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Undone at Altitude: Philadelphia Union Champions Cup run ends in embarrassing defeat



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

Full of belief and confidence after a scoreless draw in the first leg, the Philadelphia Union were completely undone at altitude and knocked down a few pegs in the process as they bowed out of the Concacaf Champions Cup with a 6-0 loss Tuesday night.

Playing at 7,814 feet above sea level at Estadio Hildago in Pachuca was always going to be a tough task but the officiating made it harder on the Union early when Kai Wagner was called for a push in the back after video review and Salomón Rondón fired the hosts in front 1-0 from the spot in the 7th minute.

Rondon nearly doubled the lead in the 20th minute with a great turn and low shot in front of goal but Andre Blake was able to make a quick reaction save to deny the former Premier League striker.

The save seemed to give the Union some momentum as they started to work their way more into the game. The visitors were finally able to register their first shot on goal when Jack McGlynn fired from distance in the 42nd minute and it looked like they might be settling in when Rondon was able to lay the ball off as he was falling down in the box to a teammate who hit it upper 90 with a nice finish. Fortunately for the Union the flag went up for offside. What felt like danger averted quickly turned into an even later dagger from Rondon, who made it 2-0 just before halftime when he danced his way around the box past Nathan Harriel, Alejandro Bedoya, Jakob Glesnes and Damion Lowe to roof one on Blake after a give and go with Érick Sánchez.

Staring down a two-goal deficit, the Union came out of halftime hoping to get that elusive away goal but Pachuca wasted little time slamming the door shut – with all 10 of the Union’s fingers in the way – when Rondon finished the hat trick in the 53rd minute. As the realization started to sink in that the road was ending short of the semifinal for the first time in three Champions Cup campaigns Pachuca just kept on toying with their opponents. They tacked on three more goals to double the score, each one seemingly more infuriating than the next.

By the time the referee finally put the game out of its misery, the scoreboard read 6-0 in favor of the hosts. The defeat wasn’t just unprecedented for the Union – their worst in franchise history – but nearly unprecedented for MLS as well. The loss matched Columbus Crew for worst defeat in a Champions Cup knockout game for an MLS team against a Liga MX side. That loss was 21 years ago to a team not currently in the Mexican top flight in Club Atlético Morelia.

If there is a silver lining from that embarrassing display, the Union won’t have schedule congestion to blame for an empty tank at least until they start playing games over an international break. They are done in Champions Cup, aren’t competing in the U.S. Open Cup and MLS is still giving teams a month off from the regular season for Leagues Cup.

With the regular season now the focus, the Union will still be racking up some miles with a trip to Austin this weekend and a trip to Portland the following Saturday. Winless through the first two league games, it will be a chance to turn the tide amidst a flurry of questions that undoubtedly surround the team after what just transpired.


Matthew Ralph is the managing editor of Philadelphia Soccer Now / Brotherly Game. He's covered soccer at all levels for many years in the Philadelphia region and has also written for, NPSL, PrepSoccer and other publications. He lives with his wife and two young children in Broomall, Pa., but grew up in South Jersey and is originally from Kansas.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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