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Why the Philadelphia Union can get a result in Guadalajara



Photo by Carl Gulbish

Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union face a tall task tonight, with their Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal match taking place at the infamous Estadio Jalisco. Atlas FC’s home ground is one that few international teams have found success at.

To make matters worse, when Atlas appeared out of the competition after a shocking 4-1 defeat in their opening match, they battered C.D. Olimpia 4-0 to advance to the next round. Optimism feels hard to come by with just a 1-0 lead for Philadelphia. Despite Atlas’ remarkable comeback in the Round of 16, Curtin’s side advancing is not impossible.

Philadelphia Union are not C.D. Olimpia

As Union fans watched Atlas claw back from a three-goal deficit last month, it became shockingly clear that a significant lead would be imperative for the Union’s success in this Quarterfinal. With only a Daniel Gazdag goal to boast, this slight lead feels insufficient to advance. However, it is simply more complicated. Despite their continental and domestic success, Olimpia is not a team that could hold its own at the Estadio Jalisco. With arguably the best backline in the region, Philadelphia can indeed manage to concede far fewer chances than the Honduran club. Additionally, Philadelphia possesses some of MLS’s most promising
attacking talents, who can create opportunities, even when trying to preserve a lead.

Atlas Failed to Score an Away Goal

The away goal rule has quickly vanished from the rulebooks of most worldwide competitions. However, Concacaf still uses the tiebreaker for the Champions League. The Union’s clean sheet in the tie’s first leg can not be understated. If Curtin’s side manages a single goal tonight, any aggregate tie will grant the Union a place in the competition’s semifinal. In much more simple words, one Union goal would require Atlas to score at least three to advance. This is the ultimate key to success tonight for the Boys in Blue; score a goal. Although the Union has struggled in the final third this season, they have the quality to find chances and, more
importantly, to execute at least one of them.

Atlas Displayed Weakness in Chester

Despite playing with far different expectations in an away leg, teams can only differ from their identity to a certain extent. The Union defense held an in-form Atlas attack to minimal chances last Tuesday. Additionally, Philadelphia dominated in the midfield. Curtin’s side out-dueled their opponent both on the ground and in the air and even managed to record more possession, an extremely rare feat in their system. Finally, it is crucial to note that a heroic Camilo Vargas performance is a large portion of why the scoreline reads as it does. The Colombian’s six saves denied a dominant Union side from building a larger lead. Philadelphia managed to create good chances throughout the match, but goalkeeping heroics, questionable no-calls, and a few unlucky bounces kept the tie close.

The plan is simple for the Union tonight: score. A single goal and a solid defensive performance would likely see the Boys in Blue reach a semifinal against LAFC later this month.

Here is how each second leg scenario determines who advances:

Philadelphia Win: Philadelphia Advance
Draw: Philadelphia Advance
Atlas Win 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, etc: Philadelphia Advance
Atlas 1-0 Win: Penalty Shootout
Atlas Win by 2+: Atlas Advance

Evan Cohen is a Philadelphia native currently studying at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Philadelphia Union supporter since the club's start in 2010, Evan began contributing to Philadelphia Soccer Now in 2023.

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