Match Preview: Union looks to clinch playoff spot tonight down at Charlotte FC

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It was a tale of two halves on Saturday night, and not in a way that leaves Union fans feeling confident.  Drawing 2-2 against FC Cincinnati after a 2 goal lead at halftime isn’t a good result, and Jim Curtin and Union know that – They’re certainly not happy to settle with a point each, but they’re still able to find some positive heading into a midweek matchup with Charlotte FC. A chance to clinch a playoff spot is on the line!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union @ Charlotte FC Preview

“Two heavy weights in the conference going at it.  We had a chance, I thought, in the first half to kind of deliver a knockout blow.  We were close but didn’t quite do it.  We let a good team hang around and then they started the second half and counter punched and came at us again.  Disappointing when you have a lead at home, certainly something that we’re not used to doing, dropping points from a lead in our building.  So that hurt.  But also when you watch it back, that’s a very strong Cincinnati team.  I think it’s, again, two of the top teams in not only the East but in the league getting together and it was a hard fought game.

Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

MLS season so far

In Charlotte’s second season in the league, they’re not exactly making a huge step up from their first.  7 Wins, 11 draws and 9 losses has them on just 32 points after 27 games, the 7th lowest point total in the league. 

Despite their lack-luster record that has them in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte is sitting just 3 points off of the final playoff spot with 2 games in hand, which should provide them with plenty of hunger and fight heading into Wednesday’s match, and Union knows it’s going to be a battle to earn all 3 points.

“We’ll take some positives from especially the first half and we’ll move on now to a Charlotte team that is fighting right in and around that red line to get into the playoffs, which is always difficult.  They’re a team that presents some challenges because they’re very comfortable having the ball.  We’ll have to be nice and compact and organized.  Obviously, it’s a difficult place to go play, have to navigate things like travel, the turf, all those variables, and a team that’s going to be hungry for all three points.  So we expect a difficult match and know that we’ll have to be at our max to get a result.”

Jim Curtin

Charlotte aren’t the most lethal team in the league, but as Jim Curtin said, they’re comfortable playing with the ball which could lead to some challenges on the road for Union.  While Charlotte hold the 7th highest possession total across MLS with an average of 52.8% per game, they frustratingly are tied for the 8th lowest total goals scored in MLS with just 32, and have the second lowest Expected Goals total with just 27.4. 

In addition to that, Charlotte has the least amount of shots taken in MLS (262), the least amount of shots on target (82), the least amount of shot creating actions (463), Interestingly enough, despite generating the least amount of shots in the league, Charlotte are tied with Atlanta for the best goals per shots on target in the league (0.37).  The Majority of Charlotte’s success in the attack has been through Enzo Copetti and Karol Swiderski. 

Swiderski leads the team in goals with 7 and is second in assists with 3 for a total of 10 goal contributions.  Copetti is credited with 5G and 1A.  34 year old Justin Meram has 3 goals and 4 assists for Charlotte, if that tells you anything about Charlotte’s attack.  

Defensively, Charlotte isn’t strong either, which is maybe why they put so much emphasis on controlling possession.  The other team can’t score if they don’t have the ball, right? Charlotte has allowed 43 goals this season, which is currently 3rd most in the league, and have allowed the 7th most shots on target with 133.  In addition to the struggles Charlotte face defensively, they’ve also allowed the most penalty kicks in MLS with 6.  

Charlotte have just 1 win in their last 12 games, but have only lost 3 in that same stretch as well.  Draws are probably what’s keeping Charlotte’s playoff hopes alive at the moment, with 8 draws in their last 10 games, and 11 on the season.  If Charlotte could figure out a way to turn just a few of those draws into wins, they might fancy themselves as one of the Eastern Conference’s last playoff teams.

Unfortunately for Charlotte, their season ends with some pretty tough games including Philadelphia Union, FC Cincinnati, New England Revolution, and Inter Miami twice in a row.  That makes a pretty tough run down the stretch for a team struggling to get wins.  

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


Karol Swiderski is the main man in Charlotte, statistically, but wasn’t the one to punish Union last season, as Daniel Rios scored 4 goals against Philadelphia to all but squash their supporters shield dreams and hopes of hosting MLS Cup at Subaru Park.  Rios is no longer with Charlotte, thank goodness, which leaves the opportunity for a different completely random player to score a hat trick against Union to send the fan base into a spiral.  But I think in this one, Swiderski is going to be important to Charlotte’s success, or lack thereof if Union are able to negate his influence. 

Swiderski is having an interesting season – leading Charlotte in a lot of offensive stats, but clearly not playing to his potential and admittedly, isn’t exactly loving the system Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio has tried fitting him in.  He’s even gone as far to say that playing as a creative 8/10 as opposed to a true striker isn’t ideal for him, but he’s willing to try and help the team however possible. 

In addition to the scoring ability the league knows Swiderski has, he also ranks in the 90th percentile of forwards in completed passes, the 80th percentile of progressive passes, and the 72nd percentile of successful take-ons amongst forwards around the league.  

For Union, I’m going to go with Daniel Gazdag.  With his PK against FC Cincinnati, Gazdag not only broke the record for the most PK’s in a single MLS season, but brought himself with 9 goals of tying Union’s all time leading goal scorer category held by Sebastien Le Toux. 

Coming into this game, Gazdag sits on 12 goals, 2 behind the Golden Boot, and 10 assists.  Gazdag sits in the top 75 percentile in assists and top 72 percentile in progressive passes amongst midfielders in the league.  It’s safe to say that if Union score a goal, there’s a good chance Daniel Gazdag has his hands on it in some capacity.  

With Charlotte allowing the most Penalty Kicks in MLS (6), and Union drawing the most penalty kicks in the league (8), Gazdag has to be licking his lips at the thought of stepping up to the PK spot with the opportunity to climb the all time goal scorers leaderboard, and giving Union a chance to secure 3 points on the road.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


While Jim Curtin firmly believes in the data that shows changing more than 4 players from your team often ends in a bad result, but he’s been open about the need for rotation come Wednesday night, especially with LAFC at home on Saturday.  

You don’t value one set of three points higher than the other at all, but you want to approach it and give yourself the best chance to win.  So we will have some rotation just like I’m sure Charlotte will going into this game.  We have a quick turnaround and have to play a really strong LAFC team who is playing for the Western Conference against St.Louis on Wednesday.

They have a Campiones Cup game with us sandwiched in the middle.  So the teams that use their depth the right way, teams that execute and play at their max and at their best will come away with the result.  And that’s the reality of our league and that’s the reality of our sport.”

That being said, one person we know Union will be without is Center Back Jake Elliott who received a red card in stoppage time against FC Cincinnati.  Jose Martinez is good to go after coming out of the game early with a slight knock in the back, and Tai Baribo had his biggest run out for Union yet, coming into the game in the 73rd minute.  Maybe he becomes an option to get Mikael Uhre or Juliana Carranza some rest before LAFC on Saturday. 

Without Elliott being available, Union are going into this game with just 2 true Center Backs.  We have seen situations this season where a number of players have stepped in as the third CB in a 3-back system, but I’m not sure that in the cards on Wednesday. 

Here’s my best guess on how Union lineup – Andre Blake in net, with a back 4 of Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Damion Lowe, and Oliver Mbaizo. I think Union will lineup in the 4-4-2 diamond, with Jose Martinez, Jack McGlynn, Jesus Bueno and Daniel Gazdag in the midfield.  I’d love to see Baribo get his first start for Union, but on the road playing on turf leans me towards both Uhre and Carranza starting with one of them coming off around the 60th minute to prepare for LAFC on the weekend.

 As for score predictions, I could totally see this one ending in disappointment for Union, though I fully believe they should walk away with 3 points.  Union have already surpassed the amount of games they played last season, and fatigue is starting to seep into their game, with small mistakes having huge implications.  And with a rematch of the MLS Cup Final coming to Subaru Park on the weekend, I really hope Union dont overlook this game and the importance it could have on their standing in the Eastern Conference and hosting home playoff games. 

For some reason, I just have a feeling luck is going to be on Union’s side Wednesday night, and maybe a lucky bounce and a PK goal is exactly what Union needs to get them back on track, pushing for one of the top 3 places in the East heading into playoffs.  I’m going for a 2-1 win on the road for Union, something positive they can build off of and take back to Subaru Park. 

Make sure to tune into MLS Season Pass on Apple TV Wednesday night as Union takes on Charlotte FC for the chance to clinch a playoff spot with six weeks left! Keep up with PSN’s coverage of all things Union heading down the stretch of the season.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union