Philadelphia Union’s Tuesday night introduction to this year’s Concacaf Champions League certainly… took place. A rather lackluster scoreless draw has the Union sitting pretty headed back to Chester next week. While a win was certainly there for the taking, a draw, and a clean sheet for that matter, is a great result.
Realistically, a draw in San Salvador on a three-day turnaround is always a great result; now factor in the eight changes to the team that lost at Inter Miami, and the result is even more impressive. While a half-full yet rowdy crowd at the Estadio Cuscatlán did not make things easy on a young second-choice Union side, the state of the pitch itself was all that anyone could notice. Despite what is almost certainly the scrappiest sporting event that I have ever watched, the Union is in pole position to advance to the Quarterfinals.
Jim Curtin has boasted the impressive depth of his squad, and they proved to be worthy of his praise. Eight players stepped into starting roles for the first time this season, and the Union still looked put together and relatively solid. Among the stand-out performers is Andres Perea, who made his first start for the club. Perea was massive in all aspects of the midfield. The offseason acquisition won a staggering nine duels in the middle.
Additionally, Venezuelan midfielder, Jesus Bueno, impressed many in his first start for the Union in his third season with the club. Bueno was everything that Union fans have come to expect in a holding midfielder: Strong, creative, and highly aggressive. Bueno was sold to fans as a copy of Jose Martinez in 2021, and tonight may have finally earned him that honor.
Despite two changes, the Union backline was what we have come to expect of this team, extremely solid. Damion Lowe’s Philadelphia debut included some excellent recoveries, and he demonstrated composure in the most uncomfortable games. Next to Lowe, Nathan Harriel looked a lot like last season when he managed to win the starting spot. The 21-year-old won an
impressive ten duels and managed an equally remarkable six recoveries. Off purely statistical measures, Harriel was the best player on the field.
Chris Donovan, Quinn Sullivan, and Jack McGlynn played significant minutes, much to the surprise of many. Although the three played decently, the shaky Alianza defense was hardly tested. While Donovan’s finishing was the most apparent negative of the fixture, it felt as though creativity was hard to come by in the first hour of the match. The field was certainly not in a position to allow for elegant soccer to be played, but it was a very uninspiring attacking effort from the Union’s young attacking core.
On that same note, the Union has failed to score in two consecutive matches following a thumping of Columbus that opened the season. For a team breaking all kinds of scoring records just six months ago, 180 scoreless minutes appear to cause panic. While a Cory Burke-sized hole remains in the Union squad, a pair of home fixtures coming up should allow the Boys in Blue to get back to their scoring ways.
This tie’s second leg will take place back in Chester next Tuesday. With a more robust team likely to take the field for the Union, a simple win-and-in scenario should create minimal worry.
We most likely see a similar situation to the Union’s 2021 Round of 16 tie, where Curtin’s side dismantled Saprissa at Subaru Park. A stronger Union side should handle Alianza with little difficulty next week.
Splitting the two legs is a league meeting with Chicago on Saturday. With Chicago boasting one of the weakest squads in MLS, expect to see some rotation from Curtin. The Union managed a defiant 4-1 victory when they last hosted the Fire and will be looking to return to good league form with a win this weekend. Despite two consecutive scoreless games, the Union is set up for success as they continue this busy stretch.