Philadelphia Union MLS Cup Preview: glitz and glam in goalywood

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Holy cow, the Union did it. After so many years of mediocrity and falling short, Philly has finally made it to the promised land: MLS Cup. In a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Philadelphia saw themselves matched up against NYCFC. Unlike last year’s game, the Union came away the victors this time with a 3-1 win, seeing themselves hoist the Eastern conference trophy.

This game was not without its fair share of excitement. The first half was dominated by the Union, but the best chance they had was a goal that was called back due to offside. The second half was where things truly blew open. NYCFC opened the scoring on a quick moving play which saw Maxi Moralez fire home a one-timer from the top of the box. It almost became 2-0 if not for another insane save from the goalkeeper of the year, Andre Blake, to keep the score at 1-0.

The Union used that momentum to truly force the issue and create a number of chances. In a sheer moment of brilliance, Jakob Glesnes took a quick free kick that played Julian Carranza in behind the defense, who slotted it past Sean Johnson to tie the game at one. Not even two minutes later, the Union took the lead, this time on a nice pass in from Jack McGlynn to Julian Carranza. Carranza headed the ball down for an onrushing Daniel Gazdag, who proceeded to roof the ball past Johnson.

The Union kept pressing and pressing for another one and got it on a beautiful series from Cory Burke. After losing the ball briefly, Burke muscled off rookie Justin Haak and slalomed his way through the defense. Burke kept on it and with a lucky bounce back to him, fired one in the top of the net to put the boys in blue up 3-1 and advance to the MLS Cup final.

Union
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 20: Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (11) pretends to shine the shoes of forward Julian Carranza (9) after Carranza’s third goal of the game during the Philadelphia Union versus D.C. United Major League Soccer (MLS) game on August 20, 2022 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

Union @ LAFC MLS Cup Preview

The Union will now travel out to LA to take on a familiar foe in LAFC. These two teams faced off in May, battling to a fierce 2-2 draw. The two top seeds will meet in the MLS Cup final for the first time since 2003 and what a matchup we will have. Let us look at how LAFC did this season, the player to watch out for, and a prediction for what will be the last game of the 2022 MLS season.

2022 MLS Season

LAFC has had one of the better seasons in its very short history. They were firing on all cylinders in the first half of the season, paving an early lead at the top of the western conference and setting themselves up for a points record.

The second half of the season, however, was a slightly different story. It saw a two-month run of form that, with all the arrivals and departures, did not allow for much chemistry. This run of form saw the massive lead that LAFC had built in the supporters’ shield race eliminated and took until the second to last game in the season to secure the shield.

The playoffs saw the team with a first-round bye. The first game that LAFC played was against a very, very familiar foe in the LA Galaxy. This playoff version of El Trafico certainly had its drama and fireworks. LAFC pulled out a very late winner close to stoppage time, winning this game 3-2 and advancing to the Western Conference finals.

The western conference final saw them come up against Austin FC, who were having a good season themselves. While the matchup on paper should have been good, the matchup on the field was not as LAFC ran Austin off the field in a 3-0 win and booked their ticket into the MLS Cup final.

X-Factor

LAFC has a lot of firepower in their roster, so it is certainly tough to pick one player out of this roster. Given all the talent, one might select the higher-priced and more famous names on the roster, but my pick for the x-factor is someone who will be representing his country at the 2022 world cup and has been on a torrid pace. The player in question is their midfielder, Jose Cifuentes.

The twenty-three-year-old Ecuadorian has slowly improved each season in his three years with this LAFC side. He is the more box-to-box player in the midfield compared to Ilie Sanchez and this LAFC side truly uses him and Kellyn Acosta to help push the ball forward. Cifuentes loves to crash the box and create havoc for the opposing defense.

The Union will absolutely need to be on the lookout for him and make sure he does not disrupt the quality defense that has propelled the team to the final. If the team can neutralize Cifuentes’ disruption in the midfield, they will be able to play their game and set the pace for a squad that certainly has its own talented players.

Prediction

This game will absolutely have a lot of chances and both teams will want to get that first goal. The Union defense will undoubtedly be put to the test, but I absolutely think that they will be able to stand up to this LAFC attack. There is a reason that this team has the league’s best defense, and it all starts with the three-time goalkeeper of the year, Andre Blake. Let us not also overlook the best center-back pairing in the league in defender of the year Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliot. While the Union may be mostly known for its defense, its attack is not something to be overlooked.

This team scored the most goals in the regular season, being led by the front three of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Mikael Uhre. LAFC has a solid defense, but this Union attack is something that LAFC may not be able to handle. This game will absolutely be back and forth with both goalies being tested. It will take one slip-up from either defense. In the end, I think that the Union’s defense will outperform the LAFC defense. Put this writer down for a 2-1 Union victory. Game time is 4:05 pm on Saturday afternoon.

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Mandatory Credit: Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

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