After weeks of endless drama, the Union find themselves in the MLS Eastern Conference Semifinal for the 4th time in 5 seasons. A recap of how the Union got here and if the club can completely emerge from the darkness for redemption in the MLS Cup.
Up and down is the everlasting theme for the Philadelphia Union in 2023. Round 1 of the MLS Cup playoffs proved no different.
Facing a familiar opponent in round 1, the New England Revolution, the Union found themselves unable to escape from off-the-field drama. Leaked reports of Bedoya’s fallout with the front office and the team being in awful form down the stretch. The playoff hopes were bleak in the eyes of many Union fans. Add in the Kai Wagner situation and the Union vibes were in the dump.
Fast forward just a few weeks later, the Union made history once again.
Union Down the Revolution in New Playoff Format
After all the drama was (hopefully) put in the past, the Union responded by making history. In their 1-0 win in game 2 against New England, the Union notched its first-ever road playoff victory. With the win, the New England Revolution was sent home, getting swept 2-0. This being the first year of MLS’ new playoff format, this series saw the extreme cons of a 3-game series.
The MLS’ 3-game series has worked in some cases. However, in most cases, the results aren’t great. Unfortunately, this Union-Revs matchup showcased the very bad.
No Aggregate Score Feels Wrong
The first flaw reared its head in the first half of game 1. Multi-game series isn’t a new concept in soccer. However, in other cases, the aggregate score means something. Unfortunately, in MLS’ new format, it does not. The Union found themselves up 3-0 by halftime of game 1.
With no aggregate score, neither team had much to play for in the second half. There was no advantage for the Union to add to their lead. Just as there was no disadvantage if the Revolution went down more. The Union could have gone on to win 20-0, then proceed to lose the next two games in a penalty shootout, being eliminated.
“Trash Talk” Reached Regrettable Levels
Unfortunately, it will not be known whether this series was played at a high intensity because of the rivalry or the new format. However, this series just showcased the worst of it.
First, the entire Kai Wagner situation. Wagner was suspended 3 games for discriminatory remarks. Now, the Union is reportedly upset that Wagner was the only one punished. They feel Bobby Wood was the aggressor. Nonetheless, the situation has no place in the sport.
Second, we had New England players implying that they would try to injure Union players. Then, in game 2, Mark-Anthony Kaye saw a straight red card for a deliberate stomp on Daniel Gazdag.
Unfortunately, the two teams just took the trash-talking to a “not okay” level. Union head coach took notice of it. After game 2, Curtin said “Do your talking on the field… We have some guys talking about who is going to kick who.”
Nonetheless, the Union is on its way to the Eastern Conference Semifinal.
The Toughest Test Awaits
After overcoming all the drama and low points, the Union’s focus now shifts to their toughest opponent yet. That is Supporters Shield winners FC Cincinnati.
As has been discussed at length, Cincinnati’s plan was to copy the Union’s rise to the top almost to an exact. If you need a recap, view a rundown from last year. Their plan worked out tremendously.
Nonetheless, Cincy is a machine. However, they have their weaknesses. A weakness the Union will look to exploit is the CB tandem. Also, Cincinnati will be looking at 3+ weeks off since eliminating the Red Bulls. History shows long layoffs do not bode well.
Cincinnati’s starting CB Matt Miazga is suspended for the Semifinal. Should the Union have Julian Carranza back and healthy, that would be a huge blow to Cincy.
However, Cincy will be looking for payback on the Union, who eliminated them last season. Now, Cincy has the home-field advantage. This means the Union will need to pull out their second-ever road playoff victory. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do it in one of the hardest stadiums to go in and win in the league.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation