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Late goals lead to 1-1 draw in first leg of Champions League semifinal



Photo by Carl Gulbish

The Philadelphia Union tied LAFC in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League semifinal on Wednesday night, with a 1-1 score. Late goals from Daniel Gazdag and Kellyn Acosta closed another thriller from the two sides, which most recently met in an instant classic in the 2022 MLS Cup Final.

The draw spells issues in the future for the Union, which could suffer from giving up a goal at home. The Union must now win the second leg of the semifinal when they face LA in just under a week.

Jim Curtin put a similar lineup on the pitch as he had against Toronto FC a few days prior, with the lone change in the starting XI coming when Olivier Mbaizo took the pitch over Nathan Harriel.

Both teams were active in the opening moments of play. While MLS form may have favored LAFC, it was Philadelphia that spent more time on the attack. The visitors relied heavily on the counter-attack, while the Union was allowed to probe the LAFC defense as it pleased.

Despite the intensity, it took more than 20 minutes of action for either team to register a shot, when Denis Bouanga got the attack started with an easy shot against Andre Blake.

The Union’s best chance of the first half came in the 40th minute when Mikael Uhre received a through-ball similar to the one he had scored on in the team’s previous match against Toronto FC. However, instead of finishing this chance, Uhre was pushed toward the left side of the pitch and was unable to get a clean shot off against John McCarthy, who smothered the ball.

The two teams got into a shoving match near the end of the first half, after Jakob Glesnes slid into Carlos Vela. Jose Martinez and Mbaizo began a scuffle with several LAFC players, though no cards came during or after the event. The fight also only resulted in two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the half.

It appeared the Union got its first goal in the 58th minute when Gazdag finished a rebound from a shot off of McCarthy. However, the assistant referee indicated that Gazdag was inches ahead of Aaron Long, and the score remained even.

LAFC had a fantastic chance to score in the 66th minute, as Jose Cifuentes escaped pressure and got a difficult shot off near the net. However, Blake made a show-stopping save to keep the match even as intensity heated up on both sides.

Philadelphia finally earned its goal late in the game, when Gazdag converted a penalty kick in the 86th minute. Gazdag was given the chance at the mark by VAR, which determined that Acosta deflected a shot in the box with his elbow.

The Union’s lead wouldn’t hold. As the match trickled into stoppage time, Acosta made a late run into the Union’s box and drove the ball past Blake to tie the game.

Acosta’s goal would hold the draw for LAFC, as the Union faced the difficult truth of giving up a goal at home. The match finished 1-1, a massive result for the visitors.

Despite the disappointing ending, Mbaizo looked the best player on the pitch for Philadelphia. After Harriel earned several starts in recent matches, Mbaizo established himself against Los Angeles. He made explosive plays and added a fire to the right side of the pitch.

The Union next faces LAFC at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2 at BMO Stadium for the second leg of the battle.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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