By Cait Costello // @caitcostello
After a disappointing US Open Cup loss followed by a scoreless road draw, the Philadelphia soccer community was tense, wondering if the Philadelphia Union had what it took to win a game with stakes on the line. In his post-game remarks, Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted that he too was nervous going into the match against Minnesota United FC.
If the players were nervous as they returned to their home turf on Saturday night, they never showed it. The team that ran onto the pitch was a team ready to prove that the pair of surprising wins leading into the US Open Cup was not a fluke but the status quo for a team that has visibly clicked in the latter half of this season.
The Union dominated the first half of the match, scoring early and often. Center forward Cory Burke shot from outside the box to score the first point in the 8th minute with an assist from the Union’s #10, Borek Dockal.
In the 17th minute, a strong cross from defender Keegan Rosenberry followed by a left-footed shot from Union captain Alejandro Bedoya took the Union up 2-0 over Minnesota. The fans barely had a chance to settle back into their seats when Fafa Picault slipped through two MNUFC defenders with a through ball from Rosenberry and scored the third goal of the evening in the 23rd minute.
The Union kept shooting as they sought a fourth goal, trading possession with MNUFC and making six more attempts—four missed and two saved. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake felt pressure from Minnesota as he made two big saves in as many minutes before sending the ball down the field.
In the 44th minute, Fafa, looking cool and collected, lobbed a shot from the left side of the box. The ball went over Minnesota’s back line to score the fourth goal—his second—and leave MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth looking utterly demoralized at the end of the half.
MNUFC used the break to regroup and came out for the second half looking dangerous as they caught the Union off guard in the 54th minute when MNUFC’s Darwin Quintero put one past Blake to end the shutout.
Just when it felt like the Union’s earlier cohesion might be slipping, midfielder Ilsinho came on for Dockal as the Union’s first substitution. This well-timed change lead to multiple close chances in a row and reinvigorated the players and the supporters in the River End after the conceded goal, several fouls and a yellow card for Bedoya.
The Union demonstrated a level of confidence, comfort and footwork that remained steady for the rest of the game, even as Fafa and MNUFC’s Alexi Gomez both picked up yellow cards in the 72nd minute. Blake held MNUFC to one point with several great saves.
Ilsinho scored the Union’s fifth goal with an absolute rocket from 30 yards out in the 79th minute, and it was all over. At full time, the score sat at 5-1 Union, and the boys in blue clinched a playoff spot in commanding fashion.
It's official: @PhilaUnion are in!
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 7, 2018
As Fafa said after the game, the team proved that “we don’t suck.” Sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining in their most successful regular season in franchise history, the Union are better positioned than ever for this third run at the postseason. Enjoy the international break, Union—you’ve earned it.
Featured image: @austheboss3
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