Daniel Gazdag's late penalty was the difference as the Philadelphia Union beat ten-man Atlas 1-0 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Quarter-Final.
The visitors were reduced to ten men during first-half stoppage time as Anderson Santamaria bundled Gazdag down to the ground with the Hungarian through on goal. It left the referee with no choice but to brandish the straight red card.
With Atlas seemingly on their way to a crucial 0-0 draw, the Union were awarded a penalty with three minutes remaining. A ball lofted towards Julian Carranza had him and Camilo Vargas competing for the ball inside the box. Carranza did well to nudge it beyond the oncoming Vargas, who clattered the forward, giving the referee no choice but to award the spot kick.
Gazdag stepped up and remained composed despite the lengthy delay to find the back of the net. Vargas came close to saving it as he guessed the right way. Fortunately for Philadelphia, it snuck just underneath the goalkeeper to give them the advantage heading into the second leg.
Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin made four changes to the side that was held to a goalless draw against Sporting Kansas City. Olivier Mbaizo, Damion Lowe, Jack McGlynn and Joaquin Torres came into the starting XI, while Matt Real, Jack Elliott, Leon Flach and Mikael Uhre dropped to the bench.
Julian Quinones tried his luck with an overhead kick in the opening minutes of the game. A long ball towards Quinones was chested down by the forward, who had his back to the goal. The ball bounced favourably for him to try an overhead kick, but his speculative effort cleared the crossbar, leaving Andre Blake untroubled.
In the tenth minute, Quinones received the ball from 25 yards and opted to shoot. His low-driven effort was aimed towards the bottom left corner, and Blake did well to get down and push it away from the goal. Atlas were first to the second ball but could not make much of the opportunity as Philadelphia eventually cleared their lines.
The Union came inches away from taking the lead as Daniel Gazdag's pass needed just a touch to put the ball into the back of the net. The hosts were pressing from the front as they tried to force a mistake from Atlas and won possession. Gazdag received the ball just inside the penalty area and directed a ball across the face of the goal, with Julian Carranza going at full stretch to make contact. However, he was a couple of inches away from making the all-important contact as the ball went out of play for a goal kick.
Quinones continued to cause the Union defense problems as he seemingly beat the offside trap to go through one-on-one with Blake. The Philadelphia goalkeeper did well to come out and close the forward's angles, who had Lowe chasing back to apply pressure. That did enough, as Quinones' stumbling effort was straight at Blake.
However, the rebound came back to the forward, who had the entire goal to aim at with Blake still on the floor. Fortunately for Philadelphia, Lowe had made his way onto the line to clear Quinones' central effort away before the ball went out for a goal kick.
On the half-hour mark, Philadelphia had a big penalty shout as Harriel went down inside the box. The makeshift left-back did well to get goal side of an Atlas defender as he made his way into the penalty before going down under contact. The Atlas defender tried to clear the ball but only made contact with Harriel, who went down. Despite the appeals, the referee ignored the claims and play continued following a short VAR check.
During first-half stoppage time, there was a VAR check for a potential penalty for the Union. Carranza made his way into the penalty area under the pressure of Carlos Robles. The Argentine forward went down under Robles' challenge, and the referee ignored his appeals for a penalty. VAR then called the official to check the replay on the monitor, but after much deliberation, he did not award the spot kick.
The drama did not end there, as the visitors were reduced to ten men. An attempted through ball for Gazdag should have been cut out by Anderson Santamaria, who did not make clear contact with his attempted clearance as he sliced it backwards. It sat perfectly for Gazdag to latch onto as he made his way towards the box. Santamaria, who was trying to rectify his mistake, then went bundling through the back of the Hungarian, bringing him down just outside the penalty area. It left the referee with no choice but to brandish the red card, leaving Atlas down to ten.
From the resulting free-kick, Carranza came close. His attempt from a central position was directed towards the bottom right corner. His low-driven effort beat Camilo Vargas but also beat the post as it fizzed wide for a goal kick.
HALF-TIME: Philadelphia Union 0-0 Atlas
Gazdag had the first chance of note in the second half on the hour. After Carranza's initial shot was blocked, the Union won the loose ball, and it was played to Gazdag. The Hungarian possessed smart footwork to get beyond the defenders and created space for himself. However, his left-footed shot was tame, making it a comfortable save for Vargas.
Uhre replaced Torres in the 59th minute and was denied by the foot of the post. The striker received the ball on the left side of the penalty area and cut inside on his right foot before shooting. Uhre's effort had plenty of power as he directed his low-driven effort towards the near post. It beat Vargas but hit the woodwork before bouncing away.
McGlynn's shot from distance was well-saved by Vargas as the Union began to put more pressure on Atlas' goal. The opportunity to shoot opened as the midfielder found himself in space. His left-footed effort took a deflection on its way to the goal, which could have caught Vargas out. However, the goalkeeper did well to react and claimed the ball.
McGlynn forced Vargas into a big save with 15 minutes remaining as Atlas continued to defend their clean sheet. He received the ball on his right foot with no options, so he turned back inside until there was enough room to get a shot away. The US youth international sent a powerful effort from 20 yards goalward, which needed a strong hand from Vargas to push it over the bar.
Jakob Glesnes saw his free-kick from more than 25 yards go just over the bar during the final ten minutes. The defender blasted his effort with plenty of power as it flew towards the goal. It had Vargas at full stretch but went just over the bar.
In the 87th minute, Philadelphia were awarded a penalty. A long ball was lofted over the top of the Atlas defense for Carranza to chase. He and Vargas both went for the ball, and it was the Argentine forward that got there first as a touch with his shoulder took it beyond the goalkeeper, who then clattered Carranza on the follow-through. It left the referee with no choice but to point to the spot with such a stonewall foul.
Gazdag stepped up and eventually took the spot kick after the Atlas players contested the decision for as long as they could. He was fortunate that his penalty was not saved by Vargas, who guessed the right way. He went down to his left and made contact with Gazdag's effort, but it snuck just underneath the goalkeeper as the Union made the all-important breakthrough.
FULL-TIME: Philadelphia Union 1-0 Atlas
Philadelphia Union: Blake, Mbaizo (Sullivan 72'), Glesnes, Lowe, Harriel, Bedoya, Martinez, McGlynn, Torres (Uhre 59'), Gazdag, Carranza
Unused Substitutes: Trent, Bendik, Real, Elliott, Craig, Flach, Bueno, Perea, Rafanello, Donovan
Atlas: Vargas, Santamaria, Aguirre, Reyes, Barbosa, Robles, Rocha (Nervo 81'), Lozano, Herrera (Zaldivar 77'), Furch (Abella 46'), Quinones
Unused Substitutes: Hernandez, Chala, Flores, Manotas, Martinez, Marquez, Ocejo, Gomez, Trejo