Philadelphia Union respond to CCL exit with "street fight" win at Red Bulls


Coming off a disappointing Concacaf Champions League semifinal exit at the hands of LAFC, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin wasn't particularly interested in style points upon his team's return to MLS play.

The Union boss called his team's 1-0 victory Saturday night at the New York Red Bulls "one of the ugliest games I've seen of the season," with Dániel Gazdag's 31st-minute penalty kick standing as the lone goal of the match.

And that was just fine with Curtin as the Union lick their wounds from the CCL letdown and turn their focus to a jam-packed upcoming schedule.

"There was no soccer tonight. Literally, there was no passing from either team," Curtin said at his postgame press conference. "There was nothing really other than fight. Sometimes when we get together with Red Bull, it's a street fight. You get punched in the mouth.

"Are you gonna get up or are you gonna get scared? I thought we stood up, I thought we punched back. Was it a perfect game? No. Did we play good attacking soccer? No. But again, three points goes a long way for the group right now, and hopefully it instills some confidence."

Aesthetics aside, the result was crucial for Philadelphia, who have yet to replicate their dominant 2022 form. Last year, they cemented themselves as an Eastern Conference powerhouse to the tune of 67 points and a gaudy +46 goal differential. Now, they're 4W-4L-2D through Matchday 11 and seventh in the East.

As Philadelphia look to climb their way back into the East's upper echelon, Curtin said a hard-fought one-goal win on the road over a regional rival might be just what the doctor ordered.

"I like 1-0 wins, as you guys have heard me say before," Curtin said. "So it's an important three points and again, we can share this one and celebrate it with the fans."

Tough schedule ahead

Every positive result in league play looms even larger when considering the Union still aren't done balancing competitions. Philadelphia will now begin their US Open Cup run on Tuesday, when they travel to face Minnesota United FC in a Round of 32 fixture at Allianz Field.

They'll follow that up with league matches against Colorado, D.C. United and the New England Revolution in short order, leaving little time to rest. Curtin acknowledged the challenge of the upcoming gauntlet, saying all hands will be on deck to try and ensure health and fitness.

"This is the schedule we have to play," Curtin said. "We'll have a plan in place. I touched on it, and I mean it: We're going to have to rotate, we're going to change a lot in the Open Cup, we're going to recover as quick as we can, try and get a result against Colorado and then it's just a little bit unlucky that we have to play at home against D.C. and then turn around and play a fresh New England team who doesn't have a game midweek. So that'll be hard.

" ... It's a busy, busy stretch now of four really tough and important games. ... As much as the Champions League hurt, it's behind us, and it has to be a mentality that we move onto the next game and that's the most important game. So we'll chase league points now like crazy. We'll have to keep guys fresh because we lose a handful of them coming up here, but we'll use the full squad and get us back where we want to be, which is towards that top-four teams in the Eastern Conference."