ORLANDO, Fla. — Alejandro Bedoya came up with yet another timely goal and Andre Blake robbed NYCFC of two enticing bites of the apple late to preserve the Philadelphia Union’s first win of 2020 in their MLS is Back Tournament opener Thursday morning.
With both teams returning to play for the first time in four months and playing at 9 a.m. in Florida, neither team looked their sharpest — particularly in the final third — but as the game wore on and legs began to tire in the heat it was the Union that grabbed the advantage with a well-taken angled shot from Bedoya in the box that Sean Johnson wasn’t able to keep out of the net.
Brenden Aaronson, who was one of the stars of the day in the attack, set up the play with a smart run into the box and shot attempt on a cut back from Bedoya that was deflected right back to Bedoya’s feet. Jamiro Monteiro started the sequence with a long ball to Bedoya in the box.
“I don’t score often but I’m glad we got the win from the goal,” Bedoya said. “Brenden made a great run, I fed it to him initially and I’m not sure exactly what happened whether it was a save or the defender but it came back to me and I took a touch and just cut inside and hit it with my left foot that close and I hit it hard enough for it to go in in the corner so I’m happy for that.”
Up a goal, head coach Jim Curtin subbed in center back Jakob Glesnes to add to the back line and try to secure the team’s first clean sheet in almost a calendar year since a 2-0 win over Chicago Fire on July 20, 2019.
Blake had to pull off a pair of highlight-reel saves to do it. One was a fingertip stop after Heber collected a deflected cross and was all alone at the far post and another when he jumped off his line to cut down a shot from a charging Gary Mackay-Steven in the box. He finished with seven saves on the day.
The win puts the Union level at 1-1-1 on the season with four points but more importantly even with Orlando City at the top of the Group A standings. Orlando got a late goal from Nani to beat Inter Miami in the tournament opener on Wednesday night.
While the game was an important one for a Union team full of confidence coming into the tournament and considered by some one of the favorites to win it all, an even bigger story was the names the players wore in place of their own on their jerseys. Each player in the lineup had the name of a black victim of police brutality.
Post-game, Curtin said it was a case of “action over permission.”
“I hope that the league understands and I hope that everybody can embrace that and wrap their head around it,” Curtin said. “It was done to show respect, to learn, to grow and to make our country better so from the standpoint of that I’m really proud of our players again for everything they did on the field and off the field.”
On the day, NYCFC had an edge in nearly every statistical category except — 17-8 advantage on shots, 8-3 on corners, 27-9 on crosses, 59.5 percent possession, etc. — but the one that matters most on the scoreboard.
“It really came down to mindset and focus to push through on a really hot day,” Curtin said.
Jack de Vries came off the bench to make his MLS debut in the second half, replacing Ilsinho who was inserted into the starting lineup due to injuries to Sergio Santos, Andrew Wooten and Michee Ngalina. Curtin used four of five available subs with Anthony Fontana, Warren Creavalle and Jakob Glesnes also coming off the bench.