This Saturday night, Philadelphia Union will set off on their 6th straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance with the opening game of a best-of-3 First Round series against New England Revolution at Subaru Park. It’s almost impossible to lie – the general feeling around this team heading into playoffs leans towards the side of “Negadelphia”.
Just 2 wins in their previous 10 games, a number of contract disputes, and the team not struggling to find their best form at the most important time – it’s hard for a lot of people to feel confident, or even hopeful about this team heading into Playoffs, but I’m gonna try to change your mind.
Here are 5 ways in which the Union might have an edge over the New England Revolution in the opening round.
1. Home Field is a Fortress
I’ll try to keep this one short as I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re already aware of how good the Philadelphia Union is at Subaru Park. Since losing 2 straight at home in September of 2021, Philadelphia Union has lost just 3 in 51 games at Subaru Park in all competitions.
In that span, Union has achieved an impressive record of 39 wins, 9 draws, and 3 losses and has outscored their opponents by a total of 120 goals scored to 35 conceded. Locking up home-field advantage and getting 2 games at Subaru Park in the best-of-3 series is going to be huge for Union, and they’ve got to take advantage of that.
Win on Saturday and put the pressure on the Revs heading to New England.
2. Revolution has players with experience, but Union has a team with experience
When looking at which team’s players have more playoff experience under their belt, it was actually the squad in New England that has played in more do-or-die games. Across their squad, New England has 106 games of playoff experience to Union’s 88. But the entire difference between the two clubs’ experience can be separated by 1 player in New England who’s only recently started getting minutes – Omar Gonzalez.
The 35-year-old Center Back Omar Gonzalez has a long history of playoff experience appearing in 27 throughout his career, most of which came with LA Galaxy pre-2016, but did play 2 with Toronto in ‘19 and ‘20. Gonzalez played more than 45 minutes just once in his 7 appearances under head coach, Bruce Arena. Gonzalez found his way into the team on a consistent basis right around the time Richie Williams took over for Bruce Arena, getting to play 90 minutes in 6 straight games.
Since Clint Peay took over as Interim Manager, Gonzalez has started 4 of 7 games down the stretch. He didn’t feature in the final game of the regular season against New England, but I’d be surprised if the Revs fail to utilize his playoff experience. Andrew Farrell adds experience in the backline with 13 games played outside of Gonzalez.
New England’s starting XI has a mix of Playoff tested players and guys who will be taking their first swing at it this fall, while the majority of Union’s starting XI has at least 3 playoff games as a unit under their belt, with Nate Harriel’s 2 being the exception.
Amongst players that did start in the playoff preview on Decision Day, Union actually has the edge in playoff experience over that particular New England starting 11. 70 games of playoff experience to New England’s 49, and what’s maybe most important to me is the type of experience this Union team has. This team has experience going deep in a multitude of competitions in recent years and has kept a majority of the same lineup while doing so.
As much as an MLS Cup final, CCL Semi-Final, and Leagues Cup Semi-Final defeat in the span of 8 months hurts, that experience should bode well for the Union against New England in the opening round. Not to mention – Union is managed by Jim Curtin, the second most tenured coach in MLS.
He’s got 11 playoff games under his belt, while this will be Interim Head Coach Clint Peay’s first MLS Cup Playoff game. This Union team has been here before, it’s time to play like it.
Here’s a full breakdown of each player’s totals below. The players who started the game on Decision Day are in bold.
New England Revolution
|Earl Edwards Jr.||0|
3. Union is getting rest and healthy at the right time
This Union team has played more games in a season than it ever has before, and I think players, coaches, and fans alike are all feeling that heading into the playoffs. The onslaught of games at a rapid pace has resulted in inconsistent form, fatigue and injuries, and frustration on and off the pitch.
One thing that hasn’t been talked about enough with how congested the schedule has been, is how little amount of actual practice time teams have gotten this year. Teams, especially those competing in the Champions League, have had 3 games a week for a lot of the season.
It has left very little time to shape up and fine-tune things on the practice pitch before needing to travel or prepare and play the next game. I think this has hurt MLS as a whole this season, not just the Union, with many people feeling the general product has dipped from years past.
Regardless, things have finally started to slow down for Union. The International break allowed Jesus Buneo, Leon Flach, and Jakob Glesnes to recover from injury. At the same time, those not on international duty got some much-needed resort and recoup time as well. While he wasn’t injured, Jose Martinez will return to the lineup after missing Decision Day due to yellow card suspension – obviously, the role he plays for Union can’t e]be described easily.
There were a few players that did pick up slight knocks over the international break, but the severity of their injuries is unknown and we’ll get an update from Jim Curtin in his pre-game press conference later this week. Either way, Union having a full week of prep and being able to field their best 11 on Saturday will go a long way in getting that important opening game win at Subaru Park.
It’s undetermined how the 11 days of rest before games 1 and 2 will affect each team, but at the very least it allows Union proper time to make any adjustments needed and will give anyone with a lingering injury time to recover for game 2.
4. Union put their opponents in bad positions
If you’ve ever watched Union get awarded a Penalty Kick or a 1-man advantage after their opponent receives a red card and thought “Wow, this happens to this team a lot”, then your intuition is correct. Philadelphia has been awarded a league-high 11 Penalty Kicks in MLS this season and has been given a one-man advantage a league-high 7 times.
While at first glance it seems like Union might have some favoritism thrown their way by referees, it’s really Union’s own doing that causes their opponents to make game-changing mistakes. Union is always testing their opponent’s Center Backs, putting them under pressure and forcing them to make high-risk decisions and plays.
Because of that, Union has benefited from a tired, undisciplined defender getting a challenge wrong more than anyone else in the league between PK’s and man advantages. That being said, Union fans are much more confident in their team taking control of a game from the PK sport than they are with a man advantage. That’s So Union.
5. An Era is ending, so leave absolutely nothing on the field
It’s probably time to come to terms with the fact that, unlike the last post-season, we will likely see a number of players put on the Union shirt for the final time during this playoff run. Union fans owe a lot to this group that’s been together for a number of years, battled it out in a number of competitions, and seen both the ultimate highs and heartbreak this club has ever seen.
For now, Union fans and players alike can’t take this for granted – who knows what the makeup of this starting XI will look like when we kick off pre-season in February. I certainly hope it’s not, but Saturday night could be the last time we see Kai Wagner, Ale Bedoya, and who knows who else at Subaru Park. Leave absolutely nothing on the field, fight until the very end.
Going out as Champions might be too perfect of a fairy tale ending, but In the same way that members of this team have come to their teammates’ side to publicly support them in their contract battles, I hope both this team and its fans come together to battle for this Union team as we know it on one last run to bring a trophy back to Philadelphia.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union