Week 29 Recap: So. Freaking. Close.

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Playing in Canada for the first time since 2019, the Union nearly grabbed all three points against CF Montreal, but were forced to split the points after a dramatic stoppage time goal by the home team.

The first half of the match largely saw a push-and-pull between the midfielders on both sides, with neither the Union or Montreal able to progress very far into each others’ halves. Montreal heavily relied on their wingers to try and break through the Union’s defense, but Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo shut down any attacks by the Canadian side.

Wagner got a scoring opportunity about 14 minutes in, but it was Montreal who would open up the scoring in the 33rd minute. The home team enjoyed a plethora of set pieces, and were eventually able to capitalize off of a combination between playmakers Djordje Mihailovic and Matko Miljevic to go ahead 1-0.

In the second half, Jim Curtin rearranged his formation to more resemble a 4-2-3-1 that put Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan take on wider midfield positions. This formation shift allowed Alejandro Bedoya to push forward and try to find Kacper Przybyłko in the box, but no one materialized on the other end of Bedoya’s cross.

The second half also saw a lot more Union control of the game, and consequently, their equalizing goal. Jamiro Monteiro stood over a free kick from far out, and Jakob Glesnes made a perfectly-timed run near the goal. The ball found its way through the defensive wall on the edge of the 18-yard box and glanced off the foot of Montreal goalkeeper James Pantemis into the goal, officially credited as an own goal.

This didn’t deter Montreal from trying to find their go-ahead goal, but Homegrown goalie Matt Freese did a spectacular job of knocking the ball out of danger for the Union’s defense. In a save worthy of the great Andre Blake, Freese held up a 67th minute counterattack by expertly following the ball, getting his hands on it, and safely falling on the ball to stop another scoring chance.

A go-ahead goal would be scored shortly after, courtesy of a beautiful Wagner free kick. The left-back stood over the set piece from a tight angle on the right side of the box, and was able to send a streaking shot directly into the opposite side of the net to put the Boys In Blue ahead 2-1.

All seemed to be going well for the away team, and as the game ran into stoppage time, it was looking pretty certain that they would come away with all three points. However, their hopes would be dashed by Sunusi Ibrahim, who beat out Wagner to find space on a shot that Freese had no chance of saving to bring the final scoreline even at 2-2.

Man of the Match: Wagner did what he does best and largely controlled the left side of the field, which helped immensely to take the pressure off of the young and relatively inexperienced Freese. His free kick would’ve (and, frankly, should’ve) been the game-winning goal, which only further proves his invaluable abilities as an equally talented defender and attacker.

The Main Takeaway: A point on the road isn’t terrible, but it’s frustrating that the match slipped out of the Union’s hands in the dying moments of the game. However, the performance overall was solid. Homegrowns Freese, Aaronson, and Sullivan continued to show the league that the Union academy is still churning out convincing young talents. Union players that were returning from international break integrated seamlessly back into the team. It’s a disappointing result, but it’s good that this team isn’t satisfied with a mere point and a positive performance. Every point matters, every game is a must-win, and that mentality showed in this game, which will only fortify the Union as they finish out the rest of their road trip.


Paxten Aaronson Isn't His Brother

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

When your older brother is basically a Philadelphia Union icon, it leaves some big shoes to fill.

Brenden Aaronson only played about two seasons for the Union, and traded in Philadelphia for Austria when he was 20, but his journey is the stuff of local legend. He burst onto the MLS scene with a kind of skill, creativity, energy, and soccer IQ that few people expected out of the Philadelphia Union academy at the time. He quickly established himself as a starter in the first team. He was part of the squad that won the Union their first trophy—the 2020 Supporters’ Shield.

To this day, the Union still treat Aaronson as if he still plays for them. There’s a certain level of parental pride in the way people speak about Aaronson within the Union organization. It’s like sending a child off to college—you know they can’t stay at home forever, but even with all of their independent accomplishments and individual growth, they never quite stop being your child. It’s like, “Yeah, Brenden is doing amazing things over in Europe and for the national team, and we’re so happy for him...but he’s still one of ours. We’re where it all started for him.”

The wonderful thing is that the line didn’t end with Brenden. There was another Aaronson honing his skills in the Union’s academy—three years younger, same mop of curly hair, same height and build, but—according to many of the Union’s youth coaches—more talented.

It may sound hard to believe, considering the fact that Paxten Aaronson hasn’t been given quite the same level of belief as Brenden was when he first signed his Homegrown contract. Manager Jim Curtin seemingly threw much of his trust behind Brenden, while he’s looking to be a lot more cautious with Paxten. The younger Aaronson mainly comes off the bench, if he features in games at all. He’s most comfortable playing in the No. 10 role, a position he has to compete with mainly Jamiro Monteiro for. He’s part of a Union team that is no longer much of an underdog, that has been validated, that knows their worth. It’s much more competitive, especially when Aaronson is coming from what has now been coined as the best youth academy in the United States. And, of course, there’s the herculean task of breaking out of Brenden’s shadow.

Merely having his name on the first team roster is a testament to Paxten’s skill and ability. As Curtin once said in a press conference, “With the young guys, nothing is ever handed to them. We don’t just hand debuts out; we don’t just hand them minutes. They earn everything. And Paxten has earned every opportunity that he’s got through hard work in training. He’s been excellent in practice day in and day out…”

And make no mistake, Curtin rates the younger Aaronson highly.

“I do think Paxten is a kid that when he plays with our top group, our first group of players, our starters, it makes him that much better,” The Union manager said. “Similar to how you saw Brenden kind of start to thrive. Where games with Bethlehem Steel were almost difficult for Brenden, when you surround them with real talent and high-end talent, they’ll put them on the ball in the right spots.”

The brother-to-brother comparisons are inevitable, if done to death. Kacper Przybyłko admitted that “[Paxten’s] body movement [and] language is like his brother’s” and that it was “so funny to see.”

Although Curtin has also admitted to comparing the two, he also emphasized the fact that he’s not trying to bring in Paxten simply to fill the Brenden-shaped hole in the Union’s heart with another Aaronson.

“I’ve been trying to avoid the natural thing that everybody is going to do,” Curtin admitted. “He’s his own person, he’s his own player, he’s a great kid, and he deserved [his MLS debut]. It’s just the beginning, and he’s going to leave a big impact on the Philadelphia Union, and even beyond that.”

There are clearly big plans for Aaronson, and with Monteiro looking to leave the Union at the next available opportunity, the 18-year-old’s breakthrough season could be just over the horizon. For someone so young, he’s shown some incredible flashes of brilliance. (Could he have asked for a better debut goal?) As badly as fans might want him to prosper in the same fashion as his brother, forcing Paxten to grow up before he’s well and truly ready won’t do anyone any good. A player already bursting at the seams with talent can’t be burnt out before he has a chance to really show what he’s capable of.

Because, at the end of the day, he isn’t Brenden. And fans shouldn’t want him to be. He’ll grow at his own pace, he’ll play the way that suits him the best, and he’ll become the best version of the player that he was meant to be.


Week 28 Recap: Ohio Has Been Conquered!

By Siobhan Nolan

Although they were missing eight players due to red card suspensions and international duty, the Union were able to handle FC Cincinnati, largely due to the Homegrown influence on the field.

The Homegrowns showed their prowess early on, with Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn combining to set up Sergio Santos in the second minute, but the attempt was knocked aside by Cincinnati goalie Przemysław Tytoń.

Right after Santos’ chance, Cincinnati were able to grab the ball. Alvaro Barreal took advantage of the high Union press and raced towards the Union’s half. Barreal lifted a pass to Luciano Acosta, but Jack Elliott was able to track back and stay on Acosta to prevent the home team from scoring.

As the fifteenth minute rolled around, Jim Curtin was forced to make a substitution when Santos went down with an apparent injury. Quinn Sullivan entered the game, making for a total of five Homegrowns on the pitch.

Matt Freese showed some heroics in the first half, namely when former Union player Haris Medunjanin found Isaac Atanga for a shot on goal, but Freese controlled his space well and was able to push the ball away.

As the first half went into stoppage time, McGlynn opted to fire the ball towards the endline, where Aaronson was able to pick it up and move in behind the defense. Aaronson then found Kacper Przybylko in the box, who held control of the ball and sent it streaking into the back of the net to put the Union up 1-0.

The start of the second half saw Curtin revert his players back into a 4-4-2 formation, stationing Elliott at the base of the midfield diamond and Leon Flach at left back.

The Union’s second goal was a full Homegrown effort, with Nathan Harriel picking out Aaronson towards the back post. Harriel curled the ball towards the 18-year-old, who sent a low shot past Tyton for a 2-0 scoreline.

Cincinnati began creating problems for the Union’s defense, and after creating two chances in about three minutes, Matt Real was sent on to reinforce the back line.

In the 82nd minute, Medunjanin managed to get a foot on the ball in the center of the box to put one past Freese and make it a 2-1 game.

In the last gasps of the game, Sullivan got one final offensive press going, beating out Brenner to pass the ball off to Aaronson. Aaronson was looking to set up Flach for a third goal, but his shot was deflected. There was no worry, however, as the game closed with a 2-1 Union victory.

Man of the Match: All of the Homegrowns seriously stepped up to run this game, but Aaronson in particular was dazzling. He thrived in the playmaker role, showing off creativity and technical ability well beyond his years. When he linked up with McGlynn and Sullivan, it looked like the connection of seasoned professionals, and proved even further that they’re capable of making magic happen on the field.

The Main Takeaway: The Union’s squad depth has been a point of concern all season, but this game showed that even with a thin bench and the majority of their starting 11 not being able to legally drink yet, these players can get results. Curtin knows now that he absolutely can call upon the less experienced players and trust them to get the three points they need to stay competitive in this playoff race.


Week 28 Preview: Union vs. FC Cincinnati

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Coming off of a thrilling 3-0 win against Columbus Crew, the Union travel to Cincinnati to add three more points to their standings, where they currently sit in third place.

The big roadblock for the Union in this game is the significant absence of starters. Kai Wagner won’t be available for selection due to a red card suspension, while the rest of the unavailable players are away with their national teams for World Cup Qualifiers. Andre Blake and Alvas Powell have been called up for Jamaica, Jose Martinez for Venezuela, Daniel Gazdag for Hungary, Olivier Mbaizo for Cameroon, and Jamiro Monteiro for Cape Verde.

Jim Curtin stated, “We’re going quite a bit shorthanded with missing 6-7 starters. Others will have to step up as they know they will be called upon to do.”

With Wagner’s suspension, it’s entirely likely that Curtin will switch up his normal backline formation, changing from a back four to a back three. Whichever one he decides to go with, it’s clear that Leon Flach will be the man tasked with covering the left side of the field as a left-back or wing back.

“His versatility was part of his appeal when he came here,” Curtin said of Flach’s ability to play different positions. “We know wherever we put him on the field he’s a no-nonsense player that does his job and really executes.”

The midfield will be shaken up even further with the absence of Martinez, leaving Curtin to possibly fill the number six position with Alejandro Bedoya, who normally runs the center of the midfield.

“If [Bedoya] does play the six, it is something he’s done,” Curtin said. “His versatility again helps us a great deal.”

While there are a substantial number of options Curtin could employ to fill in the gaps (resting almost entirely with the Homegrowns), the Boys In Blue know that they’re in for a battle in Cincinnati. Although their opponents have only collected 20 points in 27 matches, Curtin is by no means counting this game as an easy win.

“We have a tough task,” The Union manager admitted. “They have an incredible fan base and a beautiful stadium, so that alone will be enough for the guys to know it will be a hostile environment. The guys in Cincinnati are going to want to impress [their interim coach] and are fighting for contracts next year. They are able to play a little more free whereas we are fighting for every point. They’ve played a lot better soccer than their record shows.”

Predicted Lineup: Joe Bendik, Matt Real, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Stuart Findlay, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Bendik will get a look in net while Blake is out, and 22-year-old Real and Findlay will mind the wings. A back four has always been the more reliable option for the Union’s defense, so it would be unwise to stray from what has worked so well for them this season. Flach will take the number six role, while Bedoya will keep his position in the center of the midfield to guide Sullivan and Aaronson as they handle the attacking side of things. With Santos and Przybylko up front, the offense will be in safe hands.

Score Prediction: The Union have tons of momentum after their thrilling victory against Columbus Crew, but they’ll be playing mostly with the B team for this game. It probably won’t look as smooth and uniform because many of these players haven’t been able to stretch their legs on the field in a while, but a 2-1 win is more than enough to keep the fire hot.


Week 27 Recap: Three Goals, Three Points, Third Place

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union only had 36% possession, went down to 10 men, and were forced into several formation shifts against Columbus Crew, but still put on a dazzling display of skill, dauntlessness, and ambition to propel themselves into third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

In true Sergio Santos, the Brazilian striker wasted no time in getting the offense going right after kickoff. Santos was able to create space between Columbus’ back three, allowing for Kacper Przybylko to find Alvas Powell within that space. Powell’s cross was saved, but was fouled by a Columbus defender to set up a Union free kick. Kai Wagner stood over the set piece, but his shot was also saved.

Santos was at the heart of another threatening run, this time combining with Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya’s pass to Santos did not immediately alert the Crew’s back line to any danger, but Santos was able to collect the ball and lure goalkeeper Evan Bush off of his line. Columbus were able to track back and thwart Santos’ attempt on goal, but it was clear that they were quickly becoming outpaced and outsmarted.

The Crew’s attack was relatively quiet throughout the first half. The pressing simply wasn’t there for the opposing team, giving the Union’s back four relatively unadulterated freedom to roam farther up the field. This would prove useful, as, rather surprisingly, center back Jack Elliott was the one standing over another free kick. Elliott’s shot was low and choppy, but it managed to sneak past Bush to put the home team on the board.

The second half couldn’t have started better for the Union, as less than a minute into play, Przybylko took the ball and broke into a full sprint, keeping a look out for options to pass to. Both Santos and Daniel Gazdag were able to stretch the opposition’s back line thin, allowing for Przybylko to fire a low cross to Bedoya, who scored off of his first touch to put the Union up 2-0.

A grim air of desperation settled onto Columbus, as they sought out some sort of counterattack to no avail. Leon Flach shined in the number six role, effortlessly working with Powell and Bedoya to keep the Crew’s offense quiet. Elliott and Jakob Glesnes held strong in front of Andre Blake, who hadn’t been forced into any of his signature Superman saves thus far.

Trouble began brewing, however, when Wagner was shown a second yellow card for a tackle that shut down a Columbus counterattack in wide open space. The call stood, cutting the Union down to 10 men, and forcing Jim Curtin into a tactical shift that moved Flach over to cover the left back position.

More formation shifts occurred when Bedoya and Monteiro shifted to prioritize patrolling the central midfield, while Quinn Sullivan came on for Gazdag and taking over duties on the right wing.

The Union found themselves in another troubling spot after a collision between Powell and Gyasi Zardes drew a penalty kick for the Crew. Pedro Santos stepped up to take it, but became the latest victim of Blake’s superhuman goalkeeping abilities. Blake dove in the right direction and shoved the ball out of danger, keeping the scoreline at 2-0.

Shortly after the failed PK, Columbus found themselves with another set piece opportunity. Lucas Zelarayan stepped up to try and put his team on the scoresheet, but put the ball wide of the post instead.

Aware of the mounting threat from the opposition, Curtin, who usually favors substitutions that bolster the offense, switched Santos for Stuart Findlay in a bid to strengthen the defense. Almost immediately afterward, Darlington Nagbe rocketed a shot that seemed destined for MLS Goal of the Week contention, but Blake was able to leap into the air and palm the shot away in another awe-inspiring save.

Columbus remained on a steady decline, growing noticeably more exhausted and sluggish as the minutes ticked away. A 2-0 was looking to be a final comfortable result, but the Union weren’t done just yet. Sullivan made a genius run up the field, boldly chasing a pass none of his teammates went after. The Homegrown lofted a cross over to Flach, who knocked it into the back of the net for his first MLS goal, and secured a well-deserved. 3-0 win.

Man of the Match: This game was a spectacular team effort, and every single player put in a determined shift. However, Flach was particularly impressive. He was called upon to fill a position that he doesn’t normally play, and he held down the base of the midfield diamond with grace and ease. Even when he was shifted again to cover the Wagner-shaped hole on the left wing, the 20-year-old handled it like a veteran. It’s also admirable that he continued grinding for a third goal, even when the Union were already pretty much guaranteed a comfortable win. All that, and it’s his first MLS goal? MOTM is definitely deserved.

The Main Takeaway: This match was a true testament to the discipline, work rate, and sheer ability to overpower other teams. This performance shows just how serious they are about making it to the postseason, and how they’re now a serious contender for trophies. Columbus are the defending MLS Cup champions, and came into this game off of winning the Campeones Cup, so the fact that the Union put them in their place the way they did goes to show not just fans, but other teams that they’re not afraid of anybody coming into the playoffs.


Week 27 Preview: Union vs. Columbus Crew

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Columbus Crew might be sitting below the playoff line, but they’re coming into this game with an immense boost of confidence after defeating Cruz Azul to win the Campeones Cup on Wednesday night. On the other hand, the Union are coming off a tie with the New York Red Bulls.

Jim Curtin highlighted the importance of the remaining games in the regular season, emphasizing how every team is fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the playoffs.

“We said it with Red Bulls and we’ll say it again with Columbus, these are great teams that are now fighting for every point,” Curtin said in a press conference. “There’s not many games left and one of the hardest things to do is play your best in a big pressure game against a good opponent that has a little bit of desperation to get three points. It will be a real challenge and they will put in a lot for the game, but the challenge is can we use that against them.”

Curtin also outlined the Union’s own ambitions for the postseason, saying, “We want to take as many points as possible. The end goal is to host a playoff game, not just get in. Every point is going to matter down the stretch and every player is going to have a role; the message is to be ready.”

Every point will matter for the Boys In Blue, considering that they’ll be without some key players for this match. Jose Martinez will be unavailable for selection due to yellow card accumulation, while Olivier Mbaizo has been excused to return back to Cameroon following the passing of his father. Several players will likely be absent in the near future due to World Cup Qualifying matches.

As usual, the defense will not be a cause for concern in this game. Andre Blake and his back line have given up just 26 goals in 26 games, tying the Eastern Conference for fewest goals allowed. Although Mbaizo’s absence is not preferable, it’s unlikely that his replacement will do anything to derail the uniformity of this Union defense.

The offense is a different story. They’re still trying to get their feet under them after a hitting a recent rough patch, and are still struggling to put more than one or two goals on the board. With Martinez, it’s likely that Curtin will rearrange his midfield diamond to put Leon Flach in that number six role. This will open up the number eight position for Jamiro Monteiro, and move Daniel Gazdag into the number 10 spot.

Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos will have a chance to continue strengthening their partnership, now that Cory Burke is out with an injury.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Alvas Powell, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Powell is the only significant change in this lineup, but he’s proven that he can fare well in this back four. Gazdag will have another chance to prove himself a worthy competitor for the number 10 spot, and should combine well with a newly-invigorated Przybylko and Santos duo.

Score Prediction: A home crowd is always good for the Union, and now that they’ve been propelled back into playoff contention, they have everything to fight for. The team has had a stretch of good results and even better performances, both individually and as a unit, so this consistent run can only help them against Columbus. It might also be the perfect opportunity for the offense to finally show the full extent of what they’re capable of, which would be a satisfying 3-1 win.


Week 26 Recap: One Point Is Better Than None

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Although the Union would’ve been looking for all three points against who are arguably their biggest rivals, a point against the New York Red Bulls will be somewhat welcome in the Union’s playoff race.

Sergio Santos showed that hadn’t lost any of his energy and determination from last week’s game against Atlanta United when faced with the Red Bulls’ defense. Santos was able to steal the ball away from opposing defender Dru Yearwood, find striking partner Kacper Przybyłko inside a jam-packed 18-yard box, and while no goal came from the efforts, the message was clear: Santos was going to be causing problems for New York’s back line.

Not to worry, however, as Santos got his moment of glory shortly thereafter. A corner kick found its way into the six-yard box, where Santos was waiting amongst a sea of bodies. He stuck out his knee, able to knock the ball past the goalkeeper to put the Union in the lead.

After some back-and-forth play, the Red Bulls were able to start finding gaps in the Union’s defense as well. Patryk Klimala stayed on his ball and nearly saw his feverish run turn into a goal, while Yearwood forced Andre Blake to make a save around the half-hour mark.

The home team weren’t looking particularly threatening, but a long-range cross from Carlos Coronel found Omar Fernandez to put the Red Bulls on the board first.

The Union were dealt another blow when Jose Martinez was shown a yellow card following a tackle in the attacking third, meaning that he will not be available for selection against Columbus Crew on Sunday, Oct. 2.

The second half saw Daniel Gazdag and Paxten Aaronson enter the fray in a bid to generate more offense for the visitors. Aaronson nearly found another goal off a corner kick, after he managed to find his way near the back post, but was unable to convert.

In the 85th minute, the Union saw two more yellow cards—one for Kai Wagner for a questionably-angled tackle on Daniel Royer, and one for Blake after expressing some major frustration following a corner kick.

Aaronson once again found himself involved in a scoring opportunity, threading a ball through to Przybylko, but the Polish striker was unable to capitalize.

Man of the Match: Santos can receive the honor because he salvaged the only goal, and therefore a point, for the Union, but some serious recognition needs to be given to Aaronson for his immediate impact on the game when he entered. A plethora of chances were created because of his creativity and spatial awareness, and although a goal didn’t come to fruition, the offensive intensity didn’t waver thanks to Aaronson’s influence.

The Main Takeaway: It’s not the ideal result, but it’s one of those games where the result doesn’t necessarily reflect the performance. The offensive pressure was just what was needed to wear down the Red Bulls’ defense, and it’s exactly what’s needed in the last stretch of games in the regular season. It’s also nothing but positive to see the young players logging more minutes and being allowed to create more opportunities and control the game to a certain extent.


Week 26 Preview: Union vs. New York Red Bulls

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Following a two-game winning streak, taking all six points from matches against Orlando City SC and Atlanta United, the Union have seen themselves make a huge jump into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They’ll be travelling to northern New Jersey for the latest installment of their rivalry against the New York Red Bulls, who currently sit seven points out of playoff contention.

Two solid wins, along with Kacper Przybylko returning to offensive form with three goals across those two games, has provided plenty of momentum for Philadelphia going into this game. However, Jim Curtin pointed out that the Union need to always be looking ahead to the next game instead of relishing in their past two matches.

“That performance means nothing if we don’t follow up with another one against Red Bull,” Curtin said.

The Union have not lost to their northern rivals since September 2019, but by no means does that guarantee a cruising win in this upcoming game.

“These games are usually one play games,” Curtin said. “We bring out the best in each other. All games are important at this point and every point matters, but when it’s Red Bull, there’s a little something extra for both teams.

This match will be especially trying for the Union, seeing as they have a multitude of players out with injuries. Captain Alejandro Bedoya, who was absent from the Atlanta game due to a calf problem, will return, but Curtin will be looking to make the most out of the players that are available.

“As a coach, you have to look a couple days ahead and have a plan,” Curtin told media. “It’s not ideal, we’ll be missing about eight players in the most important games of the year.”

The biggest advantage in the Union’s recent performances has been the fact that they have been putting in solid team performances. Defense, midfield, and attack have all done their part to snag three points, and the cohesiveness between the players is their biggest strength right now. Against an admittedly weaker Red Bulls side, that could be the element that puts them all the way over the edge. The next step is to ramp up the goal count so they don’t skate by on one-goal leads anymore.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Although the midfield fared pretty well without him, Bedoya will almost certainly be back in the lineup. He commands not just the midfield, but provides leadership to the entire field. It’s the familiar case of Curtin knowing what words and sticking to it. With the unfortunately scarce depth in the striker department, fans could see Curtin making early substitutions with the young players, much like what happened against Atlanta.

Score Prediction: The Union’s win streak coupled with the fact that they seem to have genuinely found their footing again after a stretch of games where they weren’t playing like themselves could lead to a convincing win. With the momentum picking up, this game could see more than just Przybylko or Santos on the scoresheet. More players (including defenders) are involving themselves in the attack, meaning that there could be a variety of goalscorers to give them a comfortable lead over the Red Bulls. A result of 3-1 shouldn't be a problem for the Union.


Week 25 Recap: Civil War, Pt. 2

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The setting really couldn’t have been better—a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, a win against Orlando under the belts of the Union, and injury-stricken Atlanta United as their opponent. By no means did anybody peg this to be an easy game for the Union, but once the whistle blew for kickoff, it became clear that the home team would not be intimidated by their past with Atlanta.

Sergio Santos wasted no time in getting the offense going, making a threatening run up the field in the first five minutes of action. A defensive turnover in Atlanta’s final third saw the ball at the feet of Kacper Przybylko, who flicked it over to Santos, but goalie Brad Guzan was able to make the save.

Although some of their strongest attacking players weren’t in the starting lineup, Atlanta still showed flashes of their notable offensive prowess. George Bello was able to make his way into the box, and a scrambled clearance from Andre Blake only went as far as another Atlanta attacker, who failed to put together a dangerous shot, keeping the game scoreless.

Center back Jack Elliott became an unusual fixture up front, making a run from the center of the field into Atlanta’s box. Elliott was able to send a perfectly weighted ball to Santos, but Guzan got his hands on the shot. Shortly after Elliott’s cross, Kai Wagner was able to send a ball in Santos’ direction, but Guzan once again had it handled.

Przybylko got involved in the attacking action thanks to a cross from Daniel Gazdag. The Polish striker maneuvered past an Atlanta defender, only to be denied by Guzan. In a back-and-forth passing run with Jamiro Monteiro, Gazdag tried a shot of his own, but Guzan once again pushed the ball away.

The beginning of the second half saw no change in the Union’s persistent attack. Leon Flach nearly opened up the scoring after catching Guzan off his line, attempting to float the ball around the goalie, but Guzan was able to get his hands on it.

Just two minutes after replacing Gazdag in the 57th minute, Paxten Aaronson had Atlanta’s defense on skates as he picked out Santos in the center of the box. Santos took his shot, but it deflected off of Przybylko and out of play.

While it may have been surprising that Philadelphia stayed scoreless for so much of the game, their goal came from none other than Przybylko, although much of the credit for the build-up and orchestration can be given to Jose Martinez. Coming up the right side of the field, Martinez swerved around two Atlanta defenders, sent a low cross to Przybylko, who easily tapped the ball in past Guzan.

It was then time for Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn to enter the fray, with McGlynn employing some skilled footwork well beyond his 18 years in an attempt to assist a Santos goal, but the Brazilian striker couldn’t capitalize on his chance.

Santos came off shortly after, seemingly due to leg cramps, which made room for Anthony Fontana to see the field for the first time since sustaining a head injury earlier in the season. Fontana had an immediate impact, linking up with fellow youngsters Sullivan, Aaronson, and Flach to start seeking out an insurance goal.

Atlanta’s only other significant scoring chance of the half came from a free kick that made it comfortably into Blake’s arms, securing the 1-0 victory for the Union.

Man of the Match: There was cause for some concern when Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t featured in the starting lineup or on the bench (he has been listed as “questionable” on the injury report), leading to some questions over how well the midfield was going to be able hold their own against Atlanta’s renowned attack. However, the midfield was the star of the show, and Martinez’s brilliant run up the right side was the entire reason the Union’s goal happened at all, so MOTM will have to go to him.

The Main Takeaway: This win propelled the Union into fourth place, just one point behind third place NYCFC. As the playoff race begins really heating up, every point will be crucial in securing a comfortable spot in postseason play. Beating a historically difficult team like Atlanta will do wonders for the confidence of the entire team, and will add gasoline to the fire needed to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference table.


Week 26 Recap: When a Snake Strangles a Lion

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

There’s no time for tears after the Union were unceremoniously knocked out of the Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday, as Orlando City SC paid a visit to Subaru Park for a Sunday evening matchup.

The lineup was unchanged from that fateful CCL semifinal game, but they didn’t look any less energized. Despite being plagued by injuries and two red card suspensions, Orlando wasted no time in testing the Union. Andre Blake was put to work early, but the Union were able to not only gain possession relatively easily, but maintain it long enough to get into Orlando’s half.

It was immediately obvious how effective the midfield diamond (made up of Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jamiro Monteiro) were going to be against Orlando. One of the Union’s best scoring chances of the half came after Monteiro stole the ball away from the Lions in their own final third, crossing it to Olivier Mbaizo, who passed it off to Flach. The German midfielder took a shot from about 18 yards out, but it glanced just wide of the goal.

Kai Wagner, in true Wagner fashion, was grinding from the very first minute, but came up especially big in the 37th minute. Monteiro sent a low free kick into the box, where Orlando handled it and knocked the ball out of immediate danger. Wagner cut back into the action, passed to Kacper Przybyłko, who then found Cory Burke, who promptly sent the ball back to Wagner for the Union’s first goal of the match.

Orlando was able to catch the home defense off-guard when Mauricio Pereyra was able to lift a ball to Ruan near the goalpost, where he was able to head the ball past Andre Blake and into the corner of the net.

As the second half commenced, it became clear that the Union were determined to snatch their lead back. In the 61st minute, Monteiro sprinted up the field, weaving through two defenders to hand the ball off to Bedoya. Bedoya was then able to flick the ball back to Monteiro, who found Przybylko in the center to pull the Union ahead 2-1.

Jim Curtin made some uncharacteristically early substitutions, putting on Daniel Gazdag and Sergio Santos before the 70th minute of play. Curtin also, surprisingly, didn’t employ the use of any of his Homegrown players, despite Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, and Jack McGlynn all being available for selection off the bench.

A scrappy and messy match, both Orlando and the Union saw yellow cards throughout the second half. Things reached a boiling point in the 88th minute, when Orlando’s Antonio Carlos pulled Santos down and clipped his ankles inside the box, earning a red card for Carlos and a penalty for the Union. Przybylko lined up for the shot, and put it in the back of the net to give the Union their final result of 3-1.

Man of the Match: It could easily go to a number of players on the team, but it was wonderful to see Przybylko get back into scoring form with his brace, not to mention his work rate throughout the entire match. While he has been guilty of disappearing from any game action that doesn’t happen in the opposition’s attacking third, this game was a refreshing change back to the prolific Przybylko fans know and love. (Honorable mentions can go to the entire midfield diamond, particularly Flach and Monteiro for their contributions on both ends of the field.)

The Main Takeaway: Now that they don’t have to worry about the CCL anymore, the Union can focus solely on MLS and making it safely into the playoffs. This performance was exactly what they needed to simply feel like themselves again, especially after being laid out by Club America in both legs of the semifinal. The performances by everybody on the field were excellent, and it will hopefully by the confidence boost that will propel them back into a playoff spot.