A starstruck Union was handed their worst home loss in 5 years at the hands of Lionel Messi and Miami.
After faltering on the big stage again, where does the Union go from here?

The semifinal of the Leagues Cup went all types of wrong for the Union. Poor coaching, play, and decision-making had the game lost before it started. However, the worst part is that the Union locked Messi as perfectly as any team could hope to do.

Other than Messi’s 30-yard beauty of a goal, he didn’t do much of anything. Of course, the way Messi plays, he doesn’t always need to, and this game was a perfect example of that.

Andre Blake had a shocking performance. Miami had 4 shots on goal. All 4 found the back of the net. It is the first time the Union allowed 4 goals at home since 2018. However, Blake was not entirely to blame. Damion Lowe had an awful performance. It was whiffing a clearance leading to the first goal and ball-watching too far behind the line to allow the third.

All criticism of the Union is valid.

Have the Union hit its ceiling, and where can they go from here?

The Union Can’t Survive the New Era of MLS

What the Union is able to do with spending the least in MLS is amazing. However, how many times do they need to fall short before we realize it is not enough? Messi’s arrival is changing the landscape of MLS. Rosters are expanding, and the salary cap is going to get skyrocketed. If the Union does not use it, they are finished.

It also says something that when the Union does spend money, it hasn’t panned out. Mikael Uhre was the Union’s big-money buy at striker. Chris Donovan started over him in a semifinal against Lionel Messi. That fact in itself has Uhre leaning toward a bust. Curtin himself has even said in post-game interviews Uhre has been “not good.” The vibes are low on Uhre, and rightfully so. The team is toast if he is the big money spent for the Union.

The Union will make it to the semifinals and finals. They will not get past Messi or any other big star they will encounter.

How many big games do the Union have to lose before we accept this way of life for the Union has peaked?

Jim Curtin’s Seat Needs to Be Flaming Hot

The question of “how many big games do the Union need to lose before changes are made” ultimately comes back to Jim Curtin. Curtin said all week that the team could not play or prepare scared. When the time came, the one who played the most scared was Jim Curtin.

Curtin’s lineup screamed a coach who was terrified. The 3 CB formation struggled all tournament long. Curtin stuck with it and added in Flach. Running 5 player backline and 4 in the midfield just screamed fear. Flach, Donovan, and Lowe should not have started. Once the second goal went in, they should have been off.

The Union played amazingly in the second half, all things considered. Returning to the 4-4-2 formation allowed Wagner and McGlynn to dominate the field. They were just plagued again by not having a striker that can clinically finish. Carranza being unavailable due to a hamstring injury limited Curtin’s options. However, it does not matter how bad Uhre has been. He is the big-money guy; he needed to start that game.

There were too many wide-open goals missed. On the defensive side, the 3 CB formation is flawed and always has been. Jacob Glesnes is the reigning MLS defensive player of the year. Why did Jim Curtin insist on him pushing up the field like a wingback and focusing offensively?

Andre Blake did not make the saves that Andre Blake usually does. However, how many 1v1s does the team want their goalie to defend? Even Messi’s goal wasn’t entirely on Blake. Was his positioning off? Absolutely. Nonetheless, there was 1 single spot that the ball was going to go in at. Lionel Messi put it exactly there.

Where Does the Union Go From Here?

At the end of the day, this was just a midseason tournament for MLS. The Union can still clinch a spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in the third-place game against Monterrey. Monterrey is LIGA MX giants just handed their first competitive loss to an MLS team by Nashville. They have traveled the most of any team and already have their own spot in CCC clinched.

It is very likely they play a very relaxed side and just try to get back to Mexico healthy. Nonetheless, an all-bench unit for Monterrey is still lethal. From the sounds post-game for the Union, it appears Curtin and the players are set on gunning for a third-place finish. Although the semifinal was an embarrassment, finishing 3rd in a tournament of 47 teams is commendable.

After that, it is right back to MLS play. In case anyone forgot in this extended league layoff, the Union sits 3rd in the Eastern Conference. The MLS Cup is the Union’s last chance at hardware this season. They have their work cut out for them as LAFC and Cincinnati have started to pull away in MLS.

Unfortunately, the stars were just too bright for the Union against Messi and the company. However, a huge ovation is deserved by Union fans.
The stadium stayed about 90% pro-Union and was the first of Messi’s short American career to be met by boos and perhaps the loudest “sucks” chant he has been met with.

Photo: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation

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