Stellar season for Union


Maureen Gambogi

KICKING INTO GEAR: The Philadelphia Union set to play F.C. Cincinnati on October 20th at Subaru Park

Soccer fans in Philadelphia did not need to watch European leagues to see outstanding soccer this year. The Philadelphia Union had a phenomenal season that fell 30 seconds short of MLS’s prized trophy.

The excitement started long before the playoffs even began. One of the highlights of our season was  goalkeeper, Andre Blake. Blake is consistently strong, but this season, he was far and away the best goalie in the league. He received the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award with 99 saves during the regular season, and Blake, along with the Union defense, set a new league record by allowing only 26 goals in 34 games. Blake also was named to the MLS’s “Best 11” with 3 other Union players: Jakob Glesnes, Kai Wagner, and Daniel Gazdag. Given the new MLS record for goals allowed, it makes sense that our goalkeeper and 2 of our defenders made the Team of the Year.

Gazdag, the Union’s attacking midfielder, also had an outstanding season. The Union signed Gazdag before the season started, for $1.8 million for two years. He led the team in scoring, netting 24 goals, outscoring the next highest Union scorer by 9 goals, and only needing 1 more goal to win the Golden Boot. He also had 6 assists to accompany his great finishing. His productive offense led the Union to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference with a record of 19 wins, 5 losses, and 10 draws. It also contributed heavily to the team’s 72 goals for the season and +46 goal differential. The Union offense also managed 4 six goal wins which is more than anyone in the entire history of the league.

Heading into the playoffs, the Union had a bye in the first round so were able to rest the players. Then, in the second round they defeated F.C. Cincinnati with a hard-fought 1-0 win. The semi-final game was a rematch from last year’s semi-finals, where the Union faced New York City F.C. However, while last year, the Union bowed out of the competition with a 2-1 defeat, this year, the Union got their revenge by mounting a comeback after being down 1-0. The Union scored 3 goals in the last 30 minutes to advance the MLS Cup Final with a 3-1 victory.

The final was a highly anticipated match with the Union set to face Los Angeles F.C., the Western Conference champion, who beat them out for this season’s Supporters’ Shield (a trophy given to the team that ends the season with the most league points). The Union actually tied LAFC with 67 points, but LAFC won on the tie-breaker (goals scored). This was the first time the 1 seeds from the Eastern and Western Conferences played each other in the final, and the game lived up to the hype. Going into halftime the game was 1-0 LAFC due to a deflected free kick goal. Just after the start of the second half, Gazdag made his mark on the game with an equalizer to make it 1-1. LAFC scored again very late in the game, but Union center back, Jack Elliot, scored 2 minutes later. At the 90th minute, the game was tied, but Jack Elliot scored a second goal in additional time to give the Union a 3-2 lead. With 30 seconds left in additional time, as it appeared the Union would be victorious, Gareth Bale, one of the best players of the modern generation scored to tie the game 3-3. The game went to extra time, where LAFC’s goalie, Maxime Crépeau got a red card and broke his leg, giving the Union an extra player. However, the Union couldn’t take advantage. The game went to penalty kicks as the ex-Union goalie John McCarthy replaced Crépeau. The Union’s season unfortunately came to an end as McCarthy saved all of the Union’s first 3 penalties.

With almost every starter set to stay it and the great youth on the team, the Union is well positioned to be back in the playoffs soon.  One young player, Olivier Mbazio, will be the first-ever Union player to play in the FIFA World Cup and will be back in action this Winter, as he will feature in the Cameroon squad. Although this season ended in heartbreak, it was extremely exciting to watch, and there is still much to look forward to for the Union.