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This week in Doop: The Raccoon, the struggles, and the road trip to restore hope?

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May 15, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York City FC forward Malachi Jones (88) controls the ball against Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (11) in the second half at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

  The Philadelphia Union just capped off a stretch of three games in eight days and have riled up a good amount of off the field attention which takes a bit of heat off the uneven play of the club recently. In three months since the start of the season, the Union have lost their biggest advantages: Their strong play at home, led by what was arguably the best defense in the league, and a brick wall in net. Throw in what felt like an impenetrable mental block that hung over the whole team and the end result was two more losses at home to Orlando City SC (3-2) and NYCFC (2-1) balanced by a “get right” win on the road at New England (3-0). 

The first match of this tough stretch started on May 11 at home against Orlando City SC. That was a bizarre shitshow of a game which featured Dániel Gazdag missing a penalty kick in regular MLS gameplay for the first time ever, Damion Lowe hilariously calling out Orlando’s flopping, and a game official dropping an F bomb addressing the crowd to announce a VAR review decision. The game stretched nearly 120 minutes with stoppage time, a less than ideal situation to start off such a grueling stretch, especially when it ended with a 3-2 loss to a team that sat in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. 

This set up the first “get right or get out” match for the Union to cap off their homestand: Match 1 of rivalry week against NYCFC on Wednesday May 15. This intense rivalry has already had more than its fair share of weirdness over the past few years. With the intense playoff matchups, a locker room disease outbreak, a trainer needing to be physically restrained from breaking in half an opposing player who wasn’t respecting personal space, a champagne celebration, and now a furry pitch invader who made Subaru Park the site of this week’s viral moment picked up for levity in random newscasts across the nation, and putting this budding creative outlet in the top five of Google search results:

May 15, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; A raccoon runs on the field in the first half between the Philadelphia Union and New York City FC at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

    On the pitch, Santiago Rodriguez of NYCFC led a fast break and fed a through ball over to Alonso Martinez to score from point blank range in the 2nd minute of the game, giving the fans at Subaru Park a gut punch before they had even settled into their seats. In the 20th minute, the world was introduced to Raquinho:

Play resumed after a five minute delay, and shortly before the half Kai Wagner had his mental clarity clouded by a desire for revenge from a previous foul and leveled Rodriguez drawing a yellow card and setting up a free kick in a dangerous spot. Goalie Oliver Semmle then made a “U12 mistake” as Jim Curtin said in the post game, setting up on the near post and leaving the back post unguarded as Hannes Wolf bent it towards the back post and hooked just into the net giving NYCFC a 2-0 advantage at the half. The Union answered back quickly, drawing a free kick in the 47th minute. Jack McGlynn touched it over to Julián Carranza to let one fly from outside the box into the right side of the net:

Unfortunately, the Union were not able to build much in the way of sustained momentum. The chances were there with multiple set piece opportunities, and both teams butting heads resulted in a few yellow cards flying out until Philadelphia appeared to have found a miracle in the dying minutes of stoppage time, but Jack Elliott’s goal was struck down by the Union’s biggest nemesis the past two seasons: the Offside flag. No goal, no miracle, and an unprecedented fourth straight loss at home by a final score of 2-1. This club lost only four MLS regular season games at home from 2020 to 2023! Jim CurtinJulián Carranza, and Kai Wagner all were understandably at various levels of shell shocked and frustrated after the match.

Carranza’s comments saying the quiet part out loud, that the team has felt a bit off ever since the Pachuca beatdown were particularly eye opening. On a more positive note, the Union supporters were energized by Carranza’s goal and the furry friend enough to keep the comedic chops going. This moment at the 65th minute was -chef’s kiss- wonderful: 

    Sometimes getting away from home to clear your head can be exactly what is needed. You just need to get out to get right. This Union team has yet to lose an MLS match on the road this season (3-0-4 for 13 points), and the hapless New England Revolution sitting in last place in the East with 7 points are easy pickings if the Union just show up and do what they should do. For the first time in a while, they did just that. Ryan Spaulding got things started early by committing a blatant penalty for New England in the 14th minute, taking down Mikael Uhre from behind while not even close to making a legitimate play on the ball, drawing a straight red card forcing the Revs to play with 10 players. I went over to the Union Yards watch party just outside Subaru Park and there was a solid crowd there which enjoyed the sight of Spaulding getting sent off:

The Union had momentum but needed to weather the speed bump of a José Martínez injury resulting in a substitution of Jack McGlynn replacing Martinez in the lineup in the 27th minute. McGlynn set up the first goal of the night shortly afterwards finding Carranza in the right side of the box for a header putting the Union on the board 1-0 in the 38th minute. 

Just after halftime the Union set up a beautiful ball control sequence with Ale Bedoya and Nathan Harriel trading passes through traffic in the attacking third of the pitch before Jack McGlynn maintained control of the ball with a sweet back heel pass to Harriel in the far right corner. Harriel sent the ball into the box for Uhre to get up for a header which hit the near post. Dániel Gazdag corralled the rebound just in front of the left side of the net and found pay dirt in the 47th minute in the bottom right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead. Bedoya and Gazdag again teamed up to carve through the New England midfield for Gazdag to send a through ball up to Quinn Sullivan in the right side of the box for a shot saved by Revs goalie Aljaz Ivacic but the rebound went right back to Gazdag in almost the exact same spot he got the previous goal, but this time Gazdag put it in the left side of the net in the 80th minute to give the Union a desperately needed 3-0 win on the road. 

News and Notes: 

  • Julián Carranza’s goal against New England was his 41st with the Union in all competitions, passing Kacper Przybylko for 3rd all time in club history. Daniel Gazdag of course has the record for most goals in MLS competition for the Union, but he is still one behind Sébastien Le Toux for the club record for all competitions. 
  • The New England match was the 16th time that Carranza and Gazdag have scored in the same match, the most by any pair of teammates in MLS history. 
  • The NYCFC match was Gazdag’s 100th with the Union, making him the 16th player to reach that milestone in club history. 
  • Next up: The Union travel south to Bank of America Stadium to face Charlotte FC at 7:30pm on Saturday May 25. All MLS matches are streamed on Apple TV+. 

JD Walker is one of the co-founders of Stream Punk Entertainment and has covered the Philadelphia Union, Big East Basketball, and New Jersey high school basketball since 2022. He has a wide-spanning career with experience in a variety of roles inside and outside the world of sports including basketball operations, gameday entertainment, promotions, broadcasting, and finance. He’s a Jersey Shore native sprung from a cage on Highway 9, and loves to geek out on the business and legal side of the games we all love.

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