After a disappointing draw to Sporting Kansas City and an interesting win against Atlas F.C., the Philadelphia Union are hitting the road to take on F.C. Cincinnati for some more MLS action.
We reached out to Nate Gilman and our pals at Cincinnati Soccer Talk to learn about the
new current kings of the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia Soccer Now: Cincinnati’s had a really strong start to the season, what’s behind the winning?
Nate Gilman: The early story of FCC’s 2023 so far is a newfound ability to win ugly. The attacking numbers are fine so far but much closer to the middle of the pack in the league than might’ve been expected when the season started. Defensively, however, FCC has surprised nearly everyone. Opponents have scored just four goals so far this season and the advanced numbers agree that the Orange and Blue’s defense record so far isn’t a fluke.
PSN: Union fans are familiar with a few of the faces on the FCC. How are Ray Gaddis, Alvas Powell, Sergio Santos, etc. doing?
NG: Ray Gaddis’ role so far might be the biggest surprise of the season, as he’s started 5 of 6 games at right wingback. That’s partly due to an injury sustained by Santiago Arias but Gaddis is clearly Pat Noonan’s preferred backup option at the position. Gaddis’ rise up the depth chart has meant fewer minutes for Alvas Powell, whose main contributions so far this year have come as a late-game defensive substitute.
Sergio Santos is firmly entrenched behind Brenner and Brandon Vazquez on the depth chart but he’ll almost certainly see the field this weekend. Noonan usually brings him on sometime after the 60th minute to spell one of the starting strikers and to attack tired backlines with fresh legs. It’s clearly working as he’s already scored two goals in less than 150 minutes of game time.
PSN: Who has stood out for Cincy thus far, both as a positive and as a negative?
NG: Lucho Acosta is the heartbeat of the Orange and Blue in possession. His ability to find teammates in dangerous spots is second to none and any opponent’s defensive gameplan has to start with him. Alvaro Barreal has impressed in his first full season at left wingback, too. He’s not the most polished defender but going forward he can do things that very few MLS wide defenders can.
Defensively, FCC’s trio of centerbacks has impressed. Nick Hagglund has continued his solid play under Noonan and Matt Miazga could get himself back into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture based on his current form. Yerson Mosquera, who is on loan from Wolverhampton in the Premier League, has adapted quickly to life in MLS and looks every bit the part of a player who commanded a seven-figure transfer fee in 2021.
In terms of who hasn’t enjoyed a great start to the season, the closest you’ll find is striker duo Brenner and Brandon Vazquez. So far, the two have combined for just two goals but they’ve both made positive contributions on the field and could be poised for a breakout.
PSN: Will FCC be missing anyone on Saturday? What are your lineup and score predictions?
NG: The biggest miss appears to be midfield linchpin Obi Nwobodo who tweaked a hamstring late last week. If he can’t go, and paired with the likely absence of Yuya Kubo, look for U22 midfielder Marco Angulo to get his second straight start next to Junior Moreno in FCC’s double-pivot. Other than that, FCC’s lineup has been remarkably consistent so far. Arias could start ahead of Gaddis but that’s far from certain.
I’m loath to make score predictions but will make an exception this week. I like FCC to win a close one given some potential rotation for the Union and an eye toward next week’s second leg in Guadalajara. It’ll be tough to contain Philadelphia’s attack entirely, even given FCC’s defensive record so far but I think one of the strikers will get going. 2-1 to the Orange and Blue.