Alas, the final matchday of the 2023 MLS Season is already upon us. It’s strange how something can both feel like it’s gone by in an instant and dragged on for eternity simultaneously. Philadelphia Union will end their 2023 campaign on the road against New England Revolution in a Decision Day matchup which will determine both their and the rest of the league’s playoff seeding.
Although it’s the end of a 9-month journey in which Philadelphia Union had to manage multiple competitions (MLS, Leagues Cup, Open Cup, CCL), a plethora of injuries, and multiple contract negotiation fiascos, the blue and gold’s season is far from over with the team heading to MLS Cup Playoffs for the 6th straight season. Let’s take a look at that at Saturday’s Decision Day matchup and where that’ll land Union amongst the playoff pack.
In their previous 5 meetings against New England, Union had a record of 2 wins, 1 draw, and 2 losses. In that span, Union has outscored New England by a total of 7 goals to 5. Union’s 3-0 win in May of this season was their biggest against New England since a 6-1 victory in May of 2019. In their previous 3 meetings, Daniel Gazdag leads all goalscorers with 3, 1 more than Mikael Uhre.
2023 Season So Far
New England’s season has been a tale of 2 halves. The Revs started their season losing just 4 of their first 23 games, with a total record of 12 wins, 7 draws, and 4 losses for a total of 43 points. Since that point, and Head Coach Bruce Arena’s departure, New England has just 2 wins in their previous 10 games, with a total record of 2 wins, 3 draws, and 5 losses for a total of 9 points.
New England has been outscored by a total of 17 to 14 during that stretch, averaging 1.7 goals conceded per game and just 1.1 points per game. While Bruce Arena was in charge, New England conceded an average of 1.2 goals per game and collected 1.86 points per match.
New England’s 53 goals scored has them tied for the 5th highest scoring team in the league, but the Revs might be over-performing in front of the net based on their Expected Goals total of 40.7, 8th lowest in the MLS this season. They’re either lethal when they do get chances or they’re scoring a lot of goals from low-theat positions. Either way, New England can put goals past their opponent.
Though they’ve seen more troubles recently, New England is one of the better defensive teams in the league as well, conceding a total of 45 goals – 9th lowest in MLS. New England is led by Carles Gil in both the goal and assist categories and has seen contributions from a number of different players throughout the lineup with Bobby Wood, Tomas Chancalay, Giacomo Vrioni, and Gustavo Bou all chipping in at least 5 goals.
It’s no secret that Carles Gil is the beating heart of this New England Revolution team. He’s been voted the team’s MVP in 3 of the previous 5 seasons and once again is leading his team in both goals and assists with 11 and 14 respectively.
In addition to Goals and Assists, Gil leads New England in stats such as, *deep breath in*, Shots, Shots on Target, Expected Goals, Non-Penalty Expected Goals, Expected Assists, Key Passes, Passes Into The Final Third, Passes Into the Penalty Area, Progressive Passes, Free Kicks, Through Balls, Switches, Crosses, Corners Taken, Shot-Creating Actions, Total Distance Carried, Progressive Distance Carried, Total Progressive Carries, Carrie Into The Final Third, Carries Into The Final Third, Passe Received, and Progressive Passes Received. *Deep Breath Out*.
In other words, this New England team doesn’t do much offensively without it going through Carles Gil. When ranking against other Attacking Midfielders in MLS, Carles Gil ranks among the top 83 percentile or better in stats such as Non-Penalty Goals, Expected Assisted Goals, Non-Penalty Assisted Goals + Expected Assisted Goals, Progressive Carries, and Successful Take Ons. Gil ranks amongst the top 98 percentile in Passes Attempted, Progressive Passes, and total Shot-Creating Actions.
For the Union, the X-Factor in this game for me is whoever is going to mitigate the amount of influence Carles Gil has on the game. Unfortunately for Union, Jose Martinez will miss Decision Day due to yellow-card accumulation. Though they both have been working their way back from injury, both Leon Flach and Jesus Bueno have started training fully with the team again.
It feels like it might be too big of an ask to have Leon Flach play his first game back from injury on the turf against Carles Gil, so I think we’ll probably see Jesus Bueno in the defensive midfield position. It might be a long shot to think anyone in this league can completely negate Carles Gil by themselves, but if there’s anyone in Jose Martinez’s absence that can stick on Gil’s side like glue and give him a difficult time with every touch he makes it’s Jesus Bueno.
Amongst other midfielders in MLS, Bueno ranks in the top 79 percentile or higher in stats such as Tackles, Interceptions Blocks, and Clearances. He could prove to be a big piece of the puzzle on Saturday night for Union.
Before I give my lineup prediction, let’s go over who ISN’T likely to be available on Saturday night. As mentioned previously, Jose Martnez will be sidelined with a yellow-card accumulation suspension. Olivier Mbaizo suffered a knee injury that will likely see him miss some time. Matt Real rolled his ankle in practice and though it doesn’t seem to be too serious, he may be a doubt for Saturday. Jakob Glesnes is good to return from his injury that saw him miss multiple games before International Break.
I think we’ll see a 4-4-2 Diamond for Union on Saturday night. Andre Blake will take his place in net, with what I’d assume to be Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, and Nate Harriel making up the backline. As mentioned above Jesus Bueno will likely take the defensive midfield position, with Jack McGlynn and Ale Bedoya on either side of the Diamond. Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre, and Julian Carranza will round out the attacking front 3.
This is a big game for the Union in that it’s the final game before playoffs and the ultimate decider on where and who the Union faces in playoffs, but it’s the same situation for New England, and maybe even a bit more important for them being in the 2nd half of the playoff picture. It’s an opportunity for two teams struggling down the stretch to find some momentum before it really matters in the MLS Cup best-of-3 first round. That being said, it seems like New England fans aren’t happy with the current state of the team and aren’t too excited about their playoff hopes.
Because of their fans’ lack of confidence and interest in the team currently, maybe the environment at Gillette Stadium will be a bit more manageable for Union and won’t play as big of a factor in the game. That being said, it’s still a game on turf that can be a total crap shoot for Union. As much as a win on the road would help both this team and its fans feel better about their form going into playoffs, I think getting a draw on the road wouldn’t be an awful result on Saturday night.
I know, It’s frustrating to draw so many games recently, but drawing away games on turf might be one that you shouldn’t get too upset over. That being said, what a boost heading into playoffs with a road win under your belt would be for this team.
Playoff Picture breakdown
I’ll break this down as easily and with as few words as possible. Union win and they secure 3rd in the East and home-field advantage in the opening round. In the simplest of terms, if Union draw or lose by less than 2 goals, they’ll still secure at least 3rd or 4th place and home-field advantage in the opening round.
The only way in which Union falls to 5th place and loses their opening round home-field advantage is by losing to New England by more than 5 goals and Columbus also winning or drawing their final game.
The most bizarre part about the Eastern Conference playoff picture to me, is that all of the possible teams Union could see in playoffs are the same teams they’ve seen over the last couple weeks of the season, servicing as decent playoff previews. MLS is all about getting hot at the right moment, so here’s to hoping the Union find their best form at the right time and make another long MLS Cup run.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union