CCL Semifinal (Leg 1) Recap: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s not the most shocking thing in the world that the Union fell to Liga MX giants Club America 2-0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, but it certainly is a blow to the confidence and momentum Philadelphia had going into this game.

The Union had an optimal scoring chance within the first 90 seconds of the match, when Daniel Gazdag tapped a pass over to CCL leading scorer Kacper Przybyłko, who attempted a backheeled shot into the goal, but it rolled just wide of the post.

Andre Blake was put to work quite early in the game, having to make a heroic save in the 11th minute on a Richard Sanchez header. Blake also was able to save a subsequent goal attempt from Roger Martinez.

In the 17th minute, however, Club America’s Sebastian Cordova rocketed a shot into the Union’s box. The shot took a deflection off of Gazdag, and promptly made its way past Blake to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Jim Curtin was forced to make a rather early substitution, bringing on Alvas Powell for Olivier Mbaizo. Mbaizo caught a hand to the face that caused one of his teeth to be knocked out, and after being on the ground for a few minutes, was eventually led off the field.

The Union could consider themselves lucky that they were only down by one goal going into halftime, considering they had only seen 29% possession, and didn’t have even half the number of corners that their opponents did. Although not their best performance by any means, it was commendable to have such a narrow deficit after the first 45 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, things got chippy and physical between the Union and Club America. Although they enjoyed most of the possession throughout the entirety of the game, Club America were often caught in vulnerable positions on the Union’s counterattacks. Kai Wagner in particular caused problems for the home team, and Alejandro Bedoya was able create some good scoring chances, but the Union were still unable to find the back of the net.

Discipline problems for the Union arose when Jose Martinez, who was already sitting on a yellow card, and Sergio Santos got in the face of referee Walter Lopez after he called a foul on the Union. Several Union players had to get in between their teammates and the ref, ushering them away as Martinez and Santos continued arguing.

This would come back to bite them in the 76th minute, when a late tackle by Martinez gave Club America a penalty kick after VAR review (no call was made on the original play). Blake (looking visibly tense and annoyed as Lopez explained penalty kick procedures to him) unfortunately didn’t dive the right way, giving the hosts a comfortable 2-0 lead.

There was an admirable fight back from the Union, including one instance where a very similar point of contact to Martinez’s tackle was made against a Union player, but, naturally, no penalty was called and no VAR review was ordered to evaluate the contact further. Although they grinded for at least a goal to put them in a more comfortable position, the Union got shut out 2-0.

The Main Takeaway: For playing in as intense of an environment as the Estadio Azteca against seven-time CCL winners when the Union are over halfway through their season (Club America are only three games into their club season), the Union held their own. They weren’t lazy and languid on the counterattack, the defense (and particularly Blake) stood their ground, and the offense can be proud of their efforts in finding space in this tight Club America team. It was unlucky circumstances that led to this loss, as the finishing just wasn’t there when it needed to be. They’ll have to wait a month for the second leg, which will be hosted at Subaru Park, and fans can only cross their fingers and pray that the Union will be in better form in MLS, giving them more momentum and ferocity in the second leg. Crazier things have happened than coming back from 2-0 down.

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