The Philadelphia Union plays an MLS match for the first time in three weeks on Saturday night, this time with some familiar faces in town.
Former Union assistant technical director Chris Albright, former assistant coach Pat Noonan, defender Ray Gaddis, and defender Alvis Powell all return to Subaru Park for the first time since moving on from the club. All (other than Powell) played major roles in the Union’ 2020 Supporters’ Shield campaign. While Jim Curtin acknowledged that there will be some joyful reunions before the match, 3 important points are on the line once the whistle blows.
In his press conference on Wednesday, Curtin praised Pat Noonan for bringing “some stability to FC Cincinnati as a club” in his first year on the job. His Cincinnati side sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference (6W-1D-7L), with a game in hand on 7th place Charlotte FC (6W-1D-8L).
Cincinnati run almost everything they do on the attacking side of the ball through 28-year-old Argentine midfielder Luciano Acosta, once of Boca Juniors in Argentina. Acosta has largely proved he deserves the big-money Designated Player contract he secured in March 2021 with Cincinnati. Acosta leads his team with 11 goals and assists and (according to Jim Curtin) all of MLS in chances created this season. Jose Martinez will look to make him uncomfortable throughout the game, as this will be a key duel the Union need to win as they look to build on their solid defensive record this season.
Center-backs Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes will have their hands full with 23-year-old American striker Brandon Vasquez, an emerging star in the league. Vasquez has 7 goals of his own this season, and has even been discussed in U.S. Men’s National team circles as the team still looks for a consistent striker. This is certainly a motivation for Vasquez to keep himself in the golden boot race as the MLS season continues.
Luckily for the Union, Cincinnati has less talent in defense. They rank 7th-worst in the league in goals allowed (25) and 4th worst in expected goals allowed, suggesting they’ve even been a bit fortunate. Set pieces have been a major flaw, where they rank 3rd-worst in expected goals. If FC Cincinnati hopes to break into those final few playoff positions in the East, giving up fewer chances is a good place to start.
Focuses for the Union
This will be one of the first matches all season where Jim Curtin is able to select his first choice 11. After missing 7 of the Union’s first 14 matches, Curtin said DP forward Mikael Uhre has “worked very hard with his fitness” and that he’s looked good in training paired with both Julian Carranza and Cory Burke at striker. Curtin called him “very sharp and one of the best players [in training],” as well as “very likely” to be in the starting lineup. These are good things to hear about a player who’s battled injuries and had so much hype entering MLS.
Unfortunately the Union won’t have their first-choice bench options as Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn, Paxten Aaronson and Brandan Craig are with the USA U-20 national team. Curtin doesn’t seem to be worrying much about this, though, and said he’s used this as an opportunity for Matt Real to get some work in on the left side of the midfield diamond as well as to see some Union II players in first-team training. He also noted that Jesus Bueno and Cole Turner will be ready to play a part in the match.
Curtin acknowledged that the offense has stuttered in second halves to start the season, leading to a number of unsatisfying draws at home. A key to getting the offense going will be getting Daniel Gazdag more touches around the box, as he’s been extremely dangerous with 10 goal contributions in 14 matches this season. One would have to imagine his confidence is sky high after chipping Aaron Ramsdale for his national team in a 4-0 rout of England on Tuesday. Curtin also recognized Jose Martinez (Venezuela) and Andre Blake (Jamaica) as having positive influences for their national teams over the last few weeks.
With that said, here is the starting XI I see Jim Curtin going with tomorrow evening:
Prediction: 3-1 Union, Mikael Uhre gets a brace at home and Daniel Gazdag continues his strong form for club and country with a goal of his own.
Watch the match at 7:30 p.m. on PHL 17.
Stats from MLSsoccer.com/stats