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Early Gazdag goal propels Philadelphia Union to second straight win



Photo by Mikey DeAngelis

Don’t look now but the Philadelphia Union are unbeaten through five and riding a two-game win streak after upending Western Conference leaders Minnesota United 2-0 in their first completed regular season game at home since the February opener.

Before the afternoon Kids Day match, the club honored Charlotte, a Fearless 43 member who recently completed her chemotherapy treatment. Kai Wagner assisted Charlotte in the pre-game drum banging ceremony. The Union and the rest of the crowd – announced attendance 19,047 – fed off this energy to start the match, and it showed with an early goal.

Central midfielder Daniel Gazdag scored the opening goal of the match in the 16th minute following a corner kick attempt from left back Kai Wagner. Wagner’s corner was directed toward Gazdag by center back Jack Elliott at the near post. Elliott’s skillful flick allowed the ball to trickle across the goal mouth to Gazdag at the far post.

With the 16th minute tally, Gazdag now has 43 MLS regular season goals as a member of the Union, just 7 shy of club legend Sebastian Le Toux’s franchise record. The goal was his 54th in all competitions, two shy of Le Toux’s 56.

Union head coach Jim Curtin mentioned the first 15-20 minutes would be crucial. His team seemed to take that message to heart as they put Minnesota on their heels early and never looked back.

The opening goal forced Minnesota to loosen their shape. The Loons seemed disjointed until the final 10 minutes of the half.

Philadelphia’s center backs were dragged up the pitch, which left space in behind for Finish forward Teemu Pukki on a handful of occasions. The closest chance for Pukki and Minnesota arrived in the 41st minute. However, Union goalkeeper and captain Andre Blake was up to the task and made a stellar kick save. Blake reacted perfectly once the through ball was played in Pukki’s direction. The Jamaican brick wall sprung off his line to cut down the angle on the shot and made the clutch save to preserve the lead before halftime.

Throughout the second half, Philadelphia managed to keep Minnesota under wraps.

Minnesota only fired three shots through the first 20 minutes of the second half, each of which were blocked by Philadelphia leaving Blake unbothered.

In the 65th minute, Minnesota did create a corner kick chance after a 60th minute substitution which brought South African forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane on for midfielder Caden Clark. However, the Minnesota corner kick was handled easily.

Curtin made a change a moment later bringing on veteran midfielder Alejandro Bedoya for striker Mikael Uhre. Bedoya stationed himself a bit deeper than usual in the midfield alongside Jose Martinez in an effort to aid Philadelphia’s backline with the lead still intact.

Minnesota responded by making a double swap in the 70th minute. Tani Oluwaseyi took over for Pukki and Alejandro Bran came on for Will Trapp. Rookie MLS head coach Eric Ramsay was clearly hoping to gain more possession while hoping for more opportunities to get in behind Philadelphia’s backline as time ticked off the clock.

Luckily for Philadelphia, Minnesota’s Emanuel Reynoso was stuck in Argentina finalizing immigration paperwork and was not able to play. Saturday marked the third match Reynoso has missed so far this year.

In the 74th minute, Philadelphia were forced to make a concussion substitution after Blake required medical assistance. The training staff evaluated the Union 33-year old captain for multiple minutes before deeming him unable to continue. Backup keeper Oliver Semmle entered the match on Blake’s behalf and ultimately helped preserve the clean sheet victory.

Philadelphia were still interested in playing on the front-foot despite the defensive-minded substitution in the 66th minute. They created back-to-back-to-back corner kick attempts as the clock passed the 80 minute mark.

Then, they almost blew it. But thankfully, Minnesota were caught offside on a very dangerous counter-attacking opportunity, which ended with a disallowed goal.

And then came the 84th minute insurance goal from Julian Carranza, sending Minnesota home packing. The goal nailed the coffin and sent Subaru Park into a frenzied state. Bedoya flicked a goal kick on to Carranza who laced home a right-footed shot to the far post. Poor defending from Minnesota on a goal kick created a rather simple goal scoring move from Carranza.

Despite a few last minute blown chances in second half stoppage time, Saturday’s win was an important one for Philadelphia as they clashed with a top Western Conference foe and didn’t stumble. Minnesota never truly threatened.

After having their best XI with a near full week of rest and training leading up to a match for what seems like the very first time in 2024, Philadelphia did not disappoint. The Union are back in action next Saturday night, April 6th, on the road in Nashville before heading to Atlanta for a Sunday afternoon game on April 14.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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