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Union fumble early lead in disheartening loss to nine-man Inter Miami

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Photo by Jack Verdeur

The Philadelphia Union took the lead within three minutes to Inter Miami in a battle of tournament-addled squads in Chester, and eventually fell flat by conceding a backbreaking goal to a nine-man side that left a sour taste all around.

The Union moved to 4-5-8 and stayed stuck on 20 points, with a frustrating 1-5-3 record at home. Miami picked up its second win of the season without Lionel Messi and held firm atop the Eastern Conference with 38 points on an 11-3-5 clip. 

The Union, for the most part, outplayed the team nearly 20 points ahead of them in the table (1.6 to 1.3 on xG), in the first match of a stretch when teams across the league are without many of their best players to the Copa America and the Euro 2024 tournaments. 

And yet, it was another unlucky night when the Union were snakebitten by inefficient finishing and bad defensive mistakes. Despite the underlying numbers suggesting the Union are overall a talented enough team, they continue to flounder in actual results, even more so at home, which is wearing thin as the season is officially more than halfway over.

The Union, tournament wise, were without Damion Lowe, Jose Martinez and Daniel Gazdag. Andre Blake was in attendance even though he was named to Jamaica’s squad, as he is still injured. On top of it all Julian Carranza was left out ahead of his impending transfer to Feyenoord in the Eredivise. 

That left quite a makeshift crew. The Union stuck with their most familiar formation, the diamond 4-4-2, with Nathan Harriel playing left center back, Olivier Mbaizo at right back, Leon Flach at the base of the diamond, Jeremy Rafanello at the 10 and Mikael Uhre and Quinn Sullivan up top. 

As for Miami, it was a 4-3-3 with no Messi and no Suarez. Sergio Busquets was still puttering around in midfield and Jordi Alba was as dangerous as ever at right back.

The match could not have started better at home, in a season plagued by slow defensive starts for the Union. In general, having Flach at the base of the diamond with his lack of progression compared to Jose Martinez meant that it was a great game for either center back to step forward with the ball and provide service or break the lines. Jakob Glesnes did just that with a loose ball, carried it towards midfield, and unleashed a perfect through ball into acres of space for the speedy Uhre. 

The Danish striker opted for “business casual,” with a composed left finish past Callender to give the Union the lead. 

It was a perfect way to seize the superior ame state on a sweltering June night with thinned out squads, and the Union generally took up a defensive shape the rest of the half, happy to counter with both forwards and play in quick transition. 

The game settled into long stretches of patient Miami possession, with the Union breaking the other way occasionally, and in the 13th minute, Sullivan found himself on another breakaway similar to Uhre’s in acres of space. The chance was not as clear cut, but Sullivan couldn’t quite wrangle the angle on his left foot and sprayed the chance wide.

From there, Miami slowly stabilized the game as the Union diligently denied most real danger. Rafenello did excellent work shadowing Busquets, and the Union’s right side was well attuned to the positoinging of Jordi Alba, which meant most of the space was on the Union’s left for Marcelo Weigandt, who couldn’t link up too dangerously with Julian Gressel.

It was a decent strategy, and Gressel in this limited Xi for Miami was the true danger man alongside Alba. 

By halftime, the Union had been doing more of the chasing, but in a good spot with a 1-0 lead. Minutes after the break though, all of the hard work and bright start was undone with one strong attack into the box. 

Leo Campana dropped into the midfield to spring Alba on the overlap, and his trademark cutback found Benjamkin Cremaschi in the half pocket in the box, and he slid the ball over to Gressel. The winger had a lot to do and Oliver Semmle did his best to close down the angle, but Gressel was too open, and in slow motion, he had time to take the ball down and fire a right-footed rocket over Glesnes who was standing on the goal line: 

There were about five interconnected defensive breakdowns on the play, and even considering the moment of magic from Gressel, one of the best right foots in the league can’t have that much space in the box.

In the 68th minute, David Ruiz picked up his second yellow card for trying to halt a Union breakaway on a Miami corner kick. The challenge was 80 yards from goal, but the Union looked ready for a massive odd-number rush, and a second yellow was as good as a red for denying a goal scoring opportunity. 

From there, the Union subbed on Chris Donovan for Rafanello and Tai Baribo for Olivier Mbaizo tried to chase the three points against 10 men.

The U launched a vigorous assault on the Miami goal, selling out so that Miami had chances the other way, and had plenty of shots and corner kicks. There were five corners n the next five minutes, and the best chance came from Tai Baribo, who was denied from Callender at close range.

The mirage of a night in the Subaru Park heat took a stranger turn in the 84th minute when Miami went down to nine men as Tomas Aviles picked up back to back yellow cards for a challenge and then dissent.

The game descended into unbridled madness with chances both ways, and a flowing counter attack in the 86th minute ended in a shot for Donovan blocked by Sergii Kryvstov.

The Union eventually sold out positionally one too many times to attack and gave up a moment of transition to substitute forward Leonardo Frugis Alfonso, who was one on one with Glesnes 70 yards from goal. Glesnes had about 10-15 yards of a head start on the 22-year old Superdraft selection (No. 32 overall from Viriginia) in his eighth career MLS appearance, and well, the result was not what you’d expect from how that sentence started:

It stings even more that Alfonso spent time playing in the Union Academy. 

That was not good enough from Glesnes, even if he was left alone on an island, beaten for pace and strength by Alfonso. And Semmle probably can’t be shorted at the near post. 

From there, the Union did not manufacture much in stoppage time, with the best chance coming on a blocked shot from distance from Glesnes.

It was a deflating, disheartening night that feels like a real nadir in the dregs of a long MLS season. There’s little to look forward to on the immediate horizon, especially given the departure of Carranza, impressive as it may be as another Union development success story. 

There’s not a lot more to say after losing to a nine-man team, but the Union return to action quickly with a Wednesday trip to Cincinnati, who are right behind Miami in the standings atop the Eastern Conference.

Amit grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania and has been a Union fan since the franchise started. He has contributed to coverage of the Union and the United States Men's National Team for this website dating back to 2017. At his previous job, Amit was a collegiate sports information director, including time with men's and women's soccer programs. He also was one half of the World Cup After Dark podcast in 2018 and 2022. He is pursuing a master's degree in data science and lives in Chicago.

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