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Three takeaways from Union’s Champions Cup win over Saprissa



Photo by Don Robson

Survive and advance.

The Philadelphia Union narrowly survived a challenge at home from Deportivo Saprissa on Saturday night, as Philadelphia advanced to the next stage of the Concacaf Champions Cup. With the 4-3 extra-time victory, the Union will face Pachuca on Tuesday, March 5.

After the excitement of the match, there’s plenty to dive into about what we learned about the Union during 120 minutes of action.

1. Semmle is the real deal

Sure, the Union conceded three goals, but the star of the night was still rookie goaltender Oliver Semmle. After making his professional debut against Chicago on Saturday, the Marshall man was once again called up to replace the injured Andre Blake. Semmle wasn’t perfect, but he kept the Union alive multiple times.

Semmle’s highlight reel for the evening consisted of three massive saves on breakaways. When there was truly nobody else who could’ve helped him, Semmle saved himself and his team.

Sure, Semmle could have kept one or two of the balls he let in out of the net. He nearly got a finger to the penalty shot and could have punched the cross that fell to the back right corner of the goal. Still, it’s hard to point the finger at the youngster with those plays. Five saves is five saves, and advancing with a backup goalkeeper is advancing.

2. Gritty, not pretty

What do you call a game where one team scores the winning goal in extra time while down a man? Electric.

Sure, watching the 30 minutes of extra time for the Union, notably without red-carded Jack Elliott, was as stressful as can be. But who can bet against Philadelphia right now? The Union were down 1-0 and 2-1 in their own home to open the MLS season and left with a 2-2 draw. With Elliott’s ejection, hope seemed lost as the Union entered extra time, but they still pulled out a win.

Would it be nice if the Union had won this game 3-0 and wrapped it up in a nice bow? Sure, but that’s for midseason soccer. This team is still ironing out its edges at the beginning of the year. Mistakes are (sometimes) fun and forgivable.

As long as this doesn’t happen all season long and hurt the team down the line, all is well.

3. Does anyone have the number for El Paso?

With Elliott’s (questionable) red card and Damion Lowe’s caution, the Union will be without two center backs when they play Pachuca in the next round of the CCC. Of senior team members, only Jakob Glesnes and Olwethu Makhanya will be available for action.

Either the Union faithful will get an abrupt introduction to Makhanya in the next week or Jim Curtin will have to change up his tactics. However, as a friend of Philadelphia Soccer Now pointed out, this would be a great time for the Union to still have El Paso Locomotive loanee Brandan Craig.

Sure, Craig wouldn’t be a perfect fit, but that’s what you get when two of your top three center-backs are ineligible for play. If something happens to Glesnes, the Union are looking at a true emergency. In the meantime, let’s all look up “Olwethu Makhanya highlights” on YouTube.

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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