Playoff Match Preview: Union look to wrap up best-of-3 series on the road in New England Wednesday night

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

After a week and a half break, the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution are finally ready to face off in Game 2 of their opening round best-of-3 playoff series. A 3-1 win from Union in Game 1 reinstalled hope back into fans of the blue and gold, but momentum has come to a screeching halt after such a long break between games. The news of Jakob Glesnes needing surgery, and suspension for Kai Wagner after he used a racial slur.  Regardless, a win on Wednesday night sends New England home and Union through to the Conference Semifinals where the Supporters Shield winners, FC Cincinnati await their next opponent.  Here’s a look at what’s in store for Game 2.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Wagner Suspended for 3 games

After Union’s 3-1 win against New England, it surfaced that Revolution’s Bobby Wood had accused Union Left Back Kai Wagner of using a racial slur against him in the late stages of Game 1.  Due to how the CBA and player’s union are set up, Kai Wagner was allowed to participate fully while the investigation was ongoing. It was reported on Monday night by Jonathan Tannenwald at The Philadelphia Inquirer that a decision on the investigation would be released before Game 2.

Late Tuesday afternoon the verdict was in; Wagner is suspended three matches for violating the league’s on-field antidiscrimination policy during game 1. This suspension would see Wagner for the playoffs barring another run to MLS Cup, or a run to the Eastern Conference Final should Philly win their round one series in two matches. Wagner took to his social media accounts after the verdict to say that he deeply regrets saying what he said, but that he did so to defend “unacceptable comments regarding my family.” Wagner ended his statement by saying he sincerely apologizes and that he is going to work on bettering himself and his actions; concluding, that this moment doesn’t represent who he is.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Home Field Advantage for The Revs 

While New England only finished the season with a record of 3 wins, 6 draws, and 8 losses on the road for a total of 15 points in the 2023 campaign, New England had an impressive 40 points recorded at Gillette Stadium this season, losing just 1 game at home in MLS play. In their 17 home games in league play this season, New England outscored their opponents by a total of 37 to 16. Revolution played their best soccer in front of their home fans and proved recently that they have what it takes to get the better of Philadelphia with a 2-1 at home on Decision Day. 

With the combination of this being the 3rd consecutive match between the two squads and the suspension of Kai Wagner, there’s already plenty of tension brewing for game 2, but when you throw in the fact that it’s an elimination game for the Revolution, I’d expect them to come out confident and flying. On top of New England being back where they feel most comfortable, Revolution head coach Clint Peay has declared their star player Carles Gil fit for game 2 after coming out of Game 1 early with an injury.  It’ll be up to a make-shift Union backline to weather the storm early.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

What’s Union’s approach to Game 2?

The Union thrives at home, we know that.  But at the same time, they’re actually better on the road in comparison to the rest of the league than one might think. Philly’s 5 wins and 4 draws for 19 points in 17 road games is the 8th best road record in the league, and 3rd best in the Eastern Conference.  That’s an impressive feat considering the number of games Philadelphia has played this season and shows they’re difficult to beat no matter where they play. 

When asked in his pre-game press conference on how Union would approach Game 2, head coach Jim Curtin said Union would play this game to win, even though it’s not a do-or-die situation for them and they’ll have a bumper with Game 3 at home.   

“We have to go after this game, if you don’t play your strongest group you leave yourself in a difficult situation. There’s no guarantees when it comes to a one-off game”

Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

X-Factor

It’s no mystery that New England’s mainline to success is Carles Gil, and his departure early in game 1 played a big part in the Revolution’s movement in attack.  Gil has a team-leading 11 goals and 15 assists Gil leads New England in stats such as:

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. 

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 Philly, I’m going to go with Jack McGlynn as the X-Factor in this one.  Jim Curtin spoke highly of McGlynn in his press conference previewing Game 2 and says he’s made a big step in his development on both sides of the ball this season.  With the absence of Kai Wagner, Curtin will likely put more weight on McGlynn’s shoulders in terms of set pieces and chance creation. 

Though McGlynn has only been credited with 2 goals and 2 assists in 27 appearances in MLS play, McGlynn leads the team in progressive passes and passes into the final 3rd,  and is 3rd in passes into the penalty area.  McGlynn ranks amongst the top 80 percentile of midfielders in stats like Total Shots, Shot-Creating Actions, Passes Attempted, Progressive Passes, and Progressive Carries.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Predictions

Without Kai Wagner and Jakob Glesesn, it’s going to be a makeshift backline for Union.  I think Jim Curtin will stick with the 4-4-2 Diamond on the road – Andre Blake will have to be strong in net, with a likely backline of Nate Harriel at left-back, Damion Lowe and Jack Elliott at Center Back, with Oliver Mbaizo at Right Back. 

Jose Martinez will be at the bottom of the diamond, and I think Curtin will go with Jack McGlynn and Jesus Bueno on either side of him.  Ale Bedoya very well might get the start on the right side of the diamond, but Jesus Buneo might bring a certain energy to the lineup on the road that can keep the game tight, and keep Bedoya rested for a potential Game 3.

Daniel Gazdag will be in the 10; Mikael Uhre will take his place up top with Julian Carraza if he’s fit. But I could see Curtin giving Carraza a bit of a rest while he deals with a nagging injury.  Chris Donovan would be his most likely replacement, with Tai Baribo off to International Duty with Israel. 

It’s important for Union to weather the storm early in the one.  No Glesnes, No Wagner, playing on the road and turf, with the Revs having their best player back in Carles Gil back?  Keeping New England off the board in the early goings is going to be important if the Union wants to go back to Philadelphia with their tickets to the Conference Semifinals punched

Keep the game as tight as possible, and maybe you can knick a win on the road – or at the very least force PKs through a draw.  I’m not sure how or in what capacity, but I’ve got a feeling Union will wrap up the series in New England tomorrow night. 

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union