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Match Recap: Scoreless in Ohio (again)

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The Philadelphia Union were held in check and bailed out by a Jose Martinez

MLS: Philadelphia Union at FC Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Union tied FC Cincinnati 0-0 in a game that was more known for its hard fouls and shots off target than the exciting attacking play seen in the Union’s previous three games.

The Union had difficulty breaking Jaap Stam’s bunker defense with high pressure through the midfield. The Union dropped to third place behind Orlando City, and Columbus extended their lead in the Eastern Conference with a win over Minnesota.

FC Cincinnati started a familiar face, Haris Medunjanin, who made 98 appearances for the Union from 2017-2019. Medunjanin scored an Olimpico in a 1-0 win over the Red Bulls, which ended a six game winless spell. Allan Cruz, the Costa Rican international, started in the midfield in front of Medunjanin, and Joe Gyau, son of former U.S. national team player Phillip Gyau, started out wide. Gyau joined Cincinnati in 2019 after nearly a decade in Germany with Hoffenheim and Dortmund among other clubs. Jürgen Locadia started up top for the home side. The former PSV striker is currently on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Union started a similar lineup from Sunday’s win over the Montreal Impact with Jose Martinez back from suspension and Ray Gaddis back from injury. Brenden Aaronson made his 12th consecutive start this season with the Union, which could end at the conclusion of the year. Tom Bogert of mlssoccer.com reported earlier today that the Union have reached a verbal agreement for Aaronson to join Jim Curtin’s former teammate Jesse Marsch at Red Bull Salzburg in December. The American manager led Salzburg to a league-cup double this past season, his first in charge. Red Bull won their Champions League playoff first leg 2-1 against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel yesterday.

The first half had a little more legal physicality than Sunday’s game against the impact with defender Waston establishing the tone when he knocked Kacper Przybylko to the ground in the opening minute. Martinez provided more of jump for the Union midfield, and the Nippert Stadium turf made the ball more lively and the fouls much harder. Joe Gyau’s late challenge on Jamiro Monteiro was cause for concern as the Union midfielder took Gyau’s cleats to the knee, but Monteiro was able to continue and put in another decent effort.

The Union established more possession but were stymied by constant pressure from Cincinnati’s midfield, which produced nine first half fouls. The Union looked stagnant in the attacking third and did little to force Cincinnati into defensive mistakes. The visitors rarely penetrated the back line and only managed two shots with neither close to hitting the target.

“It was not the beautiful game, that’s for sure,” Union coach Jim Curtin said after the game. “We knew with them putting ten guys behind the ball, it would be a struggle to break them down. We didn’t execute enough to get a goal and make them change the game a bit.”

The second half began with some of the same sloppiness and lethargy as in the first half, and the Union allowed Cincinnati to build some momentum. But the hosts, who have only scored 7 goals this season, didn’t do much to challenge the Union defense until late. Ray Gaddis went down with what appeared to be a hamstring strain ten minutes into the half and was replaced by Matt Real. Ilsinho came on for Wooten, who struggled to threaten the Cincinnati center backs in his sixty minutes. Alejandro Bedoya picked up a yellow card a minute after that, which means he’ll miss the next match against Inter Miami due to accumulation.

“It was a soft yellow,” Bedoya said about the card after the game. “It was my first foul, in the middle of the field, a typical foul.”

In the 61st minute, Locadia failed to finish a volley just feet off the far post that should have put the hosts up 1-0 then had another chance in the 64th minute when he found time at the top of the box, but his left-footed strike missed wide. With just over twenty minutes remaining in the game, the Union broke through the hosts when Ilsinho provided a spark around the box, creating a couple of good chances down the right side that lacked the final pass.

The Union’s best chance of the game came when Sergio Santos had a good look at goal in the 78th minute. The Union striker corralled an entry pass with a quick turn, but his low shot nicked the outside of the far post. Waston nearly scored the winner for Cincinnati in the 90th minute but Martinez cleared his header off the line, and Gyau had his golden chance in stoppage time, but his far post shot was pushed away by Andre Blake, the only save of the game.

Curtin called Blake’s save huge. “It had the feeling on the bench of one of those nights where they make a play at the end and steal it,” he said. “We’ve done a really good job these last five or six weeks of protecting Dre and not giving up chances, but tonight when he was called upon, he made a world-class save to save a point for us.”

The Union return home when they take on Inter Miami at Subaru Park Sunday night.