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This is the first of the four conference semifinals. Philadelphia Union topped the Eastern Conference and were given a bye, whereas Cincinnati FC have already played one game in the playoffs, getting the better of New York Red Bulls along the way.
As far as head-to-heads are concerned, Philadelphia Union enjoy the better record with five wins, two losses and two draws. They’ll go into this game as favorites because of their performance in the league but FC Cincinnati have shown that they can’t be taken lightly and that anything can happen in the playoffs after upsetting the New York Red Bulls.
The last meeting between the two sides took place back in August with FC Cincinnati winning 3-1 on the day. FC Cincinnati had made a solid start to the game, testing Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake a few times from range and looked like they’d got the lead in the 36th minute but the goal was chalked off after a VAR check.
That didn’t stop them from getting the lead, however. Brandon Vazquez opened the scoring in the 50th minute and Brenner added another five minutes later after some excellent work from Luciano Acosta in the build up to the goal. Philadelphia showed some urgency after conceding these goals, but Alvaro Barreal killed the game off by getting FC Cincinnati’s third in the 71st minute.
Paxten Aaronson got one back for Philadelphia Union in the 77th minute but it was too little, too late. Philadelphia had 52% of the possession in this game and took eight shots, which was one less than Cincinnati managed on the day, but they never really got going in this tie. Philadelphia were, undoubtedly, the best side in the Eastern Conference this season, but they have had a recent reminder of just how dangerous this FC Cincinnati side can be.
Philadelphia Union put a marker down in their last game of the regular season with a 4-0 victory over Toronto FC. It was important that Philadelphia Union did this because they were beaten 4-0 in their previous game against Charlotte FC, which is the last thing you want to remember before heading into an important playoff tie.
Daniel Gazdag was on fire in this match, scoring a hat-trick to take his tally to 22 goals for the season. Gazdag gave his side the lead in the fourth minute, got another in the 60th and slotted home a penalty three minutes later to cap off a brilliant performance and league season. Mikkel Uhre also got on the scoresheet, scoring his 13th goal of the season in the 42nd minute.
Philadelphia Union’s 72 goals were the most of any side in the MLS this regular season. Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Mikkel Uhre were three men heavily responsible for this. Gazdag scored 19, Carranza 14 and Uhre 12. Kai Wagner didn’t get on the scoresheet but chipped in with 9 assists.
Having attacking threats from so many zones has been one of Philadelphia Union’s strengths all season, and is something FC Cincinnati will have to be extremely wary of. Philadelphia Union overperformed a little on their expected goals but they still had the second best expected goals of any team in the league with 61.6, which is frightening.
With so many of the forwards getting all the attention, it’d be easy to forget Andre Blake’s contributions this season. Philadelphia Union only conceded 26 goals this season, which was the lowest of any side in the league. The expected goals against was 39.6, which is pretty sound and one of the best in the league, but the reason they conceded at least 13 goals less than they were expected to was Andre Blake.
Blake had a save percentage of 82% this season, which is a career best. This also goes to show just how hard it’ll be for any team to get something against this Union side. Teams will have to focus so much of their attention on their attack, then have to go past a pretty sturdy defense, and even if they manage to find openings, they’ll still have to find a way past Blake. FC Cincinnati will have to play well and need some luck against this side.
FC Cincinnati put on a late show to knock out the New York Red Bulls out of the MLS Cup playoffs. The game was quite cagey for large parts before Lewis Morgan’s screamer gave New York Red Bulls the lead in the 48th minute. The Red Bulls have had problems all season opening teams up and this sort of special strike was just what the doctor ordered.
FC Cincinnati had some great chances to equalize right afterwards with Brenner forcing an excellent save from Carlos Coronel five minutes later. Cincinnati kept piling on the pressure and thought they’d scored in the 60th minute but the goal was chalked off for offside.
The pressure paid off in the 73rd minute after Cincinnati earned a penalty, and Acosta slotted it home to finally level the scores. The momentum was firmly in Cincinnati’s hands now and Vazquez finished off an excellent counter-attack in the 86th minute to give them a deserved victory. There is a lot of fight in this Cincinnati side and Philadelphia Union will have to be wary of that.
Brandon Vazquez has been a complete center-forward this season. He has scored 18 goals and registered eight assists but not the only impressive thing about him this season. He has been excellent at defending from the front and won lots of aerial duels as well.
His winner against the New York Red Bulls was well-deserved. He’s been a real-team player and the Philadelphia Union defense will have a tough time keeping him quiet.
The Philadelphia Union will go in as pretty strong favorites in this tie, and that should allow FC Cincinnati to play their game quite freely. This side seems to be good on the big occasion as their last win against the Union and the recent win against New York Red Bulls showcased.
Both victories were deserved and despite having calls not go their way, they kept pushing for the goals and got their victories in the two games mentioned earlier. Their lethal counter-attacking winner also gives us a little glimpse of what their strategy might be against the Philadelphia Union, who’ll be expected to dominate this tie. Lucho Acosta will also be crucial -- he has often been the star in many of these games, keeping the ball in tight areas, attracting lots of opposition players and slipping the balls through. If he’s not marked tightly, Cincinnati will have a great chance of winning this tie.
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|Teams||Philadelphia Union vs FC Cincinnati|
|Time||Thursday, October 20 at 3 pm ET onwards|
|How to watch||FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN and TVA Sports|
Varun is a web journalist who has been writing on sports for 13 years. He took a shine for the MLS during the 2021 season and has been following it and writing about it since, alongside his work involving the English Premier League, La Liga, and the Serie A. He is deeply interested in soccer analytics and strategy and has aspirations to move into coaching at some point. Email: [email protected]More info on Varun Shetty
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