The words of the late Denny Green rang in my head this morning as I reflected on the Concacaf Champions League semifinal between Club América and the Philadelphia Union at Estadio Azteca.
“They are who we thought they were!”
There were plenty of reasons the anticipation leading up to Thursday night’s clash was palpable. None were bigger than the opponent the Union were up against. Club América are not Concacaf’s most decorated club for no reason. They are a great side in a high-quality league. The Union had a tall order in front of them as they have never played a team as good as America in their history (the closest is probably the 2014 treble winning Seattle Sounders).
From the get-go the Union looked awestruck by an America team that played at half speed. It seemed to catch the Union off guard that America were able to flip the switch against the Union’s pressure early. A few passing combinations led to a few half chances for America, but the Union’s inability to find midfield control in the high altitude of Mexico City led to a sluggish performance.
Absolutely no one should be surprised.
Yes, there are complaints the ref was a little whistle happy. I don’t think he was particularly egregious. I disagree with his decision on the VAR check for the penalty and the non-decision to check the late no call on Burke. But what’s a little soccer without VAR drama these days?
Those things, however, grasp for straws to ease the pain of confronting a very real reality:
Club América are a superior team.
It’s plain and simple. There’s no real debate. América is still getting their legs under them and it still looked like they played unthreatened by the Union attack and unphased by the Union press.
The good news, however, it is only 2-0. An absolutely solid defensive display by the Union backline is encouraging, even without Olivier Mbaizo for a majority of the game. Alvas Powell deserves all the credit in the world for coming in quickly and standing firm on his side. Glesnes, Elliott and Wagner dealt with all attempts that came their way and they absolutely passed the test. Blake is everything we expect from him.
No away goal hurts, but this is far from a done deal. The Union are markedly better in the confines of Subaru Park than they are on the road, let alone in an environment they’ve never seen before. The Union have now seen what their opponent is like and how they play. Make the adjustments required and we’ll see them in Chester on September 15. The tie is far from over and despite a disappointing first leg, there is no fooling anyone.
Club América are who we thought they were.