The Philadelphia Union returned to Concacaf Champions League play on Tuesday night in San Salvador and while the game and the zero on the scoreboard at the end wasn’t pretty, the team returns home intact and with many of the starters rested for another Saturday-Tuesday turn in the schedule.
The highlight of the night and the thing maybe no one who watched the game will forget was when a dog ran onto the field in the 68th minute.
Yes, a dog running onto the field was the highlight of the night.
“The dog being on the field is a very Concacaf thing,” head coach Jim Curtin said post-game. “It was funny. I hope the dog’s okay; seemed like a nice dog.”
Best thing you'll see all day. 🐶
Doggo just trying to score a goal. pic.twitter.com/ycikSNGlTz
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 8, 2023
By the time the dog entered the fray and stopped play, Curtin had subbed in a trio of starters in Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Jose Martinez but the starting XI only had three players from the team that started in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday night.
“We changed eight players from Miami, which is not in my nature,” Curtin said. “I’ve told you guys before when you rotate more than four you’re really putting your your group at risk. But I have to say we believe in our depth for sure. We have the strongest team we’ve ever had in terms of guys that can come in off the bench and change the game for us.”
A scoreless draw on a field that seemed to stifle the home team as much as it did the visitors isn’t the best place to judge that depth; that will be for another time. As a team, the Union only completed 57% of their passes and had to settle far too often with hoofing the ball down field and hoping for something, dare I say Concacafy, to happen.
“Going into the game, we knew there wouldn’t be much football because of the condition of the field for both teams,” Curtin said. “It’s very difficult to pass and move and it’s a shame because I think they have real high quality players. They’re champions for a reason, they’re first place for a reason and I think that you know, the field maybe turned it into an ugly game.”
An ugly game on an painfully ugly field – with a magical pitch invasion to add some levity – isn’t going to win over many casuals flipping channels to FS1 on a Tuesday night but it positions the Union well in their quest to advance to the next round of the continental competition.
Concacaf Champions League isn’t known for its beauty, after all.
It’s the hard scrabble, anything can happen nature of it that makes it such an important proving ground for teams looking to make a name for themselves beyond their domestic league. If given the choice of wondering whether Kai Wagner would ever walk again because of a vicious challenge late in a game the Union won or brainstorming new hashtags for a dog pitch invader in a game they drew, you take the dog every time.
“I thought our guys executed a plan really well,” Curtin said. “Like I said the soccer and combinations and one and two touch play was kind of out the window tonight. It just became about rolling your sleeves up and fighting.”
They’ll fight it out with Alianza FC once more on a more suitable pitch for soccer in front of a crowd full of their fans next Tuesday night at 8 p.m.