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The U head to Cincinnati for their third consecutive shot at the Eastern Conference Final



After just under three weeks since the Philadelphia Union’s round-clinching match against the New England Revolution, the squad travels to Ohio to take on FC Cincinnati. The Boys in Blue are searching for their first victory against Cincinnati this season after an early loss to the Orange and Blue deep into the U’s Champions League run, followed by a thrilling 2-2 draw at Subaru Park. From familiar faces in the front offices, managerial staff, and players on the pitch, the two sides are no strangers, and this Saturday’s contest shows no signs of slowing down a rivalry that continues to grow between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Saturday’s match will be the second consecutive year the clubs face off in the postseason. In last year’s contest, the first-seeded Union grabbed a 1-0 victory over the fifth-seeded Cincy side at Subaru Park. Since then, FC Cincinnati hit the ground running, winning their first-ever trophy, the 2023 Supporters’ Shield, by holding the best record in the MLS this season with 69 points through 34 games.

With the excellent team success, the accolades have followed. The Orange and Blue also host the MLS Coach of the Year in former Union assistant coach Pat Noonan and MLS Defender of the Year in U.S. international Matt Miazga. However, with the recent suspension of Miazga, Cincinnati will have to navigate without the anchor of their defense. Additionally, Nick Hagglund picked up a hamstring injury during the club’s first-round series against the New York Red Bulls. In his absence, another Union alum, Alvas Powell, will likely have to step up, playing a vital role in Cincinnati’s match against the Boys in Blue.

While the Union had 18 days of rest, they are still without some key pieces. Last season’s playoff hero against FC Cincinnati, Leon Flach, will not be available for selection due to his ongoing battle with a hernia injury. Also, with the league-issued suspension of Kai Wagner, Olivier Mbaizo will have to provide another strong performance for the U.

However, Philadelphia will be closer to full strength than in their series finale against New England. Coach Curtin declared, “Everyone is back and healthy,” aside from the caveat on Flach. This statement included center-back Jakob Glesnes, who Curtin assured is available for selection in tomorrow’s match. This week, Glesnes trained with the squad without a ball, and the likelihood of the former MLS Defender of the Year in the starting 11 remains low. However, Curtin discussed that Glesnes’s presence around the pitch is beneficial, claiming “he’s a great leader and has been a great player for the club. It has been nice to have him back and around the club.”

Alternatively, Julian Carranza, who finished the season with 14 goals and five assists, will return to the starting lineup tomorrow, hopefully providing an essential spark against a scattered Cincinnati defense. Curtin discussed that matches between Cincinnati and Philadelphia tend to boil down to a “one-play game,” so one could expect that the Union will enter the match in their classic 4-4-2 diamond, applying pressure on the missing piece within Cincinnati’s central defense to find the decisive moment for the Boys in Blue.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, pay attention to a few Union players who could be essential catalysts to send them back to the Eastern Conference Final. Mikael Uhre, who Curtin said had “his best couple weeks of training,” will need to rely on his pace and hold-up play to provide services and opportunities to other attacking threats such as Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza. Additionally, watch out for center-back Jack Elliott. A rock for the Union since his entrance into the side in 2017, his performance will be pivotal playing alongside Damion Lowe, who replaces the injured Glesnes. If Elliott can provide his veteran experience and his knack for rising in the big moments, he could hold off the attacking prowess of Brandon Vazquez and likely MLS Regular Season MVP Luciano Acosta just enough to propel the Union to victory.

The 2023 MLS Eastern Conference Semifinal game kicks off at 8:00 pm. You can only watch the match with MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

Brady Ferguson is a current student at American University. As a Philadelphia native, Brady has followed the Union since 2010 and is an active member of the Sons of Ben.

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