CCL Semifinal (Leg 1): Union vs. Club America

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union will be looking to make history on Thursday night as they travel to Estadio Azteca to take on Liga MX giants Club America. It’s being coined as the most important match in the Union’s history, and all eyes will be on the only MLS club left in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Union have had quite the ride up to this point in the CCL. They first defeated Costa Rican side Deportive Saprissa, before moving on to MLS powerhouse Atlanta United. Atlanta was very heavily favored to win this quarterfinal, but the Union came out with solid victories to secure their much-deserved place in the semifinals.

Club America has had a rockier road to this first leg, squeaking their way past Honduran club CD Olimpia in the Round of 16, then having to go toe to toe with the Portland Timbers, who very nearly ended them after repeatedly finding equalizers to every goal Club America scored.

The pressure is certainly on for the Union, but head coach Jim Curtin is determined to not let the spotlight blind him or his players. Rather than fear or anxiety, Curtin is outwardly projecting an image of confidence and ambition.

“When you play in a big game and score a goal in a big game, for example, a lot of eyes come on you,” Curtin said, in reference to having his players rise to the occasion for this game. “If you aspire to be a top player in CONCACAF or in the world, playing and performing well in the biggest games is what gets you there. The winner of this competition gets to play Chelsea [FC]. It does sound crazy to say that, but our players have to dream and have that belief.”

Facing off against a club that’s won the CCL seven times can be daunting, but, according to captain Alejandro Bedoya, even the young guys are determined to dominate.

“For a lot of the young guys, stepping out in Azteca in the beginning is a ‘wow’ moment in a stadium that big with so much history and tradition,” Bedoya said. “It’s something about these homegrowns, a few of them have already scored on their debuts. Not just a random goal, but golazos. So, they’re up for it. They know what’s at stake here.”

The Union are coming off of a somewhat shaky run in MLS, their most recent result being a loss to Eastern Conference leaders, the New England Revolution. While the quality of play has looked better in recent games, they haven’t looked like a dominant team ready to destroy Club America in these semifinals. While it may sound extreme, this is an international competition, and the Union are the only ones left to represent MLS. There’s a hefty weight on their shoulders to cement all of the progress MLS has been making in the past decade, first by making it to the finals, and then winning the entire thing to have an MLS club compete at the Club World Cup in Europe.

The Union have always had a strange way of looking mediocre in MLS, but being able to turn on the jets in the CCL. It’s the first time they’ve participated in an international competition, so they’re still figuring out how to balance participating in multiple competitions, but they also recognize that this is bigger than themselves. Every goal, every win was one step closer to bringing MLS more into the global spotlight. It’s difficult to focus on your standings in the MLS when you have an opportunity to achieve something so much bigger.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Daniel Gazdag, Kacper Przybyłko, Sergio Santos

  • Curtin needs to put the Union’s best foot forward in this first leg. The players that have played extensive minutes in the CCL need to be out there, and they need to be merciless. It’s likely that the famous Mexico-USA rivalry will shine through in this game, especially since a coveted spot in the finals, and possibly even Europe, is on the line. One could safely bet their life savings that Club America will not hold back, and the Union need to match (and, ideally, exceed) that energy.

Score Prediction: There’s a trend in these score predictions in the fact that they are very rarely opposed to the Union winning. Perhaps it’s an attempt to speak a victorious streak into existence, and although it’s always the hope that kills you, Curtin wants us to dream for this game. And I don’t know about you, but I firmly believe that a boy from Oreland, PA that turned a fledgling club into a force to be reckoned with in MLS and now the international stage can be trusted. Union win 1-0. Let’s do this.