya and Glesnes on his run toward the spot, beating Blake on a bouncing ball to the near post when the cross found his scorpion foot. The Union’s magical night was suddenly in jeopardy, the two evenly matched teams on level terms for the fourth straight time – with the Union knowing they could advance with a draw in the second leg, but that it would require either two or more goals from them or should they score only once… penalties again.

A free kick in the ninety-sixth minute wasn’t quite enough to trick McCarthy on his side, and the final whistle blew moments later.


Philadelphia Union 

Andre Blake, Olivier Mbaizo, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez (Leon Flach, 79′), Alejandro Bedoya, Jack McGlynn, Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, Mikael Uhre (Quinn Sullivan, 79′)

Unused subs: Joe Bendik, Matt Real, Brandan Craig, Damion Lowe, Joaquin Torres, Chris Donovan, Jose Perea, Brendan Craig, Nathan Harriel, Damion Lowe, Jesus Bueno

Los Angeles FC

McCarthy, Hollinsghead, Murillo, Long, Palacios, Sanchez, Acosta, Cienfuentes, Vela (Biuk, 69′), Bouanga, Opoku (Tillman, 79′)

Unused subs: Chiellini, Bogusz, Ordaz, Palencia, Maldonado, Romero, Crisotomo, Duenas

Scoring Summary

PHI: Daniel Gazdag, 86′

LAF: Kellyn Acosta, 90+1′

Discipline Summary

PHI: Jose Martinez, 61′

LAF: Kellyn Acosta, 84′


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    They were the better team tonight. Again . Just like they were the better team in November… and most the other times they’ve played tbh and all we have to show for these most recent two games is something similar to Joachim Low’s right hand. D*#€cheese.
    Had to have the clean sheet. Had to have it. I’m fucking sick about it.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      It sounds like so much sour grapes to say it but Acosta should have been off the field for that handball. Then to get the only possible goal-scoring touch on that ball? Did my head right in.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Acosta. How about it. Good for him. He’s a likeable player even on that team but 12 hours later — I’m still sick.
        Some don’t seem to mind the late gol and maybe in the micro of this home and home it will not matter.
        It speaks to an oft occurring –early Union malfeasance though. And I don’t appreciate it at all.

    • Seems to be much more of an issue this year than in previous years, just little moments of losing concentration.

  2. Soccerdad720 says:

    Tv said that MLS moved LAFCs game this weekend to “make it fair”. How nice of them. We’ve proven we can score out there…let’s get it done! Go union.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      F*ck fair. Was it fair that the Union had to play a conference final with 11 players out from COVID? It’s LA favoritism. Now LAFC will probably get to play Houston with Houston missing a bunch of players on international duty.

  3. Kinda bugs me that they stopped play for Vela being down after the collision with Glesnes but not for Wagner even though he had possibly landed on his head.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      But it was Vela. Of course the Mexican ref is going to give him a couple of special stoppages. I still haven’t figured out why he stopped the game so Vela could be subbed out.

  4. PaulContinuum22 says:

    UNACCEPTABLE. COMING FROM AHEAD AGAIN. Your season is on a knives edge and they gag it away. Goddamn this team that snaps draws.from the jaws of victory.

  5. Andy Muenz says:

    The team NEEDS to stop giving up late goals. Montreal, Toronto (even though it didn’t matter much), tonight. This team is starting to remind me of the teams from 7 or 8 years ago that just couldn’t hold the lead.

    • If Curtin would use his damm replacements PROPERLY we would have won.

      It was so obvious a number of Union players were gassed, and yet AGAIN Curtin waits until the 80th minute to replace anyone.


      Curtin puts all of his assets in to win CONCACAF with HIS performance after the 65th minute?

      I am just fed up. Coach of the Year or not. Time for a change.

      • Yes, I feel like this has been a problem forever for Curtin, but because we did well everyone just glossed over it.

  6. Flach looked lost filling in for Martinez. I hope he’s alright

    • We’ll need Martinez for the LA leg. He was so good in the game. I hope the six days between get him ready for another great game from el Brujo.

    • At the 80th, how the heck does anyone have any time to get into the flow of the game?

      Piss poor coaching. Period.

    • Eric Boyle says:

      Where was Perea or Bueno? Flach was lost at CDM last time out.

      Jim’s reluctance to sub and bad choices really hurt us.

  7. I actually like their chances of scoring 2+ in L.A. on a full week’s rest.
    As for tonight… disappointed, of course, to see the squad give up the clean sheet at the end.
    I see some in Twitter-land are questioning why more fresh legs were not brought in as the match became stretched and passing accuracy deteriorated. It seems like a fair question.
    If you were the manager, what would you have done (who in and who out)?

    • Torres for Carranza at 70. He was brought here for these moments. See if he can dance some Ilsinho circles around the tired legs of the defense.

      • Torres was my big question as well. It seemed like a good opportunity to get him in there to terrorize the tired defense. Carranza was very good all game but I would have liked to see what Torres coild have done to LAFC’s backline.

      • Torres does not defend well enough.

    • The rotation is a problem of more than just one game. With a 4-1 lead last week, subs were unused. Over the course of the season, minutes add up. So does mental fatigue. Torres, Perea and Lowe have all played well. They were brought in to play. Curtin’s unwillingness to take a gassed Bedoya out after 60 minutes is an issue. Great player, but he can be run into the ground over time. If I was the manager I would get these players more time over the course of the season.

    • I was thinking this before the penalty… with how they were playing, other than maybe the Uhre/Sullivan swap as Uhre’s legs tired, there was nothing else I thought gave us a better chance at a goal.

      Carranza/Gazdag were still getting into good spots, and my money’s on their finishing over anything else. Similarly, the team was a little shakier but still pretty sturdy defensively. Maybe Flach for McGlynn before the Brujo injury? The fresh legs would have helped, but I also don’t think Flach’s in the spot to take the shot that led to the penalty.

      The problem that I don’t know the answer to (and it’s clear Jim doesn’t either) — the whole team has looked more disjointed when Ale’s off or out, but he’s not going to be able to do this forever…

      • I think your thoughts summed it up for me:
        “The problem that I don’t know the answer to (and it’s clear Jim doesn’t either) — the whole team has looked more disjointed when Ale’s off or out, but he’s not going to be able to do this forever…”
        Someone needs to rise to the top as the obvious choice, at least situationally. And often times that can’t happen until you put players into matches.
        And I understand (1) a CCL semi might not be the best time for that if it’s unclear and (2) it can take time to acclimate to a new team.
        But the clock keeps ticking, opportunities keep dwindling, and the wear and tear keeps adding up.

  8. Will this team ever win a big game…for fuck sake…no matter the players, this team is just completely incapable of winning a big game…home or away….3 US open cup finals, 2 of them home…. L L L
    MLS Final..L
    2 concacaf semis…L and probably another L
    I guess we can cling to the eastern conference final….but I’ll be glass half empty untill they show me

    • Union do seem to have a cloud hovering about. They were lacking in several final passes. Even so, played well enough to win. Give Acosta credit for the hussle into the box but my God what luck on the goal.

    • PaulContinuum22 says:

      I hear Jesse Marsch is available for managing a soccer team…

  9. Deez Nuggs says:

    Let’s just say it. LAFC are too much for the Union to handle. And WE’RE too much for them to handle. On balance we have controlled larger parts of all these games we played, but they have a gear they hit when they’re down that we haven’t managed to snuff them. On the bright side, it ain’t over. But the downside is that we MUST SCORE.

  10. John P. O'Donnell says:

    I don’t get it. This time Jack Elliott isn’t looking to play the ball to anyone and he had Bedoya to release the ball into space. Gazdag also wasn’t giving Elliott a place to release the ball as he’s running up the field instead turning back looking to receive a pass. How they don’t play keep away and instead just accept the pressure in the final minutes…. Again. When you’re opposing your will on a team the whole game and change to a prevent defence… Whoops I meant packing it in.

    • pragmatist says:

      I love Jack, but I think he needs to give way to Lowe for the second leg. He’s just off his game and we don’t have the luxury of letting him play his way back into it during that game.

  11. The Union looked very good last night. They play that way against any other team and they win. Gotta be hopeful for the return leg and LAFC. If they get a goal and hold a clean sheet, they win. Get two goals, and anything other than a loss gets you get you through to the final. I’m confident they can do that. Hopefully they are too.
    I loved the attacking style of play from the Union. Early in the game, it look like they needed to be more clinical with their finishes. Later in the game, they looked tired and disjointed. They need to find ways to get more attacking off the bench or defense off the page depending on the game. I’m hopeful they will find that in LA.

  12. This team’s ability to find and fall on a banana peel it left on the floor is really something. I can’t blame the players who were mostly fantastic. The front three just picked the wrong night to lose their nose for goal.

    What I don’t understand is why Jim is so reluctant to make key changes and make them earlier. Are Perea and Torres so useless that they’re not even a consideration? I thought we’d improved our depth situation, and here we are, again, reluctant to make changes when plan A just isn’t working.

    Maybe one could argue plan A was fine last night, lacking only the goals and that betting they’d come eventually wasn’t a bad bet. I don’t know… I don’t think tonight was good enough to win this tie. We needed an advantage and instead we’re off to LA need ing a better result than we could conjure at home. I don’t like it.

  13. Chris Gibbons says:

    So when the U go to LA and get a draw, like they have the last 4 times they’ve gone there, and go through… will everyone still be mad they didn’t win that game either?

  14. Was I at a CONCACAF Match. Seems like it was despite being two MLS teams. Really peak CONCACAFiness. During warmups, saw the center ref do a little hat tip to some LA supporters in the front row. My paranoia kicked in……. But for all the craziness of this tournament, I love the intensity of these games.

  15. We should have won, but let LAFC stay close. Carranza, as good as he is, if he could improve his conversion rate, would be world class. He misses the sitters. We should have been up 2-0 at half but … nope.

    Martinez is a beast defensively but too many times he gave it right back, frustrating as hell. Elliott needs a break, he seems to be the weak point in the back. Lowe is faster and more agile. On to the next leg. Hope abounds!!!

    • santo bevacqua says:

      I agree with Elliott needing a break, his clearance preceding the goal was a panic one right to an la player, last november he was marking Bale when he got beat for tying goal. Both games in the final minutes. It may seem harsh to put blame on him but he is not a closer.

      • I disagree with Elliott needing a break. That clearance was not a panic clearance but rather went off a Union player who should have been anywhere else. The resulting rebound happened fast enough that the team didn’t adjust before Acosta made up for his handball.
        Jack also scored TWO goals in the MLS Cup final. There were multiple breakdowns on Bale’s game leveling goal before it came to his needing to do better.
        As for this season, his calmness on the ball, his distribution passing, and his attacking dribbling have been superb. I am all for rotating the center backs but that would be to limit over use. Lowe deserves a share of time in the lineup and I would be ok with him playing. I just disagree that Elliott needs to rest more than Glesnes.

      • ^^^ +1 to Paul. Glesnes has had a crap game or two as well. It happens. People remember Elliott’s mistakes and conveniently forget his good plays. The whole defense is a bit off this season and it’s not clear (to me at least) what the cause is. Blaming it on Jack is unfair and inaccurate.

  16. Does anyone else notice that Wagner’s set pieces are just ‘inferior’?

    Don’t exactly know why, but ‘over the defender’NEVER happens from Kai, either that or he hits the corners over everyone’s head.

    Am I the only one who sees that?

    … and that McGlynn should be taking all set pieces when he’s on the field.

    Something is NOT right with Kai, still.

    • I really think that Kia has been checking out for the last year or so…he wants so desperately to get back to Europe and it’s not happening so he is becoming disgruntled here

    • They’ve been terrible most of the season but he found guys (thinking of Glesnes on one) a couple of times last night… just couldn’t get done in the box, which was the story of the night.

  17. pragmatist says:

    Does anyone know why the ref wouldn’t let Wagner take the corner kick without the ball being in a specific place? From where I was sitting (108) it looked like it was perfectly fine, yet somehow Wagner ended up getting an elongated lecture on where to place the ball. It was the weirdest thing to watch.
    Not that it has to do with the outcome in any way, necessarily, but it was odd.

    • Kai was playing games too. The ball was barely on the line… Sec 114.

      I think Kai is just ornery cause he’s NOT quite right.

      When I saw the Ref was from Mexico, we should have known Vela would benefit, as he & LAFC did.

      • pragmatist says:

        Kai may have been in a mood, but there was nothing wrong with where he had the ball spotted. We could see it clearly. I couldn’t imagine why the ref felt the need to correct anything. Like I said, it was just weird.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Ref did a crap job with favoring Vela but ultimately that did not affect the final result.

  18. Not really unexpected says:

    The attempts to pass the ball would be comical if they weren’t so sad

    I can only express disappointment with the play of these forwards. They got beat and beat up by defenders all night

    Tanner missed the boat not fortifying that area in January – and they are paying for it now. Carranza and Uhre certainly have their moments….but are weak sauce when it matters most.

  19. Evildunk99 says:

    I am feeling pretty good about our chances in LA, even with the sour taste in our mouths thanks to Elliott’s line drive.
    It’s easy to forget that LA plays so offensive-minded and wide open when they are at home. Most teams can’t keep up, but the Union thrive in that type of environment. It was odd to see the Union possess the ball so much, because LA uncharacteristically had to just hunker down and defend for long stretches failing to play out of the back. Assuming LA can actually get past mid field with consistency, we can get out on the counter which is our bread and butter.
    A few misc thoughts:
    1) Lowe for Elliott next week.
    2) Start Flach to slow LA’s attack in the first half next week – if we haven’t scored by HT then bring in mcglynn.
    3) Start Bueno or Perea and bring in Bedoya for the final 30. .
    4) Uhre wasn’t subbed off until nearly the 80th minute (usually at 65) hopefully his endurance is building.
    5) It feels like our press has been higher up the field since the chicago game, with better success.
    6) Can’t prove it, but feels that way. Mccarthy routinely blasts goal kicks out of bounds and fears playing a bad pass… this won’t change next week.
    7) Vela wants no part of the physical battle we give him (esp with concacaf).
    8) Chellini will replace Long… does he have the legs for the unrelenting Union pace?
    9) Gotta give credit to Mbaizo last night, had LA players off balance in attack, and busted his ass getting back to stop Bouanga. Note even a yellow for a nice scuffle shove or two haha.
    10) Gonna need Blake to come up BIG next week… I think he is the key to victory.

    • May I please refer you to the last time he started Perea. Perea did not prioritize being within supporting distance of his fellow midfielders when defending.
      As long as he does not, he will not get playing time.

  20. Deez Nuggs says:

    3-3, 2-2, 3-3. The last three scores from going to their house. The Union go through on any one of those.

  21. Here is the view from Section 105 from last night’s draw that felt like a loss.

    1) This was a good, old-fashioned heavyweight fight with lots of skill on both sides. This is not just my opinion–this from this morning’s edition of The Athletic: “No disrespect to the impressive starts of the Seattle Sounders, St. Louis City, FC Cincinnati or the New England Revolution this season, but for now, there’s a clear top tier in MLS at the moment and there are only two teams in the club. Those two teams are LAFC and the Union.”

    2) The Union had more of the better chances, but as has been their pattern over the past 3 years (except for a stretch last summer), they have difficulty finishing. Lots of attempted long balls on both sides which to me, signaled that both sides were afraid of ceding goals by being out of position.

    3) Blake’s amazing save in the 80th minute kept the Union in the game.

    4) I don’t understand how Kelyn Acosta can be such a stiff in international play for USMNT and be such a Philly-killer in MLS play. To give credit where credit is due, his run from 30 yards out to get a header to put in the tying goal was both brilliant and desperate.

    5) The referee has discretion to red card a handball in the box. In this case, because the goalie was on the line, it was uncertain whether or not the shot would have scored but for Acosta’s handball, so a yellow card instead of a red was warranted.

    6) Uhre was gassed at the 65th minute. El Brujo was limping and Bedoya was also gassed. SUBS, PLEASE!

    7) In extra time with the ball in the box and the Union up 1-0, it is perfectly OK for the Union defenders to blast the ball into touch and reset the defense. “When in doubt, kick it out!”

    8) Referee Cesar Ramos is one of Mexico’s better referees and he reffed the Morocco v. France World Cup semifinal. He usually allows a lot of physical play. That said, he was pretty inconsistent about what degree of contact constituted a foul last night. He permitted a particularly egregious foul on Wagner in the offensive zone close to us that should have been called, particularly because the contact could have resulted in injury. His stopping play for the non-foul on Vela in the first half made this omission more glaring.

    9) Kai Wagner looked fit and played his usual excellent defense. In my judgment, he is the key to Philadelphia’s being being a top tier team or not. That said, I would prefer to see McGlynn take the free kicks because I think Jack is more accurate.

    10) As I mentioned in my post re: Union v. Atlas, the CCL has not caught on in Philadelphia. This was (potentially) the only time LAFC were going to be in Philadelphia, yet despite the announced crowd of 17,000+, there were lots of empty seats–I would say a more accurate estimate of the crowd was 12,000 or so.

    • Eric Boyle says:

      The attendance was larger than Saturday’s. From my view in 130 I saw a fair few Vela fans in the stands. It certainly seemed closer to a full house during halftime and exit as well. Whatever the number the crowd was noisy at least at my end which is often egged on by the SOB.

  22. Tough frustrating loss, I mean tie. Why the 9pm east coast start? Unless it was somehow weather related this likely kept a number of fans from attending.

    Uhre. Though great he finally got off against Toronto he needed to do more with that breakaway. Also went Carranza was driving left and shot it looks like Uhre was running into the box…then he stopped. Not to say the rebound would have came to him, but dude you gotta try.

    Bedoya. Love him, but after the Carranza play above, his drive down the right ended with a bad ball right back to LA.

    Mbaizo. After that play, he then took a silly foul down our end. His play makes me cring more than seeing an angry Brujo looking to foul someone.

    Finally, so Union this year to clear the ball into the back of a teammate to set up the LA score.

    I second all the other concerns brought up above. We played well enough to win handily, but didnt.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Man I said to a buddy Mbazio was stellar last night- which was high praise from me regarding the player becasue I’d still take current Ray Gaddis form over him every day and twice on Tuesday… That was around the 83rd 84th minute…
      … then he Mbazio’d and I realized we were back at the mean with him.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I thought I read that the 9pm start was because FS1 had an arena football game or something to show beforehand.

  23. who on the Union bench had the quality to be subbed into that game?
    This year against lesser teams, yes there is some.
    But there are reasons why Montreal, Houston, and Miami were willing to part with their players. And it takes time to correct those reasons, if they are correctable at all.

  24. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Does the season hinge on the LA leg next week? Here’s a ‘yes’ vote.

    • No. Too early. There’s still too much to play for. The MLS season, the Open Cup just getting underway for the bigger teams and the League’s Cup.

      I hate to travel too far down a potentially Negadelphian road, But I watched a good portion of Tigres – Leon on the other side of the CCL comp and I don’t fancy any MLS teams against the winner there. I’d love to see the U get the chance, but I would not put money on another MLS team winning it this year.

  25. Any word on Martinez?

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