The Philadelphia Union did not back down from the challenge presented by Los Angeles FC inside Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night.
Just like the club did in 2019 against Major League Soccer’s best clubs, the Union rose to the occasion and forced a 3-3 road draw with the reigning Supporters’ Shield winner.
The performance was similar to the results the Union earned during a three-week stretch in August and September 2019, when they beat Atlanta United and tied with LAFC.
One of the differences between Sunday and those two regular-season clashes from a year ago was the spectacular fashion in which the goals were scored.
Sergio Santos produced a terrific goal from outside the box and then Jakob Glesnes followed that up with a blistering long-distance free kick that will likely be considered for Goal of the Year.
Brenden Aaronson chipped in the third goal, which is a positive sign for a player that was tasked with improving his finishing skills in the offseason.
Glesnes and fellow offseason acquisition Jose Martinez shined in the draw, as did goalkeeper Andre Blake, who made eight saves.
Below are the three takeaways from Sunday night’s thrilling six-goal affair.
Glesnes Proving Worth In Central Defense
Glesnes’ biggest impression on the contest was his stunning free kick in the 48th minute that ignited a 23-minute scoring frenzy in which four goals were tallied.
The Norwegian defender had a discussion with midfielder Jamiro Monteiro about how to approach the set piece before he launched it into the left side of the net.
“It was not planned like that, but when the free kick came, I told Jamiro if there were just two in the wall, I would want to try,” Glesnes said. “He asked me if I was sure and when they just put two up, I said I just want to shoot. I got a lucky touch and it was fantastic.”
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Defensively, Glesnes made 12 clearances, one tackle and one interception against a LAFC attack that was held in check for stretches.
The Union still allowed a few quality scoring opportunities, but they were not under siege for the entire 90 minutes.
Glesnes’ sturdiness in the middle of the back line is exactly what the Union needed with Mark McKenzie expected to be in and out of the squad in 2020.
McKenzie was named to the United States men’s national team Concacaf Olympic qualifying roster Sunday, and he is expected to miss a few games, starting with Saturday’s home opener against the San Jose Earthquakes.
That allows Jack Elliott, who missed 12 days of preseason while finalizing his green card, to slide in next to Glesnes.
The combination of Glesnes and Elliott is expected to thrive in the air and on the ball since both are towering presences and are strong with their feet in distribution.
If the two mesh well together, the Union have a chance to produce their first clean sheet of the season against San Jose.
Martinez turns in masterful debut
The defensive midfield position has drawn plenty of attention since Haris Medunjanin departed to FC Cincinnati.
The Union acquired Martinez and Matej Oravec to fill the void, but neither appeared in the first starting lineup of the campaign.
Head coach Jim Curtin opted to go with veteran Warren Creavalle, who is a strong ball-winner, but brings a limited skill set moving forward.
With Creavalle dealing with a small injury, Curtin called on Martinez to make his MLS debut against one of the best midfield units in the league.
Martinez did not shy away from a challenge, and at times, he was bit over-aggressive, but he was effective in disrupting LAFC’s buildup through the middle of the park.
“Jose had a great performance,” Curtin said. “Obviously, you know LAFC is going to create chances, but overall, we bent, but we didn’t break. We forced them away from the middle of the field and we forced them into crossing balls and did a good job.”
The 25-year-old Venezuelan totaled five interceptions and three tackles, but he did so much more in between the lines to make life difficult for Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing.
Blake returns to form
Blake experienced a downturn in form during the 2019 campaign in which the Union conceded 50 goals.
The Jamaican netminder only made 59 saves over 26 regular-season starts and had a rough outing in the playoff win over the New York Red Bulls.
On Sunday, Blake looked sharper with his reading of certain situations and displayed little fear rushing out to take control of the ball in the penalty area.
Blake was also relied on in a few instances to make one-on-one denials, including the final chance of the contest in stoppage time.
Blake was not at fault for the concession of the first two LAFC goals, which were struck brilliantly by Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.
He got a piece of the shot sent in by Eddie Segura on the final game-tying goal, but there was too much power on the shot and it ricocheted into the right side of the net.
Obviously, the Union do not want to concede three goals each week, but LAFC’s total could have been much higher if it were not for Blake’s heroics in net.