The Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League returned last night. The Philadelphia Union returned to the competition for the second time—the team’s first since a semifinal appearance in 2021. As we all hoped and expected, the beauty of CONCACAF was on full display.
Austin FC got embarrassed by a team from Haiti. Orlando SC held a soccer game hostage against Tigres. Finally, the Philadelphia Union survived a robbery by a dog. CONCACAF Champions League is officially back.
The Good and the Awful for MLS
We’re going to get into the night for the Union. However, we have to look at the overall showing from MLS. In 2022, MLS had its first-ever CCL winner with the Seattle Sounders. Making the MLS showing this year crucial. Is MLS here to compete again or is LIGA MX going to steal the show back?
The night started awfully for MLS, with Austin FC being embarrassed by Violette FC 3-0. Violette is from Haiti. The game was played in the Dominican Republic at a neutral site. Austin should have won by at least 4 goals. Yet, here we are.
Austin will likely still advance in the tie. Violette has to come to Austin’s home next week. Reports have already circled they will have limited players due to some players being ineligible to enter the country. Nonetheless, it was a step back for MLS.
The days of MLS teams being embarrassed like this on the international stage were supposed to be behind us. Yet, here we are again. Even if Austin advances next week, their showing in leg 1 was bad. At least they gave us one of the greatest own goals in the sport’s history.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 8, 2023
Fortunately, Orlando SC shockingly redeemed MLS hours later. Holding LIGA MX powerhouse Tigres to a 0-0 draw in Mexico. The talent disparity would tell you this result was shocking. However, if you know how Orlando city plays at times, it really isn’t.
Orlando can sit 11 players back on defense for 90 minutes and hold a game hostage. You can’t knock their formula if it works. They will have to score at one point if they want to complete the upset in the second leg. Although the tie comes to Orlando, Tigres fans are sure to fill that stadium.
A Very “Okay” 0-0 Draw
The Union traveled down to San Salvador to face Alianza. With the playing surface in an abysmal state, the tactics were not really allowed to flourish for either side. The game became a “launch the ball down the field and hope we get a bounce” scenario very quickly. Jim Curtin finally showed some lineup rotation with only 3 normal starters getting the nod. Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner, and Andre Blake.
Even with a lineup of backups, the Union was the better team by a fair margin. They could have easily put 2 or 3 goals past Alianza. Nonetheless, the Union takes a 0-0 draw to Subaru Park next Tuesday.
The most disappointing showing had to come from Chris Donovan. Donovan was in line to replace Cory Burke’s role as the first sub-striker off the bench. However, he has been less than impressive. Yes, the playing surface was abysmal but Donovan had chances. A few clear looks at the goal and a few misses in the final third. It is one thing for the ball to just not fall for a player one night. However, Donovan killed multiple Union attacks. If he wants to stay in his role he is going to have to step it up.
The draw was a fine result. The formula in CONCACAF is to survive on the road and smash the opposition at home. This is especially the case with MLS teams. The sour taste in the Union mouths would come from missed opportunities. A win in this leg would have practically had the Union booked for the quarterfinals. After all, no away team has walked into Subaru Park and won for over a year.
CONCACAF still follows the away goals tiebreaker. So the Union will have to win outright to move on. Another 0-0 would send the tie to PKs and a scoring draw would send the Union home.
The best part of the night? The appearance of a dog who ran onto the field and tried to steal the ball. Phang has some competition for the Union mascot now.
A GOOD BOY ENTERED THE PITCH TONIGHT 🐶 #DOOP
— PhilaUnion (@PhilaUnion) March 8, 2023