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Philadelphia Union eliminates D.C. United from Leagues Cup on penalty kicks



Photo by Carl Gulbish

The Philadelphia Union defeated DC United on penalty kicks Thursday night at Subaru Park in the opening knockout round of Leagues Cup. After playing to a scoreless draw, Olivier Mbiazo secured the Union’s advancement in the sudden-death stage penalty kicks.

The match was sloppy and physical, but the Union avoided an early disappointment after entering the knockout stage of the tournament with high expectations.

Jim Curtin rolled out a familiar 3-5-2 against D.C., which featured Damian Lowe in the backfield and Jose Martinez paired with Jesus Bueno at defensive midfield positions.

Mikael Uhre nearly drew first blood in the fourth minute of play, when he faced DC keeper Alex Bono on a breakaway run. However, Bono was able to cut down on Uhre’s angle and keep the shot from posing any real danger.

Andre Blake followed with a nice stop of his own moments later, when he tipped a rifled shot from 19-year-old midfielder Jackson Hopkins just over the crossbar.

Philadelphia looked like the better team as the first half wore on. It had cleaned up its inefficiencies in the backfield and looked to be just one pass away in the attacking third from finding the match’s first goal. Time and time again, the Union got stuck in the penalty area and could not find the net.

Christian Benteke nearly gave D.C. the lead in the dying minutes of the first half. Benteke received a pass near the top of the 18-yard box and faced only Blake in front of net. While Benteke’s shot looked well placed and set to slip under Blake’s outstretched legs, the goalkeeper was able to get enough on the ball to deflect it toward the right side of the net and send the two teams into the locker rooms drawn with no goals scored.

Both teams struggled coming out of the break. Sloppy giveaways and weak attacking movement defined the opening moments of the second half.

Philadelphia nearly scored the match’s opening goal in the 64th minute, as Julian Carranza got a touch on a long ball near the edge of the penalty area before the ball trickled into the goal. However, the referee ruled that Carranza had pulled down Donovan Pines in a foot race toward the net to stop the shot and called the goal back.

A scuffle between the two teams broke out soon after. D.C.’s Chris Durkin tackled Daniel Gazdag from behind before stepping over him, and Gazdag responded by shoving Durkin to the pitch while he was already laying on the pitch. Philadelphia avoided any ejection for Gazdag, though he did earn a yellow card.

The match got sloppier as it went on. Mbaizo earned a caution soon after Gazdag, and referee Rosendo Mendoza lost control of the game.

Both teams had good looks at the end of the second half, including a late-game volley attempt by Chris Donovan in stoppage time. But neither team could finish the job in regulation, and the game went straight to penalty kicks.

Gazdag missed. Carranza scored. Jack Elliott scored. Jack McGlynn scored. Bueno scored. And when D.C.’s Pedro Santos hit the post and Mbaizo scored, the Union survived an elimination threat and moved on.

Mbaizo didn’t have the best match of his career, but he scored the only goal that mattered in penalty kicks, making him the man of the match. While he requested a transfer from the Union less than a month prior, he stepped up for his club in a big way Thursday night.

The Union will face the New York Red Bulls in the Round of 16 of Leagues Cup. The date and time of the match has yet to be determined.

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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