We have reached the end of another regular season for the Philadelphia Union and boy, where does the time go? The Union has finished the regular season in first place in the eastern conference, courtesy of a 4-0 Decision Day victory over Toronto FC. Daniel Gazdag continued his impressive form this season, bagging a hat trick that started with an absolute goalazo while Mikael Uhre picked up another goal to round out the scoring. This team, after a bit of a drop in form, ended the season with resounding success. Despite missing Kai Wagner due to suspension and having Alejandro Bedoya coming off the bench, this team looked just as good as they have at any point this season.
Philadelphia Union vs FC Cincinnati Playoff Preview
Now, the real work begins. While finishing in first place in the east is nice, it will not mean much without the team hoisting the MLS cup. Because of their finish in the regular season, the team got a nice little break to await the winner of the New York Red Bull-FC Cincinnati game. This game was an absolutely enticing one with FC Cincinnati coming from behind to win the first-round matchup 2-1 on the road to secure a semifinal matchup with the Philadelphia Union. Let us take a look at how these two teams did in their matchups against each other this season, the player to watch out for, and the prediction for Thursday’s Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.
2022 MLS Season
The two matchups between the Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati do not truly describe how either team can play. I know it might sound strange but hear me out on this. The first matchup saw FC Cincinnati coming into Subaru Park. This game ended 1-1 in an affair that saw both teams have their moments of dominance but neither team truly took the knockout punch. This was a time for the Union when they were drawing games they should have won and gone through a middling set of games for about a month and a half.
On the flip side, the other matchup for the Union saw them lose 3-1 on the road in Cincinnati. This result also does not concern me since the Union will not have a road game in the eastern conference playoffs if they advance to the conference final. The team does seem to play a bit differently on the road and this game was in a slight downturn of form in the summer when they were destroying teams with their possession/counterattack hybrid system. Both teams are dangerous which will make this third matchup truly interesting.
The player that the Union needs to watch out for is not the person that I have said in the past few articles. This player is the one who pulls the strings on the FC Cincinnati offense. The person who truly makes that offense tick and who helps to truly make the magic happen. The player in question is none other than MLS veteran Luciano “Lucho” Acosta. The former DC United player has truly taken this offense as his own in his first season under Pat Noonan.
Noonan has allowed Acosta to focus on the offensive side of things which has given Acosta a new lease on things. Acosta has had one of his best statistical seasons in the MLS and that is not hurt by the fact that the striker duo of Brandon Vazquez and Brenner have been putting up solid goal numbers. If the Union is going to win this game, they cannot allow Acosta to get the offense going.
This game is going to be an absolute beauty. Both teams are coming in with some real confidence and I think there will be several chances for both teams. It will be interesting to see which offense can put their stamp on the game and force the opposing defense into some mistakes.
The Union comes into this game with the league’s best defense and I have a hard time thinking that will change. Jim Curtin knows that Pat Noonan is very familiar with his system, but I am certain that Jim trusts his backline to step up when the time matters. If Daniel Gazdag can continue his good form from the last game and the strikers are getting into the good areas, this team will certainly score some goals.
It will be a nerve-wracking affair for sure. In the end, I think the defense of the Union will edge out the Cincinnati attack and this will be the key factor for a 2-1 Union victory to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Game time is at 8 pm ET on Thursday night.
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Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire