The Philadelphia Union are heading to their 2nd straight eastern conference final after beating FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the eastern conference semifinal! It was an electric night at Subaru Park, as another playoff moment of magic gave Philly their first playoff win in regulation time!
Philadelphia Union 1 – 0 FC Cincinnati
This match was one where two familiar sides clashed. The Union has an evident influence on how FC Cincinnati has made a huge turnaround. A GM, head coach, and even players from Philly are now leading Cincinnati. They went from the worst team in the league to winning a playoff game at Red Bull Arena in just one year.
Philly had trouble against Cincy in the regular season, and many saw this playoff match as a trap game for the hosts, and it could have played out that way, if not for some stellar performances.
As the match began, one of the main battles to watch was that of Phillys Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, and Cincy’s Lucho Acosta. Acosta had torched Martinez in the regular season meetings, but this wouldn’t be the case this time.
Early on in the game, Philly dominated the flow of the match. They took away Cincinnati’s ability to play through the lines and forced their wingback to be the playmakers. Martinez, Flach, and McGlynn all kept the middle of the park clear, and the Union was able to turn Cincinnati over to create counterattacks.
On those counters, Cincy would often foul players, or concede corners, leading to dangerous set pieces that Philly was close to scoring on a number of times. The match turned chippy very fast and was played at a very fast pace. Even with all of that, it went to halftime scoreless.
The second half was just as chippy, but Philadelphia tried to slow the pace down when they had the ball. If the ball was on the right side, McGlynn and Mbaizo looked to play combinations with Gazdag or the strikers; the left saw Wagner, Flach, and Carranza combining. This was to draw Cincinnati’s center backs out of position, and it worked a few times, but the finishing touch was missing.
In the 60th minute that changed! The Union worked the ball into Cincinnati’s box, Carranza picked out Gazdag who tried to fire off a contested shot but it was blocked. Before Cincy could clear Uhre pressured the ball, and forced a very poor clearance that fell to a wide-open Flach. Leon isn’t known for his offense, but he saw the opportunity to strike. He hit the ball with the outside of his left foot first time, and it rocketed past the Cincy keeper. It was 1-0 Union with 30 minutes still to play, and Cincy [ut the pressure on.
For the final half-hour, Cincy threw their numbers forward to find the tying goal. They were close a few times as their attack put great efforts on net, but MVP candidate goalkeeper Andre Blake stood up to the task. He had two saves down the stretch that were particularly outrageous, the latest was in the 85th minute stoning Acosta on a strike that was destined for the bottom left corner.
After a lengthy amount of stoppage time and more chippy play from both sides, the Union emerged victorious! They beat a team they failed to beat twice in the regular season in route to hosting their 2nd straight eastern conference!
Grinding games out, relentlessly pushing for a goal, and defending as a unit; it’s the Philadelphia way. Getting this 1-0 win will be a huge motivating factor that could help this Union side push for even more greatness! They’re just one win away from playing for MLS Cup! Here are three takeaways from their impressive performance!
1. Silencing a relentless Cincy side
Cincinnati had Philly’s number in 2022 They came to Subaru Park in the Spring and fought to a 1-1 draw, then spanked them in Cincinnati winning 3-1. In those games, Philly failed to silence a Cincy side that is relentless in their pursuit of the ball and in their attack when they play up the middle.
In this playoff match, Cincy’s lethal front three of Acosta, Brenner, and Vazquez had very few chances. Brenner was particularly quiet as he couldn’t get back the Union’s center backs; Vazquez had no service from wide positions, and Acosta had to provide for himself in limited moments.
This could be a statement win that will have Union coach Jim Curtin more excited than their 6-0 blowout wins in the regular season!
2. Andre Blake went God mode
Part of what makes the Union great is their amazing defense. The foundation of that is set in their goalkeeping. Andre Blake has been great for years. He’s now won goalkeeper of the year three times in his career and is the rock for a great defense.
Ahead of him is a stellar defense, and 10 players who will work their tails off to stop the opposition. Against Cincy, Philly won 82% of their tackles, had six blocked shots, and 27 clearances, this was all ahead of a goalkeeper who made outrageous saves to secure the victory!
Andre Blake went God mode when he was called upon in a win-or-go-home match! He had five saves in the match two of which were in the final 10 minutes. Those shots could’ve easily swung the momentum to Cincy should they have gone in, but Blake stood tall and made sure Philly advanced!
3. Unexpected hero: Leon Flach made the difference
When it comes to the Union, any of the XI players on the pitch can be the difference maker on the day. It shows how great of a team they are! The unlikeliest of heroes could show up in the biggest moments for this team, and that is exactly what happened in this conference semi-final.
Leon Flach stepped up in a moment that needed to be taken. Who would have thought before the match that a defensive-minded midfielder would have the ball bounce to him in a defining moment? The ball was bouncing and required a perfect touch, but also a powerful effort to beat the goalkeeper. Flach stepped up and provided just that!
He hit the ball perfectly with the outside of his favored left foot, caught it sweetly, and got enough power on it to get it passed a diving goalkeeper! The winner should be put up there with the Glesnes hit, and Fabian double doink in Union playoff lore! Now Philly is on to the conference final again!
On to the Eastern Conference Final!
Last December a Covid-19 ravaged Philadelphia took to the pitch at home to take on a strong NYCFC side, they fell just short of MLS Cup. Now, a stronger and better version of the Union is back in the eastern conference final in 2022!
The goal since the loss in the 2021 eastern conference final has been to make MLS Cup. 2022 has truly been an MLS Cup or bust type of year. Philly is one win away from getting to that point, and two away from winning the coveted MLS Cup!
The Union awaits the winner of CF Montreal and NYCFC to see who will come to Chester for the eastern conference final. Philly’s next match will be Sunday, October 30th at 4 pm ET!
Relive the eastern conference semi-final!
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych