Union Season Preview: 2023 Cup competitions

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The Philadelphia Union begins its 2023 season in just days! As we prepare for the MLS campaign we need to take a look at the Cup competitions as well. Let’s take a look at the three major Cup competitions Philly will play in 2023!

CHESTER, PA – JULY 16: Philadelphia Union Midfielder Daniel Gazdag (6) is congratulated by teammates for scoring on a penalty kick during the second half of the Major League Soccer Match between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union on July 16, 2022, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

The Union will play in three Cup competitions in 2023

Philly will play in the Concacaf Champions League (CCL), the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and the newly formed Leagues Cup. Each competition is important in its own right and they add 20 more games to an already hectic MLS regular season. Here’s a look at each of the Cup competitions that Philadelphia will take part in this year.

Concacaf Champions League (CCL)

Philly is back in the Concacaf Champions League for the second time ever. CCL has been a competition that MLS has had recent success in. Seattle won the competition last year, they are the first MLS side to do so in this iteration of the competition. Philly will look to make it two in a row for MLS teams.

There are five MLS sides in CCL this season: Philadelphia, LAFC, Austin, Orlando, and Vancouver. The tournaments start in the Round of 16, and teams play home and away games in each round including the final. That could add a total of eight extra games should Philly make the final.

CCL will begin for the boys in blue with a Round of 16 ties against El Salvadoran side Alianza FC. Philly should be able to beat this team in a two-leg playoff. The first match will be in El Salvador, while the return leg will bring CCL play back to Chester!

US Open Cup

The US Open Cup is one of the longest-running Cup competitions in the world. Philadelphia has traditionally cared about this competition in the past. In the past 10 years, they are three times runners-up falling to Seattle (2014), SKC (2015), and Houston (2018). Can Philly get back to competing in this Cup competition?

This Cup competition is a single-elimination tournament where amateur sides, sem-pro teams, and pro teams throughout the different tiers in the United States face off against one another. The matches have extra time if the match can’t be decided in 90 minutes, and penalty kicks if the two 15-minute extra-time periods don’t produce a winner.

Philly will likely enter the US Open Cup in the fourth round, like the other MLS teams. This means that their path to lifting this Cup will be to win five games. MLS sides usually enter the tournament in May, and the competition runs through the summer months with a final being played at the end of September.

Leagues Cup

Leagues Cup is a new Cup competition between MLS and Mexican League Liga MX. Both leagues will take a break from their seasons and play in this semi-World-Cup-style tournament. The teams have been broken into groups of three with the reigning champions of MLS and Liga MX (LAFC and Pachuca) having byes to the Round of 32.

With the Group stage now being set the groups of three will face off, and the top two teams from each group will make it out to the Round of 32. No group stage match will end in a tie, if tied after 90 the game goes to a penalty shootout to determine the winner. The tournament then turns to knockout football, similar to the World Cup.

Philly takes on Mexican sides Club Tijuana and Queretaro FC in their group stage. Should they progress into the knockout rounds and make a run to the final, this would add seven matches to their already hectic schedule. With MLS putting emphasis on this new competition, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Union go after this Cup like they used to chase the US Open Cup.

Can Philly win any of these Cups this year?

The Union has a very strong first team with 27 players all fighting to win something this year. Falling short of winning the Supporters Shield on a tie-breaker, and the MLS Cup on penalty kicks last year was agonizing and motivating for this team.

They will have their hands full with the 34-game MLS regular season campaign; however, Jim Curtin is a master at getting his teams to go on deep tournament runs. All three of these tournaments could be in play for Philly in the 2023 season.

CCL will be a priority one of these competitions. If the Union can win this competition, then they will not only be champions of the Concacaf, but they will also qualify for next year’s Club World Cup. The next competition they’ll look to make a run in is the Leagues Cup. MLS wants its teams to be competitive in this competition, and the Union is well-seeded to make a run to the knockout rounds. The competition that would be the “easiest” to win would be the US Open Cup. Win five matches and hoist that trophy that alluded the club three times in the past decade.

All of this is to say that the Union is definitely in contention for winning one, if not multiple Cup competitions in 2023. That’s what it seems like on paper, now we’ll just have to wait to see how things look on the field!

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Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire