By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The Union are headed to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Process that for a minute.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering their run in the CCL has been nothing short of stellar so far. They’ve only conceded one goal during their run, knocked MLS giant Atlanta United out of the competition, and have more than proven themselves worthy of being in international competition. In their international debut, the CCL is looking to be the Union’s wheelhouse.
The Union were going into the second leg of this quarterfinal on a favorable 3-0 aggregate score, and despite the absence of Jose Martinez due to yellow card accumulation, an offense that wasn’t lacking in ability or hunger.
Atlanta did manage to score first on a low shot from Santiago Sosa, but the Union didn’t look too fazed. They played a comfortable rest of the first half, although they never stopped pushing for an insurance goal to pad the aggregate.
The second half saw much of the same, but the Boys in Blue finally found the back of the net off the foot of—who else?—Kacper Przybyłko to tie things up in the 88th minute. The 1-1 scoreline would hold, meaning that the Union will advance to the CCL semifinals, where they will face either the Portland Timbers or Mexican side Club America.
While there wasn’t much conflict to speak of between the teams during the game, there was a clash between Union manager Jim Curtin and Atlanta manager Gabriel Heinze after the final whistle. Curtin claimed that the confrontation happened after Heinze refused to shake his hand after the match, along with accusing Union players of diving and faking injuries across both legs of the quarterfinal.
“He’s an incredible coach, he’s an incredible player, but you can still also be a sore loser and be an [expletive] at the end of the game,” Curtin said in a postgame press conference. “I still think there’s a right wayI think he should shake hands like a man after the game.”
Captain Alejandro Bedoya had more of a lighthearted take on the situation, joking that “[Heinze] wanted to know where to get the best cheesesteak.”
Man of the Match: It has to be Przybylko again. He’s been an unstoppable force in this competition, and his offensive contributions have been invaluable for the Union. The entire team looked solid in this game, but it’s only right to give MOTM to the man with the difference maker.
The Main Takeaway: Making it to the CCL semifinals is obviously incredible, but those games don’t start until the third week of August. Now, the Union need to channel all of their energy and focus into improving their standing in the MLS. The phenomenal performances they’ve been treating fans to in the CCL needs to translate into league play because, at the end of the day, gunning for the MLS Cup should take priority over everything.