While it hasn’t been pretty, the Philadelphia Union are now two games unbeaten taking clean sheets in both. Their draw in league play vs SKC, and their CCL quarterfinal win in leg one vs Atlas has this team raring to keep the good defensive work going. This weekend, that work will be cut out for them as the Union travels to first-place FC Cincinnati.
Philadelphia Union at FC Cincinnati Preview
While Philly hasn’t looked like the same team that took the eastern conference by storm in 20202, they are still revered as a top contending team in MLS. Their trip to high-flying Cincinnati being sandwiched in between CCL quarterfinal legs is not ideal, but it’s something that the club wouldn’t have any other way.
The Union has played nine matches across all competitions already in 2023, just seven weeks into their year. Their four wins, two draws, and three losses in those matches show just much of a battle early season congestion can be. Now, they focus on taking on a club that they know very well FC Cincinnati.
Former Union executive Chris Albright and assistant coach Pat Noonan have teamed up in Cincy to bring a team that was the laughing stock of the league up to a playoff-competing side that currently sits at the top of the east. This team is the real deal. Their familiarity with Philadelphia makes them a major threat, and their current form says so too.
2023 MLS Season
FC Cincinnati is one of three MLS teams that is still undefeated; they’re the only eastern conference side to still have a zero in the loss collum. Through six weeks Cincy has 4 wins and two draws, scoring eight goals and letting in only four. Their four goals allowed is the second-best goals-against in MLS so far this year, but FCC’s high-powered offense has yet to kick into gear.
As is the trend for most MLS teams through the first six weeks of the 2023 season, goals can be hard to come by. After 2022 which saw Cincy surge up the table and amas a fourth-best 64 goals, their attack has sputtered coming out of the gates this year. The dangerous front three of Luciano Acosta (0 G, 2 A), Brandon Vazquez (1 G, 1 A), and Brenner (1 G, 0 A) have combined for just two goals and three assists.
While they haven’t been playing to the same standard as last year (I wonder what that’s like,) other role players have stepped up for Cincinnati. Junior Moreno and ex-Union forward Sergio Santos are tied for the team’s lead in goal scoring with two goals, but the main strength of this side is in their defense.
They have let only one goal in at home, a goal to Huston in week one, and three others in a fluky 3-3 draw at Chicago. Four clean sheets at Orlando, vs Seattle, at Nashville, and vs Miami have set this team up to be one that is fortified and ready to make waves this year.
Usually, this is part of the preview where we take a look at the main players to watch that could provide the moment of brilliance that wins the match for either team. However, this time around, it seems like this matchup is leading us to look at x-factors that will be on the sideline.
Yes, I’m going to be talking about the coaches in this one! Pat Noonan was the number two to Jim Curtin at Philly for years and now is implementing a very similar culture in Cincinnati. Noonan is the X-factor in this game. He has shown that he understands how the Union like to play and can tactically shift the way his side plays to get the better of his previous employers. He did it last year in Cincy, got a huge road point at Philly, and nearly beat the Union in the MLS Cup playoffs.
The concept of the padawan overcoming the master isn’t just for Star Wars, we’ve seen it happen in sports all the time, and this current iteration has the same feeling as this week’s Ted Lasso episode. The anticipated match between the Wonderkid himself, Nate the Great, and Ted Lasso showed just how brilliant a tactical mind the young protege coach has. Will the same thing happen this weekend?
In all seriousness, This match will come down to which coach can tweak their tactics enough to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent on the day. This game is one where both sides have struggling attacks, but good recent defensive performances, so how will this one actually go down?
This game is one that could be the most thrilling, tactically shifty match of both teams’ young seasons. I Wouldn’t be surprised at all if this game is very fast-paced, with both sides flying around the field looking to hit each other on the counterattack. These two had the best attacks in MLS last season, could we see either or both attacks get hot in this matchup?
The Union will have leg two of the CCL quarterfinal against Atlas just days after this match, I’d expect to see a strong Philly side. The front three of Uhre, Carranza, and Gazdag should all get the start to build more chemistry. The midfield is difficult to predict at this stage of the year; Bedoya deserves a rest and Parea deserves a start, but will Philly take off their captain?
Martinez will start at the six, the question will be will we see Flach or McGlynn on the left side of the diamond? The backline should be set for this game, Real, Elliot, Glesnes, and Mbaizo; this would allow for some rest for Harriel and Lowe who seem to be CCL players for Philly. Blake will be in goal because he’s a brick wall!
In terms of a score prediction, this one feels like it will feature two teams whose attacks are still trying to find their feet. I see both teams getting a goal, and splitting the points 1-1. I would love to say the Union will dish out Cincy’s first loss of the year, but with CCL looming large, I feel like Philly will battle and get a good point on the road! The match kicks off at 7:30 pm ET on Apple TV – MLS Season Pass!
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union