Week 5 Preview: Union vs. New England Revolution

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union haven’t had a ton of off-time since their win against the Chicago Fire, as they’re jumping right into Week 5 action against the New England Revolution. The two teams faced off six times in 2020, in which the Union won four games, drew one, and lost one—the first-round playoff bout that ended the Union’s season last year.

Despite the sucker punch of a loss last year, Jim Curtin has made it evident that his team is not carrying any grudges into this meeting.

“This game is an opportunity for three points, it’s not an opportunity to avenge last year in the playoffs or anything like that,” Curtin said in a pre-game press conference. “Just two different teams fighting for points, last season is gone.”

However, both teams look slightly different than they did last season. The Union are without their two resident starboys, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, while the Revolution will benefit from the addition of Carles Gil, who they were without in 2020. The Union are also relying more heavily on their midfield to create offense, while the Revs’ offense will ensure that the Union’s defense has their work cut out for them during this game.

The Boys In Blue are coming off of a promising victory against Chicago, their first league win of the season, but their performance wasn’t the convincing, powerhouse performance that will instill a whole lot of confidence in the players and fans. The Union can be unbeatable on their day, but their league play hasn’t been consistent enough to go into this matchup with a ton of optimism.

Curtin is all too aware of how tricky this matchup is going to be, and isn’t trying to downplay the opposition’s abilities, nor his own team’s capabilities.

“The Revs are the most dangerous and best team we’ve scouted this year. All of their performances, even in their recent losses. They’re one of the strongest teams in the conference, if not the league, so we’ll have our hands full,” Curtin acknowledged. “We can make the joke about how many times we’ve played them, obviously last year was six. Every game was high intensity, two really good teams competing. The margins were very tight in all, I expect this game to be no different.”

Possible Staring XI: Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, Bedoya, Flach, Monteiro, McGlynn, Santos, Przybylko

  • The opposition won’t be seeing any huge variation in Curtin’s lineup this season, but with Martinez still suspended, slight shifts will have to be made in midfield for the time being. It might be a little ambitious to hand Jack McGlynn a second consecutive start, but his debut performance was rife with composure, maturity, and an impressive understanding of the game at the professional level. Putting him up against the Revs is a bold choice, but one that could certainly pay off.

Score Prediction: Both teams are offensively minded, so this could absolutely be a game with quite a few goals. The Union’s forwards seem to finally be finding their footing, and given their recent performances against Chicago and Atlanta United in the CONCACAF Champions League, they’ve proven that the chances are there. All it takes is the finishing. It’ll be a 3-2 battle, but the Union will ultimately claw their way out on top.

Week 4 Recap: So This Is What Three Points Feels Like

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union finally found their footing in MLS, collecting their first league win against the Chicago Fire. After a disappointing winless streak to start their 2021 season, this win is refreshing and much-needed. Let’s recap.

The Union started the match off strong, utilizing the right flank to get balls through for scoring chances. Cory Burke, Alejandro Bedoya, and debutante Jack McGlynn all had promising looks in front of the goal, but quality saves from Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth ensured that both teams went into halftime scoreless.

The deadlock wouldn’t last long going into the second half, as Burke would finally get his goal in the 51st minute off of an assist from Jamiro Monteiro. The Fire’s Robert Beric nearly equalized quickly afterwards, but couldn’t put the necessary finishing touches on his scoring opportunity.

An insurance goal came when Jakob Glesnes scored off of a Kai Wagner free kick, and despite offensive substitutions in the form of Nnamdi Chinonso Offor and Alvaro Medran, an in-control defense and excellent saves from Andre Blake ensured that the Fire wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net for the rest of the game.

Man of the Match: Cory Burke. His goal made him the 9th Union player to score 15 league goals, and is the only active Union player to have multiple goals against the Fire. He’s not the flashiest striker, but he does his job, and he does it well. (Honorable mention to 17-year-old Jack McGlynn on his debut!)

The Main Takeaway: This was a much-needed win, and one that the Union definitely deserved. The offense looked so much more alive in this game, and showed the league that they are absolutely capable of producing quality goals. With an invigorated offense, a solid defense, and an all-around cohesive team performance is the tonic the Boys in Blue needed to get back to winning ways. It was simple, effective, and the Union made it look easy. This is the Union that fans know, love, and deserve.

Week 4 Preview: Union vs. Chicago Fire

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Week 4 of MLS play is going to be a battle of the disappointments, as the Union take on the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.

Both teams are having a rough start to the season, only taking away one point from their last three league games. While the Union have a bit more of an excuse for their poor run of form, having to focus on both MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League, their league play still leaves much to be desired. They’ve proven that they’re more than capable of generating a prolific offense and holding together a solid defense in the CCL, but for some reason, they haven’t been able to replicate those performances in MLS. Their 2020 campaign started with a three-game winless streak, and ended with the Supporters’ Shield, so all hope isn’t lost just yet.

The Fire don’t have international competition to worry about, rather a new ownership that is already showing cracks and calling into question the owners’ understanding of MLS play. While they’ve shown that they perform better at home than on the road, the Fire aren’t looking to be in any shape to suddenly get their act together against a team that just advanced to the semifinals of the CCL.

Possible Starting XI: Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, Bedoya, Fontana, Flach, Monteiro, Santos, Przybylko

  • Again, Jim Curtin is likely to make minimal changes to his lineup. It’s been working well in the CCL, and it isn’t too late in the season for it to start working in MLS. Jose Martinez will miss this game because of a red card suspension, but he is the only significant absence in the team right now.

Score Prediction: There’s really no telling how the Union will perform in this game, but their stretch of mediocre performances can’t last forever. Playing against a struggling and disorganized Fire might not be the most convincing win, but at this point, three points is three points. A simple 2-1 win scoreline should do the trick. Fourth time’s the charm, right?

CCL Quarterfinal (Leg 2) Recap: This Is Not A Drill!

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union are headed to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Process that for a minute.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering their run in the CCL has been nothing short of stellar so far. They’ve only conceded one goal during their run, knocked MLS giant Atlanta United out of the competition, and have more than proven themselves worthy of being in international competition. In their international debut, the CCL is looking to be the Union’s wheelhouse.

The Union were going into the second leg of this quarterfinal on a favorable 3-0 aggregate score, and despite the absence of Jose Martinez due to yellow card accumulation, an offense that wasn’t lacking in ability or hunger.

Atlanta did manage to score first on a low shot from Santiago Sosa, but the Union didn’t look too fazed. They played a comfortable rest of the first half, although they never stopped pushing for an insurance goal to pad the aggregate.

The second half saw much of the same, but the Boys in Blue finally found the back of the net off the foot of—who else?—Kacper Przybyłko to tie things up in the 88th minute. The 1-1 scoreline would hold, meaning that the Union will advance to the CCL semifinals, where they will face either the Portland Timbers or Mexican side Club America.

While there wasn’t much conflict to speak of between the teams during the game, there was a clash between Union manager Jim Curtin and Atlanta manager Gabriel Heinze after the final whistle. Curtin claimed that the confrontation happened after Heinze refused to shake his hand after the match, along with accusing Union players of diving and faking injuries across both legs of the quarterfinal.

“He’s an incredible coach, he’s an incredible player, but you can still also be a sore loser and be an [expletive] at the end of the game,” Curtin said in a postgame press conference. “I still think there’s a right wayI think he should shake hands like a man after the game.”

Captain Alejandro Bedoya had more of a lighthearted take on the situation, joking that “[Heinze] wanted to know where to get the best cheesesteak.”

Man of the Match: It has to be Przybylko again. He’s been an unstoppable force in this competition, and his offensive contributions have been invaluable for the Union. The entire team looked solid in this game, but it’s only right to give MOTM to the man with the difference maker.

The Main Takeaway: Making it to the CCL semifinals is obviously incredible, but those games don’t start until the third week of August. Now, the Union need to channel all of their energy and focus into improving their standing in the MLS. The phenomenal performances they’ve been treating fans to in the CCL needs to translate into league play because, at the end of the day, gunning for the MLS Cup should take priority over everything.

CCL Preview: Union vs. Atlanta United (Round 2)

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It was a weekend to forget in MLS for both the Union and Atlanta United, with the former losing 2-0 to NYCFC and the latter losing 2-1 to the New England Revolution. Both teams will be looking to redeem themselves in the second leg of this CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal—with the Union hoping to hold on to their first leg lead, while Atlanta will be hoping to expose weaknesses in the Union’s defense to overcome being down 3-0 on aggregate.

It’s difficult to predict exactly what the Union will look like for this game. Their MLS record suggests that they’ve forgotten how to play soccer, but they always seem to find a way to get their act together for the CCL. They’ll be without Jose Martinez due to yellow card accumulation, but that shouldn’t affect their offensive presence too much. Everyone else is healthy and ready to go.

It also helps that a 3-0 aggregate will be difficult for even Atlanta to overcome. The Union’s defense would really have to fall apart to blow a lead like that, and seeing as the defense has been a pretty immovable object in the CCL, it’s doubtful that they’ll suddenly lose form now.

However, it wouldn’t be all that bad if they did somehow manage to get knocked. Their league play has left so much to be desired, so it could actually be beneficial to the Union to only have to focus on MLS. Making it to the quarterfinals in their first year of competing in the CCL is perfectly respectable, and their performances during this run have proven that the Union are a force to be reckoned with. Obviously, a win would be preferable. On the other hand, getting knocked wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world either.

Predicted Lineup: Blake, Wagner, Elliott, Glesnes, Mbaizo, Flach, Fontana, Bedoya, Monteiro, Santos, Przybylko

  • This lineup has been working wonders for Jim Curtin in this competition, so there really isn’t any reason to switch it up too drastically now. Curtin confirmed that Flach would be filling in for Martinez at the defensive midfield spot while he’s suspended, so moving Fontana into Flach’s original winger role would be the only real change.

Score Prediction: While the Union’s offense seemingly don’t want to show up during league games, it’s unlikely that they’ll miss the bus for this matchup. Przybylko has been on fire in this competition, and some of the linkup play for their CCL goals is truly world class. It won’t be a convincing win by any means, but the Union will live to see another CCL game. It’ll only take a 1-0 win, and that’s probably what the final result will end up being.

Week 3 Recap: They Know These Games Count For Points, Right?

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

After a surprising, but welcome, 3-0 victory over Atlanta United in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Union seemed poised to finally turn around their form in MLS with a home game against NYCFC. Naturally, that’s not what happened at all. Let’s recap.

Jim Curtin made three lineup changes, a pretty drastic move for the manager, who has largely stuck to the same lineup in both domestic and international competition. Curtin benched Kai Wagner in favor of 21-year-old homegrown Matt Real at left back, traded in Leon Flach for Anthony Fontana (another 21-year-old homegrown) in midfield, and replaced Kacper Przybyłko with Cory Burke at striker. Needless to say, these changes didn’t pan out favorably for the Union.

NYCFC were able to find the back of the net quickly, with a 5th minute strike from Jesus Medina making an absolute mess of the Union defense. Once again, Andre Blake was forced to try and compensate for his lackluster defense with some Superman-style saves, but even he couldn’t stop this ball from going in.

The situation only worsened for the Union after Jose Martinez was shown a red card for a dangerous, and frankly reckless, elbowing challenge. Martinez was initially shown a yellow card, but after the offense was reviewed by VAR, the midfielder was shown a red card instead—the Union’s first red card in over two years. Coupled with his yellow card accumulation in the CCL, Martinez will now miss the Union’s next two games.

This red card drew some rare public criticism from Martinez’s teammates and manager. Captain Alejandro Bedoya was the first to comment on the incident after the game.

“He plays on the border sometimes and he’s just got to be smarter,” Bedoya told media in a postgame interview. “That’s unacceptable what happened tonight.”

Curtin also openly condemned Martinez’s behavior, and acknowledged the embarrassment of such a blatant lack of discipline.

“It was out of line by Jose and we’ll have to try and improve his behavior on the field because we’re not the same team without him, to be honest,” Curtin said in his postgame press conference. “The red cards and suspensions are starting to add up to where it’s detrimental to the group.”

“Biggest thing is he let his teammates down and made them run around for 80-plus minutes, including the extra time. Really sad,” Curtin added. “Look, he’s a great kid, he wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s passionate, and he wants to win, but there is a balance between being professional, being smart, knowing that he’s a guy that I can tell you ever referee knows is right on that edge and is going to ref him differently.

Down to 10 men, the Union recorded an abysmal rate of possession, along with some truly terrible ball retention. In the 61st minute, Curtin tried to rectify the situation by substituting Wagner, Flach, and Przybylko on for the players that replaced them in the starting lineup, but an airheaded defensive mistake from Jakob Glesnes gifted Valentin Castellanos NYCFC’s second goal.

This game marked the Union’s second straight defeat at Subaru Park, the stadium that had been an absolute fortress last season. This result also means that the Boys in Blue have collected a measly one point from their first three league games, putting them in 12th place in the Eastern Conference..

The Main Takeaway: While it’s exciting to be included in international competition for the first time in their history, and it’s great that the Union have been doing so well in the CCL, MLS play has to take priority at this point. They haven’t won a league game yet, which is quite shameful for the defending Supporters’ Shield winners. The focus needs to be on league play, seeing as the goal from the Union’s very inception has been to win the MLS Cup, and at this rate, they’re not even going to make the playoffs.

CCL Quarterfinal (Leg 1) Recap: A Game of Two Halves

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union came into Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta with a lot to prove.

They were entering the first leg of this CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal without a win in MLS, an uncharacteristically lackluster offense, a defense that relied heavily on the heroics of goalkeeper Andre Blake, and a certain sense of dread of having to face Atlanta United, a team that they’ve struggled immensely against. It seemed like a fairly cut-and-dry matchup—Atlanta would dominate like they usually did against the Union, bursting the bubble of success that Philadelphia has been enjoying in their first season of international competition. It’s not the ideal situation for the Union faithful, but hey...there’s not a ton of shame in losing to a team like Atlanta, right?

Then, in true Philadelphia sports fashion, the Boys in Blue showed up when nobody expected them to.

It didn’t happen right away. The first half of the game was all Atlanta, who turned the Union’s usual strategy of heavy pressing, good ball movement, and holding the majority of possession against them for a dominant performance in the first 45 minutes. Atlanta maintained 60% of possession, had four corners to the Union’s two, and recorded five shots on goal, while the Union didn’t have any. In an all-too-familiar narrative, the only reason the Union were able to scrape together a scoreless tie at halftime is because of Blake’s spectacular saves.

It’s safe to say that expectations for Philadelphia were low going into the second half. However, cracks started to appear in Atlanta’s armor, and the Union were able to capitalize. In the 55th minute, Kacper Przybyłko was left unmarked in the box, and while his initial shot didn’t make it into the goal, it did garner a corner. A low cross skipped past everyone to land at Przybylko’s feet, who was able to translate it into an easy, but essential, goal.

This goal was what the Union needed to get things going, and just like that, the offensive jets were turned on. Some beautiful link-up play came when Leon Flach soared past Atlanta’s defense to find Przybylko with space in the box yet again, leading to the Polish striker’s second tally of the game.

For the final nail in the coffin, Przybylko had the opportunity to bag a hattrick in the 86th minute of play, but played it a bit safer by opting to set up freshly subbed-on Anthony Fontana for the Union’s third goal of the night. The defense was able to hold on for the rest of the game, resulting in a 3-0 victory for Philadelphia.

In looking at the entire 90 minutes, one could argue that the Union came into a bit of luck with their second half performance. They were able to find chances in Atlanta’s mistakes and miscommunications rather than managing to create them out of their own offensive prowess. The forwards did what they needed to do for this game, but it was far from showcasing the skill, precision, and ingenuity they’ve proven themselves capable of in past performances. A win is a win, and going into the second leg at Subaru Park up 3-0 on aggregate is a fairly comfortable position to be in. However, while beggars can’t be choosers, it’s frustrating to see the Union’s game plan come across as scrounging for a win by whatever chances fall into their lap rather than displaying the calm, tidy, razor-sharp abilities of this team.

Man of the Match: It has to be Przybylko. While Blake could’ve easily gotten it (as is the case in most games he features in), the offense was essential in this particular game. Przybylko had a hand in all three goals that night, and he took advantage of the space he was given, even if it was more luck than skill that he was able to find himself unchecked in several situations. He’s deservedly been the centerpiece of the Union’s offense, and it’s doubtful that the Union would have had such a fairytale run in the CCL so far if it wasn’t for Przybylko.

The Main Takeaway: The Union can never be completely counted out, no matter how bleak their chances at victory look. However, being a second half team will not do them many favors going forward. It shouldn’t take an abysmal first half to give them motivation to play a quality second half. They need to show up from kickoff to the final whistle if they want to achieve the success they’re yearning for.

Preview: Union vs. Atlanta United

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union will be looking to end their recent run of disappointing results against Atlanta United in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Coming off of a goalless draw against Columbus Crew and a 2-1 loss to Inter Miami CF, the Union have not been putting on strong performances as of late. They’ve only scored once in two league games, and have fallen victim to rather elementary defensive mishaps, but their dominance over Deportivo Saprissa in the CCL round of 16 is encouraging for this fixture. One could argue that the less-than-ideal league record is a result of the Union focusing more on the CCL than MLS—a rookie mistake for a team that has never had to focus on competing in two different competitions before. That being said, Saprissa might not exactly be the powerhouse that Atlanta is, but a 5-1 aggregate score is nothing to sniff at. The Union will be hoping to deal out another cohesive, comfortable, and calm performance against Atlanta.

It’s not an insurmountable goal, either. Of the seven times the Union and Atlanta have faced off against each other, the Union have only won once and tied twice, but, and this might be a controversial statement, that doesn’t mean much. The Union are not the team they were in the past. They’ve learned, they’ve grown, and they’ve prospered past the obscurity that once burdened their shoulders. Don’t count out the Boys in Blue—they absolutely stand a chance at beating Atlanta if they can get their act together.

Predicted Starting XI: Blake, Elliot, Glesnes, Mbaizo, Wagner, Martinez, Flach, Bedoya, Monteiro, Przybylko, Fontana

  • Jim Curtin has been a creature of habit this season. He’s shown a considerable amount of faith in this starting lineup, and there’s nothing to suggest that he’s going to change it. The only switch-up from the team that started against Miami could be benching Sergio Santos (who was pretty ineffective against Miami) and throwing homegrown Anthony Fontana back in the mix for a young, energetic presence in front of the goal.

Score Prediction: It’ll be a close game. Obviously, both teams want to pull ahead on aggregate, and will want to do so by as big of a scoreline as possible. While their recent caliber of play won’t be enough to beat Atlanta, the Union certainly won’t go down easily. They’ll fight to the final whistle, but I’m seeing a 2-1 loss for this game.

Week 2 Recap: So...That Didn't Go As Planned

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Week 2 of the 2021 MLS season sounded easy enough for the Union—home opener against a team that was getting off to a slow start in their second season while on a four-game undefeated streak. However, this game turned out to be one the Union would like to forget as they fell 2-1 to Inter Miami. Let’s recap.

The Union began the game in control offensively, but, much to their disadvantage, their shots lacked accuracy. Out of five total shots in the first half, the only one on goal came from a Jakob Glesnes header in the 16th minute. To their credit, the defense had a handle on Miami’s offense, confining the Herons to a single shot on goal in the first half, a chance from Robbie Robinson that glanced off of the crossbar.

The second half saw a more lively start from the Union, which paid off in their first goal of the season, courtesy of Jamiro Monteiro. Despite taking the lead, the offense didn’t let up, as the Union continued searching for an insurance goal as the half progressed.

Unfortunately, the defense is where things got sloppy. Miami equalized in the 73rd minute, thanks to a free kick from Frederico Higuain finding his brother Gonzalo Higuain. This equalizer seemed to light a fire under both teams, who were intent on not repeating their disappointing results from Week 1 (in which neither team collected the three points they were hoping for). Much to the Union’s chagrin, it would be Miami that would snag the game-winning goal, an 83rd minute effort from Frederico Higuain.

In his post-game presser, Union manager Jim Curtin described the overall match as a “good performance” from his team, but acknowledged that the tiny slip-ups were the downfall for the Boys in Blue.

“At 1-0, I thought the group pushed and was comfortable and I thought was counter-pressing well and was defending well as a team,” Curtin said. “It’s the small plays and the little margins that make a difference. It’s been a while since one has gotten away from us like this.

The Main Takeaway: No game is in the bag. The Union have to focus on both MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League this season, which does put them at a disadvantage to teams that only have to focus on MLS (like Miami). That’s not to suggest that the Union aren’t capable of being successful in both competitions, but this is the first year that they’ve had their fingers in multiple pies. They need to find a proper balancing act between the league and the CCL, and they need to treat every game like a final. The Union have something to prove now—there really is no room for complacency.

Week 2 Preview: Union vs. Inter Miami CF

Embed from Getty Images

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Philadelphia Union will be hoping to collect their first win in Week 2 of the 2021 MLS season in their home opener, where they will welcome Inter Miami CF to Subaru Park. Here’s what we can expect for Saturday’s match.

The Union are coming off of a 0-0 tie with Columbus Crew in Week 1, a game that didn’t see a bad performance per se, but one that definitely was not reflective of how lethal this Union offense can be. This somewhat lethargic performance has been attributed to the fact that the Union are simultaneously participating in the CONCACAF Champions League, where they defeated Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa on a 5-0 aggregate, advancing them to the quarterfinal of the competition.

Inter Miami, however, suffered a less-than-ideal start to their season last week. They lost to the LA Galaxy in a narrow 3-2 game. Despite this loss, Union manager Jim Curtin is not daring to underestimate the team. Although the Union beat Miami twice last season, Curtin acknowledged that Miami dominated for long stretches, and described the new club as a “sleeping giant.”

So what can we expect from this matchup? The Union are at a major advantage playing at home, having won nine of their last ten home league matches. This is also aided by the fact that Miami have lost four games in a row while on the road, and that despite the excitement surrounding the inception of the club in 2018, the team still has yet to make a major splash in MLS. The odds definitely favor the Boys in Blue for this matchup, and will most likely see the home team collect three points.

Possible Staring XI: Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, Bedoya, Martinez, Flach, Monteiro, Santos, Przybylko

  • It’s unlikely that Curtin will make any major changes to the lineup he’s been using for the past three games. The only thing that might be different against Miami is swapping Anthony Fontana for Sergio Santos, who came on for Fontana as a substitute against Columbus. This switch would be in line with Curtin’s recent statements that the Union’s current young talents (Fontana is 21, while three 17-year-olds appeared on the bench in the Columbus game) aren’t ready for the big games yet. That’s not to say that they aren’t capable of starting and playing well, but Curtin will definitely want to have a little more insurance in terms of points and standings before resting his tried-and-true starting lineup in favor of starting more inexperienced players.

Score Prediction: The Union have been in great form lately, and not having to play any CCL games in the past week will have allowed them to focus completely on the Miami game, along with getting some much-needed rest and recuperation. Coupled with having home field advantage, the Union shouldn’t have much trouble getting in the win column this weekend—I’m going with a score of 3-1.