A first half goal from Kacper Przybylko held up to give the Philadelphia Union a 1-0 advantage ahead of their return home to Chester for next week’s decisive leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16.
Oliver Mbaizo in his first competitive start since the retirement of veteran right back Ray Gaddis delivered a ball on a platter for Przybylko that the striker deposited into the net in the 34th minute.
The goal came after a positive run of play from the Union, who didn’t looked phased playing on the road in their first official match of 2021 against a shorthanded Saprissa team that hasn’t won in league play since February.
Przybylko returned to the lineup after missing a couple weeks with back spasms and played 90 minutes. Head coach Jim Curtin gave new signing Leon Flach the start a week after he was signed and used Matt Real as a midfield sub. He used his only sub on the night to give 17-year-old rookie Quinn Sullivan his first team debut deep into stoppage time.
Moments after Sullivan subbed into the game, the hosts completely lost the plot when Ricardo Blanco slid in with a horrendous challenge on Kai Wagner. The Costa Rican veteran somehow escaped with only a yellow card on the play that sparked a lot of pushing and shoving.
“That’s a red in every part of the world,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said of the play. “I don’t understand how that was not a red card.”
Blanco’s challenge followed an earlier play where Real was shown the first yellow of the night in the 75th for an egregious tackle on Blanco. When the dust settled on the melee, referee Ismael Cornejo had handed out two additional yellows to Union players (Jakob Glesnes and Jamiro Monteiro) and two more to Saprissa players (Michael Barrantes and Daniel Colindres).
Wagner made one of the plays of the game when he cleared a ball off the line that would’ve leveled the score off a corner kick in the 71st minute. The Christian Bolaños header off a corner from Mariano Torres was one of a couple big chances the hosts had in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Kendall Waston misfired on a header after finding himself completely unmarked in front of the goal on a free kick in the 68th minute. The former FC Cincinnati and Vancouver Whitecaps center back had an earlier crack at the goal on a redirected header that went wide in the 54th minute.
In the end, the Philadelphia Union were the better team and executed the game plan for success on the road in Concacaf, handing Saprissa just their fourth loss to an MLS team in the current format of the competition while raising the temperature of what promises to be an intriguing second leg next Wednesday night in Chester.
“We’re at halftime now in a good position up 1-0 but there’s a lot of work to do,” head coach Jim Curtin said post-game.
The win was the first in Champions League play in club history in their debut and the 100th career victory for Curtin.
“I think our city and our players can all be proud of what we did today,” Curtin said. “It’s a big victory.”