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Philadelphia Union “won’t be scared”: Leagues Cup semifinal vs. Messi secured | MLSSoccer.com

Philadelphia Union “won’t be scared”: Leagues Cup semifinal vs. Messi secured | MLSSoccer.com

But that’s exactly what happened. Carranza, according to head coach Jim Curtin, “reached for a ball and then felt something in his lower hamstring” and required a sub.

After leading from the 10th minute to the 65th off a goal from midfielder Jesús Bueno (Querétaro’s Ángel Sepúlveda equalized in the second half), Philadelphia suddenly found themselves dangerously close to PKs – a proverbial toss-up – heading towards the final whistle.

Survive and advance

Enter Chris Donovan, the 68th overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft out of Philadelphia’s Drexel University who was waived before ascending in MLS NEXT Pro.

In true Philly underdog style, Donovan seized his moment. In the 11th minute of second-half stoppage time, the speedy striker made great use of teammate Kai Wagner’s service into the box and smashed home Friday night’s 2-1 winner at Subaru Park, sending the Union to the Leagues Cup semifinals, where they’ll host Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF on Tuesday evening (7 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“For Chris to run and time that movement there close to offside, but you have to play right on that line there, he did a good job,” said Curtin after the match. “That’s a striker’s goal. Run hard at the near post and trust that the ball will be there.”

Outside of the game-winner and the collective mental fortitude needed to snag it, Curtin didn’t see a lot of positives in his team’s performance on the night. But he’ll take the win anyway.

“We didn’t play good. We didn’t create a lot. … So again, it’s a good lesson. You let the team hang around. They’re professionals. The 5-1 game, you knew it wouldn’t look like that,” said Curtin, referencing the Union’s dominant win over Querétaro in the group stage.

“Because they’ve gotten better as this competition’s gone on. It’s never easy to play a team two times in quick succession. And, yeah, we didn’t play great, but we survive and advance again.”

Messi comes to Chester

While making it to the semifinals of a 47-team tournament is quite the accomplishment in its own right, particularly when three out of four of those teams will receive a bid to next year’s Concacaf Champions Cup, the chance to play for a spot in the final on Tuesday is extra special this time around.

That’s because “the greatest player in the history of the sport” (at least according to Curtin) is coming to town.

“It’s perfect for the league,” said Curtin. “And the way that Messi has lived up [to the hype] and actually almost done even more is what superstars do, right? [Michael] Jordan, Messi, whoever it is, these are guys that have pressure on them every second of every day and they still produce every time. So it’s going to be an honor to play [Miami].

“But once the whistle blows, our guys are going to give it their best. And I know we won’t be scared. We’ll be brave. And in this building, I’ll just say, anything can happen at Subaru Park. We’ve been pretty damn good over the last 50 games.”

If any team has the built-in cultural swagger to take on Tata Martino’s Miami (who, alongside Messi, brought in Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and a few more big-money transfers this summer), it’s Philadelphia. Much of their squad has been intact for multiple years running as Curtin has guided the club from perennial basement dwellers in the Eastern Conference to consistent trophy threats since taking over in 2014. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to muddy things up.

“We’re going to obviously try to limit their chances as best we can, but we have to be ruthless on the counterattack against a Miami team that, I’ll just tell you right now, is going to have more of the ball than we will,” said Curtin. “I can guarantee you that. I don’t care whether we’re home or away. That’s just going to be how it is, and we’re okay with that.”

But even with the right mentality to wear out some of the league’s brightest stars, Curtin knows his team needs to show more quality if they hope to get a result: “It has to be better against Miami, that’s for sure.”

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