The Philadelphia Union failed to get a win in a trap game north of the border this past Wednesday. A 2-2 draw with already-eliminated Toronto FC meant that the Union failed to clinch their spot in the 2021 MLS playoffs, for now. They now set their sights on their regular-season home finale on Halloween night against the worst team in MLS, FC Cincinnati. With a win, Philly will secure their spot in the playoffs. With some help, they could secure a top-four finish with one game still to play!
Union clinch playoffs with a win; top four with help
It’s simple for the Union. Win on Sunday night, and they know they’ll be in the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth straight season. They’re playing the worst team in MLS. FC Cincinnati has claimed the wooden spoon for a record third year in a row. This is the fictional “trophy” given to the worst team in the league. Cincinnati has been in the league since 2019; they’ve been the worst team every single year of their existence in MLS. This Union team that has had many flaws in 2021, just needs to beat the worst team in MLS to secure their spot in the playoffs, but just being in the playoffs shouldn’t be the ceiling for this Union team.
It’s been clear for all to see that the Union is a better team at home rather than on the road. When it comes to a one-off playoff game, the Union will need all the help they can get. Being at home would be the biggest boost this team could have. That is a possibility if Philadelphia with a win and some help from Toronto FC, Inter Miami CF, and two other eastern conference contenders. Here is how the Union can clinch a top-four finish in the east on Sunday:
- PHI win vs CIN &
- ATL lose to TOR & NYC lose/tie MIA
- ATL lose to TOR & ORL lose/tie NSH
- NYC lose/tie MIA & ORL lose/tie NSH
While it isn’t the best to rely on others to secure a higher seed in the playoffs, some of these results could be plausible. Of all these scenarios, the one that could be seen as a great possibility would be Orlando and Nashville splitting points. Nashville loves a draw but is also very difficult to break down. If those two eastern conference teams are able to each take one point, then Philly will have to just hope that either Atlanta or NYCFC drop points. Atlanta is facing a Toronto team that is looking to play spoiler in their 2021 finale. NYCFC is playing in Inter Miami’s regular-season finale. It would be very MLS for either of those sides to drop points. I know what you’re all thinking, but this is all banking on a Union win.
Luckily for the Union, all of these games will be finished by the time they kickoff on Halloween night. They’ll already know which scenarios hit or didn’t which should give them the motivation to get a win, but what if they don’t. There are also scenarios where the Union can tie Cincy and get even more help to secure a top-four finish, but I’m not gonna list those. Philly’s playing Cincy for god’s sake; As Ted Lasso says: “If God would have wanted games to end in a tie, she wouldn’t have invented numbers.” But if you are interested in what those scenarios look like you can find them here!
While it’s important to know these scenarios, it’s also important to take a closer look at the teams still fighting for the three available spots in the top four.
A look at the other teams fighting for top-four
With two weeks left, the teams between 2nd and 6th place in the eastern conference are only separated by six points. This means that all of these teams could rise or fall in the playoff standings. There are five teams fighting for the three remaining spots in the top-four. The prize for the three that get those spots is a home playoff game in the first round. Here’s a look at whose fighting for those spots other than Philly.
Nashville SC finding winning form?
- Back up to 2nd place after 2nd half resurgence at Cincy scoring four, winning 6-3.
- First win in a month, could this start a winning streak, or will this team continue to draw?
- Remaining Schedule: @ ORL, vs NYRB.
Nashville goes on the road to Orlando City on Sunday afternoon. Can the team currently in second place beat the team in fifth? Kickoff is at 4:00 pm EST on Halloween!
NYCFC late-season surge?
- Two game winning streak (6-0 vs DC; 1-0 vs CHI.)
- Moving from outside of playoffs to 4th place with two games left.
- Remaining Schedule: @ MIA, vs PHI.
NYCFC looks to make it three in a row to stay in the top-four at Miami. However, a loss to the Higuain brothers could be on the cards with Federico announcing his retirement after this season. Kickoff for this one is 1:30 pm EST today, Saturday. Don’t miss this fun match!
Orlando City falling to fifth?
- Late season skid? (4wins, 7 draws, 6 losses since August.)
- Tough late season schedule against two MLS Eastern conference playoff contenders.
- Remaining Schedule: Vs NSH, @ MTL.
Can Orlando climb back up when it matters most? Can they also take points away from a team looking to clinch their place in the top-four? This is a huge match! Kickoff is at 4:00 pm EST on Sunday!
Atlanta has a game in hand on everyone above them
- 6 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses since start of September.
- Only one point behind ORL & NYC, and a game in hand on everyone ahead of them.
- Remaining Schedule: vs TOR, @ NYRB, vs CIN.
Atlanta has been a sleeping giant all season. They’re on a tear right now and have one more game than the rest of the teams fighting. They start their improbable journey tomorrow against Toronto FC. Kickoff for this one is 6:00 pm EST today, Saturday!
Now that we’ve taken a look at all of the teams still fighting for a top-four finish, it’s time to return our focus to the Union and their regular-season finale.
Union need to win by multiple goals vs Cincy
If the Union wants to truly be seen as a contender in the east, they’ll need to smash Cincinnati on Sunday night. Curtin and his side know that Cincinnati will go all-out as they have nothing to lose. It will be up to the team chosen to show the quality they possess. This Philly team is better than Cincinnati. They showed this earlier this month when a depleted Union side went to Cincinnati and beat them 2-0. The questions surrounding Philly are there two healthy strikers, and what formation will they play?
Sergio Santos has been out for the past few weeks but made a substitute appearance in Toronto. He score the game-tying goal to halt what would have been a terrible loss. Unfortunately, he seemed to pick up another quad injury, this time to what was his “good” quad at Toronto. He likely won’t be able to play. However, Cory Burke is expected to be available for the first time since September. Could he pair with mainstay Kacper Przybylko, or will Philly continue to play with just one striker?
The Union has been playing a 4-3-2-1 formation. The formation dubbed as the Christmas tree, allows a team to play with two number 10s at once. This can allow for creative attacking, but it hasn’t always been the case for Philly. Daniel Gazdag has come alive in this formation, but Jamiro Monterio has not. Monteiro is a very important player to have on the pitch, but his ability to link counter-attacks from a deeper position is oftentimes crucial for Philly. Playing at the 10 doesn’t allow him to be where he’s comfortable, and often times he drifts deep to help do this. So what will we see against Cincinnati?
I’d want the Union to go back to their 4-4-2 diamond formation with these players:
- Blake; Wagner, Elliot, Glesnes, Mbaizo; Flach, Monteiro, Bedoya, Gazdag; Burke, Przybylko.
This is very unlike Jim Curtin, especially since it would bench Jose Martinez, but I feel this team would be the one to easily secure the win. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this 4-3-2-1 formation:
This team would also be able to beat Cincinnati, but I’m not sure if this side makes a statement the way Nashville did last week against Cincinnati.
No matter who plays, and what formation is run, this Union side needs to step up. It’s the final regular-season home game. Show your fans a statement win that could be the final domino to fall that helps secure a home playoff game for the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs! Don’t miss this match, Sunday night, kickoff at 7:30 pm EST!
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