Match Recap: Union’s 2-goal first-half lead erased in draw with FC Cincinnati

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Early Fall in Philadelphia is a great time for sports fans – you’ve got the Phillies making a push for another playoff run, the return of Eagles football, and shortly the Flyers and Sixers will be back in action as well.  But over the last few years, the Union have interjected themselves into that conversation as well after making deep runs in the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Now that the International Break is over, there were 8 games left in the Union’s season and they’re gearing up for another shot at MLS Cup.  But even though they were set to play 5 of their last 8 games at home, It’s going to be a tough test for Union down the stretch – 6 of the final 8 opponents currently hold a playoff spot, and 5 of those playoff teams are Eastern Conference Opponents.  Union’s spot in the table come playoff time will largely be decided by this final stretch of games, and it all starts with maybe the toughest test of them all.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union vs. FC Cincinnati recap

FC Cincinnati, a team that won the Wooden Spoon in their first 3 seasons as Major Leagues Soccer’s worst team.  But after that 3rd disastrous season, FC Cincinnati made some moves that would change everything for them.  Chris Albright and Pat Noonan, formerly of Philadelphia Union, were now in charge of hauling what might be the worst team in MLS history up a steep hill.  But it’s worked. 

FC Cincinnati reached the playoffs in their first year with the former Union duo at the reins, and are 11 points clear of the Supporters Shield with 7 games left in their season – a win on the road at Subaru Park might just seal that fate for themselves.  But a win for Union, and the Supporters Shield race is down to 8 points. 

If The Union wins their game in hand, it could have been down to 5 points with 6 games left in their season.  Not only for the sake of chasing another trophy but Saturday night against FC Cincinnati could have been a huge turning point in Union’s season. 

Win and you’re making a real push as one of the league’s best teams.  Lose, and you’ve got to watch former members of your club all but lift the Supports Shield in your own building, and you’ve got to pick yourself up before tough fixtures continue if you want to have a good position in the table heading into the postseason. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Starting XI

With Ale Bedoya missing tonight, there were some questions on who would play in the midfield against FC Cincinnati.  Many think Union is better with the back 4, and Curtin says when all are fit he thinks that’s their best position as well.  So some were disappointed to see Union return to the 5-3-2 on Saturday, but Curtin Likes playing 3 at the back against teams with two-forwards this season. 

Andre Blake in net, Kai Wagner and Nate Harriel as the outside backs, with Jake Elliott, Damion Lowe, and Jakob Glesnes as the trio in the back.  It would also mark Jakob Glesnes’ 100th straight MLS start for Union.  In the Midfield would be Jack McGlynn and Jose Martinez, with Daniel Gazdag in front of them as the 10.  Juliana Carranza and Mikael Uhre were the two forwards leading the attack 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union dealt with early pressure and jumped out to 2-0 lead before the half

As suspected, the start of this game was both sides not wanting to give up the first goal.  Both teams played bravely to start, but you could sense a bit of caution from both early on.  FC Cincinnati controlled the ball in the first half, maintaining 65% of possession, the biggest spells coming early in the game.  But Union dealt with that pressure well, conceding a total of just 0.40 expected goals in the first half and continued to stay patient while probing for their first threatening look on net themselves.

In the 23rd minute, Union drew first blood when Jose Martinez received a pass from Jack McGlynn and lined up a right-footed shot from around 25 yards out.  Martinez, who’s never been shy about letting one fly from around this area, hit this one so sweetly and rocketed the ball past Celentano and into the back of the net before the keeper could get close to it.  Martinez’s 3rd goal of the season gave Union an early 1-0 lead they could build on at home. 

Just 10 minutes after scoring their first, Union would earn themselves an opportunity to double their lead before halftime when a ball by Jack McGlynn sent Gazdag behind the backline and in on goal.  Gazdag chested the ball down to himself with just Celentano to beat.  Gazdag tried to flick the ball with his right foot past an on-rushing Celentao, but Celenato got the desperation challenge all wrong, taking out Gazdag as he flicked the ball passed him, and giving Union a chance to make it 2-0 from the spot. 

After quite a bit of pushing and shoving and theatrics by referee Ismail Elfath himself, Gazdag finally was able to step up to the spot and slot the PK in the bottom left corner past a correct-guessing Celentano.  2-0 Union in the 37th minute.  Not only did it give Union an important 2-0 lead, but that PK goal was also #48 across all competitions for Daniel Gazdag, moving him just 9 behind Union’s all-time leading scorer in all competitions, Sebastien Le Toux. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Tale of two halves – 2-goal lead and 3 points slip from grasp

All things considered, Union handled the first-half pressure well.  FCC was without MVP candidate Lucho Acosta but still controlled possession and asked questions of Philadelphia’s backline, which they handled well in the first 45.  But after the break, Union came out flat and was punished right away. 

In just the 5th minute of the second half, Brandon Vazquez dropped deep into the midfield to receive a pass from Barreal.  Vazquez, despite being pressured by two defenders, was able to one-touch the ball behind the defense to spring Kubos behind.  Kubos did well to spring away from Glesnes, desperately trying to recover, but all Kubos had left to do was square the ball on a silver platter to Aaron Boupendza waiting in the middle with an open net.  Jose Martinez did his best to spring back to cut the pass off, but was a second late and Boupendza tapped the ball in to cut the lead to 2-1. 

Vazquez made a really good play to spring FCC on the rush, but you’ve got to look at 2 of the CBs on this play.  Both Elliott and Lowe surrounded Vazquez while he received that pass, but didn’t pressure him enough to keep him from receiving the initial pass or to muffle Vazquez’s through-ball attempt themselves.  A few minutes later, Boupendza had the ball in the back of the net again, but Union was saved by the offsides flag.  The goal by Boupendza sucked all the momentum out of the game but in the fans and players. 

Subaru Park was pretty quiet for a bit, and it got a lot quieter in the 76th minute when a Jesus Bueno turnover sent Boupendza on the attack.  Boupendza sent a cross into the middle of the box from Andre Blake’s right side which was met by a sprinting Vazquez.  Vazquez one-touched the ball, flicking it over the on-rushing Andre Blake and drawing the game level after being down 2-0 on the road.

FCC spent the next 8 minutes or so really pushing for the winner, they could feel that Union was in a vulnerable position and were looking for the ultimate dagger.  And for a minute it felt like it was coming for Cincinnati, until all their momentum was spoiled by a second yellow card to Mosquera, ending his night early and giving Union a man advantage. 

The Union felt like they had a chance to find the winner, especially after seeing the referee put up a total of 8 minutes of stoppage time.  The hope that a last-minute winner was on the table seeped back into the crowd, but it was all for none when Union received a sending-off of their own when Jack Elliott received his second yellow in the 94th minute.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Takeaways from the Draw  

Some draws feel like wins, and some feel like losses.  But blowing a 2-0 lead at home when you’ve got an opportunity to bring the supporters’ shield race to 8 points feels a lot like a loss. It was the first multi-goal blown lead for Union since 2018.  And to add salt to the wound, Union will be without CB Jack Elliott midweek. 

It’s difficult to say what a win Saturday night might have done for Union’s confidence and momentum down the stretch, but now they’ll have to dig deep to keep this slip-up from turning into multiple heading into playoffs.  It’s going to take a strong mental effort to move on to Charlotte on the road on Wednesday and before LAFC comes to Chester next Saturday.   

That being said, I don’t think tonight was all bad.  MLS is about getting hot at the right time, if Philly can shake this off, take the positives with them, and regain focus on the rest of the season I’m confident they’ll land themselves in a decent playoff position with some games at home, and we know how good Union are at knock-out soccer.  Here are a few positives to take away from tonight’s game to end things on a high note:

  • Jakob Glesnes earned his 100th straight MLS Start
  • Gazdag scores 48th goal in all competitions for Philadelphia, just 9 behind Union’s all-time leader, Sebastien Le Toux
  • Jack McGlynn is becoming a more reliable 2-way midfielder 
  • Tai Baribo is finding more fitness
  • Jose Martinez only scores bangers!
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union