When it comes to winning ugly, no Philly does it better than the Union.

Jim Curtin’s team scraped out a 1-0 first leg victory against Atlas F.C. in the Champion’s League quarterfinals on Tuesday night, claiming their first-ever win against a Liga MX side in a meaningful competition. They’ve dispatched Mexican clubs in exhibition games, but this was the first time it happened in something that actually matters.

Daniel Gazdag sealed it with a poorly-taken penalty that somehow squirted underneath the goalkeeper, which was a perfect snapshot of another performance that failed the eye test:

CONCACAF is all about grit and bullshit, and the Union have the mettle to get it done in these types of games, but my reaction was straight Negadelphia because this team is so much better than what they showed Tuesday night (and throughout this 2023 season). They should have run that Atlas team off the field, but basically scratched out a 1-nil because of a comical opponent error at the back, followed by a boneheaded goalkeeper play.

Some thoughts, in no order:

  1. Credit to Jim Curtin for shaking up the starting lineup, but Nate Harriel was a black hole offensively on the left side. He did a perfectly fine job defensively in a game where not conceding was, of course, the primary goal, but I would have taken him off once Atlas went down to 10 men. Go to three at the back or put a lefty on that side. The Union had few ideas on how to break down the opponent in the second half, and they were completely ignoring Harriel on the left because he’s a right footed right back and isn’t going to do anything up the flank on his weaker side. It was PAINFUL to watch. Teammates weren’t even looking at him. They’d get Jack McGlynn hovering on the left from deeper positions, but there was absolutely zero penetration.
  2. 1-0 is fine, but Atlas can score on their home field, so you’d feel a lot more confident in the second leg with a 2-0 or 3-0. I just don’t trust the Union’s struggling attack to bag a goal in Mexico next Wednesday.
  3. Damion Lowe is a stud. Best offseason trade of the three moves Ernst Tanner made. Lowe is every bit as good as Jack Elliott and will eat into his minutes this season.
  4. Jakob Glesnes was once again the best Union player on the field.
  5. Andre Blake being back makes you feel so much more confident and comfortable. No duh.
  6. Three times in this game Union players went down way too easily in the box. None of the three sequences resulted in penalty calls, and only one went to VAR. The Union created this identity in recent years of being a blue collar, hard-working team, and the foul-hunting and faking in the box is an embarrassment. They really need to cut that shit out.
  7. Even the Gazdag foul that resulted in a DOGSO was iffy. There was contact, yes, but he also sold it. He’s gotta just go out and play.
  8. Mikael Uhre hitting the post? That came in a transition moment for the Union. Even at 11v10 their best chance at that point in the game had to come on a counterattacking movement.
  9. Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Joaquin Torres are too close together when they play the Christmas Tree. And with Kai Wagner out, width is hard to come by. The Xmas tree is mostly fine, but it plays narrow like the diamond.
  10. The second 45 of this game was excruciating. Union committing dumb fouls, helping Atlas kill clock. It was not a well-managed game from the player side of things. That Quinn Sullivan foul in the corner was especially bothersome.
  11. Olivier Mbaizo being casual in his own box again. His major flaw is sensing the threat and just hacking the ball out of danger.
  12. The Union’s combined MLS + CCL record this year is 4 wins, 2 draws, and 3 losses. Three of those wins were at home with an opponent being sent off. In the Chicago win, the goalkeeper flubbed a routine save, and in the Atlas game, the goalkeeper conceded a penalty. They’ve only looked like themselves in the Columbus win, Alianza win, and the middle portion of the Montreal loss.

That’s about it. A win is a win, and they’re gritting out some results here, but the Union are not right. They may be a little hungover from MLS Cup in the same way the Phillies got off to a slow start. The Posidelphia angle here is that they started slow offensively last year as well, scored only 15 goals in their first 10 games, then went on to bag 57 over their next 24. They really did not find their stream roller form until early July.

doop doop motherfuckers