After traveling up to Queens, NY on Saturday night and handing NYCFC their first loss at Citi Field by a score of 3-1, Philadelphia Union are set to return to Subaru Park Wednesday night where they’ll look to keep their run of form going and extend their unbeaten streak to eight straight games against Charlotte FC. It feels like this team is starting to turn the corner and find some consistency, which is almost hard to wrap your head around when the team has crashed out of two competitions within the same timeframe of their unbeaten run.
But when you really look at the stats through the first 14 games of this season and the first 14 games of last, you might be surprised by some of the numbers despite this season feeling so negative until recently. More on that later, but having Charlotte FC at home on Wednesday night followed by CF Montreal at home on Saturday night provides Union with a really good opportunity to keep their run of form going and continue making their way up the Eastern Conference Table.
Union VS Charlotte FC preview
Union and Charlotte’s history is short, with the North Carolina side only coming into MLS last season, but it’s a matchup that probably leaves a bad taste in the mouth of Union fans. While Philadelphia took all 3 points by a score of 2-0 at home in the two team’s first ever meeting, it was Charlotte FC who had the last laugh in 2022, beating Union 4-0 and ending their Supporters Shield hopes in the second-to-last matchday of the season.
The Union’s 2023 Season So Far
Before we get into Charlotte’s start to the 2023 campaign, I wanted to do a bit of a dive on the comparison between Union’s first 14 games of 2023 VS the record-breaking season of 2022 as I mentioned earlier. There’s no denying it, much of the earlier part of this season has stunk in comparison to the last. The weather has been awful, the play on the field has been inconsistent, and they’ve lost out on opportunities for 2 different trophies this season.
But 14 games in, after going unbeaten in their last seven games – despite being knocked out in those two competitions – Union sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 24 points, nine points back of Supporters Shield-leading FC Cincinnati. And while that’s definitely disappointing considering the goals set for this season, the numbers might suggest that Union are finding their best form a bit quicker than they did last season.
Through the first 14 games of 2022, Union had a record of six wins, seven draws, and one loss, for a total of 25 points, which was good enough to land them at #2 in the Eastern Conference. In those 14 games, Union scored a total of 19 goals and conceded a total of 10. Despite breaking numerous goal-scoring records last season, Union did not score more than two goals in any of their first 14 games of the season. In fact, Union didn’t score more than twice in a match until they beat D.C. by a score of 7-0 in early July, and that was really the kickstart of the most memorable Union season yet.
14 games into the 2023 season and Union have a record of seven wins, three draws, and four losses, for a total of 25 points which again, has them currently in fourth place in the East. In those 14 games, Union has scored 23 goals and conceded a total of 15. While Union failed to score more than twice in a single match in the first 14 of 2022, they’ve already done so four times in 2023. One thing we knew going into this season is that MLS teams competing in CONCACAF Champions League tend to struggle in MLS play. The depth needed to deal with fixture congestion and long travel is really difficult for MLS clubs, and I think it’s fair to say Union was no exception to that.
I think fans would have an easier time swallowing the lackluster start to the season if Union were able to punch their ticket to the CCL final, but now that we’re past that and can put almost all the focus toward MLS, I don’t think we can be too disappointed with where they’re currently sitting. The great thing about MLS is that you can’t win the league halfway through the season like you can in Germany or England. Making the playoffs and finding your stride at the right time can earn you the same results, and I don’t think many people will remember how the start of the season went if we’re lifting the cup at the end of it. I guess my point in all of this is, it’s a long season.
Charlotte’s Season so Far
Alright thanks for being patient with me on that one, I think it’s important to try and take a step back and analyze things outside of an emotional standpoint from time to time. Now let me give you some info on Union’s opponent come Wednesday night. Charlotte FC will be traveling to Chester, PA on the back of a 1-0 win on the road to dumpster fire LA Galaxy, and currently sit in sixth place in the East with a record of six wins, three draws, and six losses for a total of 21 points.
Surprisingly, Charlotte’s form on the road is almost as good as at home, where they play in front of a pretty energetic and intimidating crowd. While their home record of three wins, two draws, and three losses for a total of 11 is better than their away record it’s not by much, with Charlotte earning 10 points on the road so far this season with a record of three wins, one draw, and three losses.
Charlotte has scored 20 goals this season, good enough to land them inside the top 10 in the league in goals scored. It’s no surprise that Karol Swiderski is one of Charlotte’s best goal scorers with 4 so far this season, but Charlotte fans will be happy to see Enzo Copetti find his scoring boots to match Swiderski’s four-goal total.
But it’s Justin Merriam who leads Charlotte in Goal contributions, with a team-leading four assists and two goals. Offensively Charlotte is playing OK. They’ve got some quality in the attack and can make you pay for mistakes. Charlotte likes to get possession of the ball and try and work their way up the field. They are near the top of the league in overall possession, overall touches, touches in their own penalty area, touches in their own final third, touches in the midfield, and touches in their opponents’ attacking third.
But Charlotte sees a huge drop off in touches in their opponents’ penalty area, currently sitting at eighth worst in MLS. But Defensively, Charlotte struggles…quite a bit. While Charlotte finds themselves in the top 10 in goals scored in MLS, they currently sit tied for dead last in goals conceded with 25 through their first 15 games. In addition to leading the league in goals conceded Charlotte also finds themselves near the top of the list for allowing the most Shots on Target Against, which Union should look to take advantage of Wednesday night. attacking third. But Charlotte sees a huge drop off in touches in their opponents’ penalty area, currently sitting at eighth worst in MLS.
For Union, I’m going with the hot hand in Julian Carranza. While Carranza started the season a bit slow, only scoring two goals in his first six games, Carranza has five goals in his last seven games, with two of those coming on Saturday night against NYCFC, which marked the second straight game Carranza had scored in. While there could be a bit of rotation this week, having three games in the span of seven days, I think Carranza is a good bet to get his handprints on Wednesday night’s matchup against Charlotte FC.
On the other side of the ball, I’m going to go with one that might feel a bit lazy in Karol Swiderski. To me, Swiderski is just Charlotte’s most important player. Not only does he co-lead the team in Goals, and is tied for the team lead in goal contributions with six, Swiderski is near the top of the club’s leaderboard in stat categories such as Expected Goals, Non-Penalty Expected Goals, Expected assisted goals, progressive carries, progressive passes, progressive passes received, total shots, Shots on target, shots per 90 minutes, Free Kicks Taken, Penalty Kicks Taken, shot-creating actions, touches in the opponent’s final third, and touches in the penalty area.
Predicting lineups this season has been hard, with all the injuries, formation changes, fixture congestion, and international call-ups, I feel like there are a number of different lineups Jim Curtin could roll out in almost every single game. But one thing is for sure, the introduction of the 5-3-2 has looked really good and seems to be the change in the tactics the team needed.
Though Union has their second game on short rest Wednesday night and a third coming this weekend, I hope to see Union make minimal changes to their Starting XI from recent games, which shouldn’t be as hard to pull off with just MLS play to focus on at the moment. I think we’ll run the same lineup we did on Saturday night against NYCFC, but if we do decide to switch it up, I could see either one of Carranza or Uhre at forward getting some rest, even if just for the first half. The only name listed as “Questionable” for Union is Captain Ale Bedoya, who I think is still probably a bit out from playing in Wednesday night’s game.
Charlotte on the other hand does have some injuries to deal with. Listed as questionable heading into Wednesday night’s Eastern Conference matchup are Ben Bender, George Marks, and McKinze Gaines. While their involvement in the match is still up in the air, Charlotte FC has listed Hamady Diop, Enzo Copetti, and Kamil Jozwiak as out for Wednesday’s match.
In terms of how the game is going to unfold on the pitch, I think things are starting to roll for Union. They’ll feel really good about going up to Queens and handing NYCFC their first-ever regular season loss at Citi Field, and will be looking to build on the seven-game-unbeaten streak. On top of that, being back at home, with beautiful weather, and some of the best fans in the league should be the recipe for a good night on the Delaware River for fans of Blue and Gold.
While I could see Union having a bit of a difficult time breaking down Charlotte who likes to take possession of the ball, I think it will ultimately play right into Union’s gameplan of high-pressing and counter-attacking play. I think Union will keep things rolling at home on Wednesday night with a 3-1 win with goals coming from Juliana Carranza, Daniel Gazdag, and Mikael Uhre. If you can’t make it out to the park on what should be a beautiful Wednesday night, you can watch Union take on Charlotte FC on MLS Season Pass via Apple TV at 7:30 pm Wednesday night.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union