Philly, who are the last remaining MLS club in the continental competition, host Leg Two on Wednesday after falling 2-0 in Leg One at Estadio Azteca. Chasing the game against one of Mexico's best and most storied clubs isn't easy, but head coach Jim Curtin and his players believe they could seize a special night in Chester.
“We have an uphill battle, but with our fans behind us at home, the key becomes not conceding and pushing for that first goal," Curtin said Tuesday. "It’d shift the pressure to them. Our strategy is to just be ourselves at home. We know that we’re capable of scoring more than a goal at this building, we’re capable of keeping a clean sheet. That is our belief, that is our goal.”
The Union will be near full-strength on Wednesday, though Curtin noted striker Sergio Santos picked up a knock in training so his status is up in the air. Club America have been flying in Liga MX's 2021-22 Apertura, sitting atop the table undefeated after eight games, taking six wins and two draws.
America have conceded only three goals during that time, while the Union have scored more than once just one time in their last 10 matches across all competitions. The Union will need to score at least twice to take the game to extra time. If Club America score, they'll need four goals to overcome the away goals tiebreaker.
“You never know when you’re going to get this chance again; you have to empty the tank and give everything," Curtin said. "There has to be a belief in the group that we can get that first goal and put pressure on Club America. It starts with how we defend. In your career, the goal is to lift trophies and play in finals. We know we’ll need a perfect performance, but it’s possible. We’ll need all 11 guys on the field, all of our reserves and our fans to give us life.”
A similar perspective was shared by defensive midfielder Jose Martinez, who was speaking through a translator.
“It’s very important to win, it’s clear to us we have to win," the Venezuelan international said. "It’s an honor to participate in tomorrow’s semifinal. It’d be a great honor to make our debut in a Concacaf final.”
Martinez is back with the Union after competing in Conmebol World Cup qualifiers, one of many Union players who featured in September's international window around the world earlier this month.
The Union have remained competitive after winning last year's Supporters' Shield but in juggling the CCL and trying to replace Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, two homegrowns named to 2020's Best XI, they haven't quite hit the same heights. Sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference standings going into the stretch run, they hope to find their best form heading towards the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“It’s easy when you’re winning games and guys are scoring goals, but you learn the most about your group, yourself and staff when you have a tough patch," Curtin said. "Look, our tough patch isn’t as bad as some have gone through, but the bar has been raised for us. … We want to get back on track. What better way than in a Champions League semifinal?”