The eastern conference semifinal is just one day away! The Union will have had 10 days of rest to get ready for this semifinal. Their opponent, FC Cincinnati played in round one last Saturday at New York Red Bulls coming from behind to win 2-1. Now the two sides who are very similar in style of play, and organizational makeup meet for the first time in the playoffs on Thursday night.
5 Things to watch: Union vs Cincinnati
This playoff game has the making to be a great one. Philly, the number one seed in the east, going up against the dark horse pick to make it out of the east Cincy. Cincinnati’s GM, Chris Albright, and head coach, Pat Noonan, was a part of the Union as recently as last season.
Together they have applied some of what has made the Union great to what was a bad Cincinnati side. This is going to make for a compelling match where the winner advances and the loser’s season ends.
Here are five things to look for in this eastern conference semifinal!
1. Martinez vs Acosta
There are many individual matchups that could make this game turn for one side or the other. One that has the potential for an upset for Cincy, or a dominating win for Philly falls in the matchup of Luciano Acosta vs Jose “El Brujo” Martinez.
In the last meeting between the two sides, Acosta was able to pull Martinez out of position and dictate the flow of play in Cincinnati’s favor. That was in Cincy, but this is something to look for. If El Brujo is made to be out of position, then Cincinnati’s attack can exploit the spaces and create dangerous attacks.
This matchup in the middle of the park against two of the best in MLS will be fun to watch and important to both sides being successful.
2. Cincinnati’s three center-backs
Cincinnati plays in a 5-3-2 formation. Their back five has three center-backs which are used to allow for stability in defense. These center-backs are Matt Miazga, Geoff Cameron, and Nick Hagglund. They are the ones called upon to not be leaky in the back, but it hasn’t always worked that way.
While the center-backs are the last line of defense, the rest of Cincinnati flies around the pitch trying to press the opposition into mistakes and not reach their center-backs. This can cause problems for the center-backs if teams can beat their press, and is a big reason why Cincinnati only had four clean sheets in 2022.
The Union will look to beat the press and make the three center backs work hard to put out fires. If that happens Philly will definitely find the back of the net.
3. McGlynn stepping in for Bedoya again
It’s looking more and more like homegrown midfielder, Jack McGlynn will be called upon to replace captain Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya has a nagging injury that has kept him out for the better part of the last month. McGlynn has stepped in and has done a good job.
His play in the playoffs could be the difference between a dominating performance, and an agonizing defeat. McGlynn has the ability to calm the Union down with his willingness to stay on the ball and pick perfect passes. This will be needed against Cincy, as they like to play at a fast-pressing pace.
If Jack McGlynn can be a difference-maker with the ball at his feet and find ways to play in the Union’s attack against a slower Cincy backline, then Philly might win this game by two or three goals.
4. Curtin vs Noonan
The matchups on the field aren’t the only intriguing aspects of this matchup. The coaching battle will be something to watch as well! Pat Noonan was Jim Curtin’s right-hand man for many seasons in Philly. Now as the head coach of Cincy, he has shown the ability to be like his former mentor.
Noonan’s team plays just like Curtin’s and has even best the Union this season. Cincy out Red Bull-ed Red Bull in the first round and now has the chance to play that high-pressing style against Philly. This matchup could come down to coaching adjustments in the game.
The subs used and at what time in the match or a shift in style to gain an advantage in the midst of the game is the thing to watch between these two great gaffers. Who will come out on top might just depend on that.
5. A real home-field advantage
This match will be played on the banks of the Delaware River as the Union has home-field advantage against every other team in the east. This match will be yet another sellout at Subaru Park. The rowdy crowd will be one of the main contributing factors to pushing the Union on and downing FC Cincinnati.
Cincy is the five seed and will have to go on the road for the entirety of the 2022 MLS Playoff run, should they go on one. Their first match at Red Bull was a road game, but the home side’s lack of playoff atmosphere helped Cincy. That won’t be the case in Philly. The fans will be loud, the atmosphere intense, and this should hinder Cincinnati’s chances.
If you’re going to the match tomorrow be sure to be loud and supporting of those boys in blue. The players mention it all the time; a rocking Subaru Park gives them a little extra energy to get the win. Be sure to look for that, and be a part of that if you’re there!
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