Goals can change games, especially an early one at home.
That was the message, repeated numerous times, by head coach Jim Curtin ahead of the Philadelphia Union's Concacaf Champions League semifinal second leg match against Club America next Wednesday at Subaru Park (9 pm ET | FS1, Univision, TUDN).
The Union face a 2-0 deficit in the home-and-away series following a loss in the opening leg at Estadio Azteca on Aug. 12. But without an MLS match this weekend, the club holds a singular focus on the difficult, but not impossible, task at hand.
"No secret that when we do play Club America, we have to be aggressive very early in the game, get that first goal, and then from there, anything can happen,” Curtin said in a media conference call Wednesday. "Obviously it's a really tough opponent [and] task, but a challenge that we'll be up for.”
Curtin said the experience seven Union players are receiving by competing in World Cup qualifiers will provide positive momentum entering this match. He'll also be able to call on midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who was suspended for the first leg and has game-changing ability in the final third.
And he hopes to be buoyed by a raucous home crowd, but also understands the reality of hosting Club America and the large support they attract no matter where Las Águilas play.
“Well, they're everywhere. I'll just say that,” Curtin said. "Obviously, Mexico City is one thing, but they're all over the United States. They have a great fan base. They are, kind of can't say this in Philly without having a negative connotation, but they're like Dallas Cowboys fans. They’re everywhere.”
To level the semifinal series and perhaps send it into extra time or even penalty kicks, the Union need to score twice without conceding. Curtin is confident his team can score twice at home – they’ve done that three times in league play and once in the CCL, having beaten Atlanta United and Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in prior rounds.
And he’d love nothing more than the first goal to come shortly after kickoff.
“In soccer, when you have a home game and you score an early goal, the whole thing can shift quickly,” he said. “So again, we're disappointed we gave up that second goal in Azteca Stadium, but we have the confidence in our group that we can score multiple goals at home. We've done that plenty of times before with our great supporters behind us.”
What started with all five MLS teams reaching the quarterfinals for the first time has been whittled down to one semifinalist. In a continental competition that's been dominated by Liga MX squads, an MLS club remains in search of a first title in the modern iteration.
“The history is factual, that's for sure,” Curtin said. "You know it's not good, it's not a good history with MLS teams, obviously having never won, so in that regard we have nothing to lose. So, I still always feel like a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous team.”