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Baribo brace not enough as Union lose wild shootout in CIncinnati



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

The Union came into their road matchup with the second-placed team in the Eastern Conference, FC Cincinnati, winning just one out of their last 11 matches in MLS. Ice cold. Meanwhile, Cincinnati came into the match having won six out of their last seven. Piping hot. To make matters worse, the Union would be without Daniel Gazdag and Jose Martinez to international duty, as well as Damion Lowe, Andre Blake and Alejandro Bedoya to injury. Suffice to say, it would be an uphill battle for the Boys in Blue. 

And from the outset of the match, it appeared that the night would be long. In the 29th minute, Cincinnati midfielder and the reigning MLS MVP, Luciano Acosta, found a pocket of space out on the left wing, picked his head up and played an inviting curling ball directly into the path of 19-year-old forward Kevin Kelsy, whose glancing header found its way past Union goalkeeper Oliver Semmle and into the back of the net. 1-0 to the orange and blue. To add salt to the wound, the camera briefly panned over to the Cincinnati sideline, where ex-Union players Alvas Powell and Sergio Santos wryly smiled. 

But 14 minutes later, the Union struck back. Just before halftime, an Olivier Mbaizo cross found Mikael Uhre, who popped his header across the face of goal directly to the waiting boots of forward Tai Baribo, who wasted no time as he dispatched the ball between Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano’s legs and into the back of the net. The goal was Baribo’s first in Union colors, and he took it well. 

But the joy was short-lived for Baribo and the Union. Fresh out of the halftime locker room, FC Cincinnati drew a (slightly soft) penalty that Acosta buried for his second goal contribution of the night.  

The Union, however, found a way to bounce back again. Just five minutes later, from a corner, Jesus Bueno snuck out of the eyeline of his marker on the back post and smashed home the equalizer. The absolute scenes as Bueno wheeled away doing his trademark horn celebration. 2-2. Game on. 

The game didn’t stay deadlocked for long. In the 60th minute, Cincinnati midfielder Luca Orellano picked the ball up at midfield, saw Semmle slightly off his line and pinged the ball into the back of the net from about 60 yards out. Semmle did his best to wheel back and try to get a paw on Orellano’s effort, but the strike was inch-perfect. Nightmare stuff. 

And as the clock dwindled, it looked like the match would fizzle out for a fairly straightforward Cincinnati win. But that wasn’t the last twist. Or even the penultimate twist, for that matter. 

Instead, the Union and Tai Baribo had one last punch in them. They rose from the mat, and in the 90th minute, Union II standout Jeremy Rafanello played a looping ball into the back post, where Kai Wagner redirected the ball across the face of the goal and Baribo took his chance for the second time and slotted the ball home from the doorstep to equalize. After struggling to find his place in the team for the entire season, the young Israeli forward showed his worth and delivered with a brace – including what should have been a point-saving goal. 

The problem was, Cincinnati still had a knockout blow left in them. And that came in the form of Luciano Acosta. In the 10th(!) minute of stoppage time, Acosta picked the ball up about 20 yards from the Union goal and easily skipped past both Jack Elliott and Nathan Harriel before burying the matchwinner. The best player on the pitch, allowed to pick the ball up within 20 yards, then hardly touched on his way to delivering the fatal knockout blow. Miserable, miserable defending from a Union team that has now conceded the joint fourth most goals in the Eastern Conference. 

In a match that would best be compared to two middling boxers aimlessly throwing haymakers at each other’s heads, the Union were the first to blink at nearly every occasion – and they paid for it. With the loss, the Union dropped to 10th place in the East and are currently positioned outside of the MLS Playoffs. 

And despite the depletion of their squad to international duty and injury, the Union will have no time to feel sorry for themselves, as they will have to rush back home to play Charlotte FC on Saturday. At the weekend, the lads from Chester will be looking to ride the newly green form of Baribo and also shore up some of their abysmal defensive mistakes if they want any chance of grabbing points for the first time in over a month. 

Hunter is a writer/contributor for Philadelphia Soccer Now/Brotherly Game covering Union post-game analysis, MLS league-wide news and other stories from the world of footy. He has been covering the Union since 2021.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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