Union Acquire Julian Carranza on Loan From Inter Miami

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union announced on Dec. 23 that the club has signed 21-year-old forward Julian Carranza from Inter Miami CF on loan. Carranza has been added to the active duty roster, currently occupying a Young Designated Player spot. He will stay with the Union throughout the 2022 MLS season, while the club has an option to buy at the end of the season.

“We’re excited to welcome Julian to the Philadelphia Union and add a promising young attacker with a lot of potential to our roster,” said Union sporting director Ernst Tanner. “He is aggressive in the box and brings the versatility of a natural center forward who fits the profile of a striker we were looking for, as well as our style of play. We look forward to welcoming him to the team and watching him develop in our system.”

Kai Wagner Wants a Move to Europe in January

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Union All-Star left back Kai Wagner has requested a move to Europe during this upcoming January transfer window.

Wagner was quoted as saying to Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt, “I want to make the step to Europe in January. I want to prove to myself that I can play [in] Europe; I am honest enough to say that I want to do it now. I also want to be closer to the family.”

The German left-back signed a contract with the Union that would keep him in Philadelphia through the 2022 season, with a club option in 2023. However, Wagner has recognized how much his worth has skyrocketed since first signing with the Union, and wants a position in European soccer to reflect that increased price tag.

Wagner was one of the numerous players that Union sporting director Ernst Tanner signed under the radar that ended up being explosive, playing a significant role in the Union’s squad. He was first acquired from the Wurzburger Kickers in February 2019 for a measly $303,000, but it’s being reported that Wagner is now valued somewhere close to $3.3 million.

“Today, everybody would laugh about the small fee that Tanner paid to sign me,” Wagner said. “At the time, though, it was a difficult step. And I had to jump over my own shadow. But the talks with Ernst Tanner and Jim Curtin helped me make my decision, and once I knew that my family was on board, the decision [to come to the Union] was made very quickly.”

While nothing is concrete yet, it looks as though the Union might be in the market for another left-back soon.

Eastern Conference Final Recap: That's A Wrap

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s not the ending any Union supporter wanted for the 2021 season, but a lineup absent of a majority of the team’s regular starters left the Union had a significant disadvantage before the game even started. Philadelphia played a much more aggressive style in order to make up for the lack of experience in the lineup, but it wasn’t enough to send them through to the MLS Cup Final.

It didn’t take long for Jose Martinez to get himself involved in an altercation, taking issue with NYCFC’s Santiago Rodriguez, causing both teams to get in on the arguing.

The first scoring opportunity of the game would come from Jack McGlynn, whose free kick nearly made it into the right corner of the net, but Sean Johnson was able to make the save.

Despite some strong clearances from the Union, who were missing three regular starters and goalkeeper Andre Blake, NYCFC held the majority of possession. Even though they controlled most of the first half of the game, New York resorted to more physical tactics to try and keep the Union from getting ahead. Both McGlynn and Jamiro Monteiro were targeted whenever they had the ball, but it didn’t keep the home team down.

In the 38th minute, Kacper Przybylko found a scoring opportunity, stretching his leg all the way to knock the ball directly into Johnson’s body.

Leon Flach had a golden chance in the 43rd minute, when a slide tackle on the defender sent the ball flying towards the net. Johnson was able to backtrack to keep both teams scoreless going into halftime.

The Union continued their attacking runs on NYCFC, with Daniel Gazdag maneuvering his way through bodies in the opposition’s box to connect with Flach, who made a brilliant run at the goal. Johnson was forced into another save, but the intensity of the Union’s offense was immediately obvious.

The opening minutes of the second half were dominated by both McGlynn and Flach, with the young midfielders taking full advantage of turnovers, and applying tons of pressure while connecting with Gazdag and Monteiro.

It was in the 63rd minute that the pressure paid off for the Union. Gazdag and Monteiro had some back-and-forth up the left side to send the ball into the six-yard box. Przybylko was the nearest Union player to the net, but the ball deflected off of NYCFC’s Alexander Callens for an own goal to put the Union up 1-0.

However, just under two minutes later, Maxi Moralez found an equalizer for the away team.

Undeterred by the equalizing goal, Philadelphia continued their relentless pressing, but didn’t have any goals to show off. On the other side of things, New York got into the Union’s box to test Matt Freese, who was able to push the ball out of danger.

As the second half ticked on, it was looking like yet another playoff game would head into overtime, but Martinez intercepted a clearance and passed it off to Nathan Harriel, whose header just went over the crossbar, denying him a potential game-winning goal.

It would be the visitors that would find the back of the net a second time, with Gudmundur Thorarinsson found Talles Magno for a tap-in goal that would prove to be the game-winner.

The Main Takeaway: Although it was a thoroughly disheartening way to end the season, it was the furthest the Union have ever gotten in the playoffs, and proved why the Union are becoming powerhouses in MLS. They put on incredibly resilient performances, and proved just how good their regular Starting XI is. It’s been a historical season for the Boys In Blue, and while they didn’t make it all the way this season, they’ve built a sturdy foundation for an even better 2022 season.

Eastern Conference Final Preview: Union vs. NYCFC

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The playoffs have been nothing short of chaotic and dramatic for the Union, but things have taken a turn for the worse in the leadup to the Eastern Conference Final at Subaru Park.

It was announced on Dec. 4 that 11 Union players had been placed into Health and Safety protocols, rendering them unavailable for selection against NYCFC. It’s a crushing blow, as a majority of the players on the list have been crucial to Philadelphia’s success in these playoffs. Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, Joe Bendik, Cory Burke, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Ilsinho, Alvas Powell, Sergio Santos, Quinn Sullivan, and Kai Wagner will have to quarantine pending COVID-19 test results.

To fill out the roster, Jim Curtin has added Homegrowns Brendan Craig and Anton Sorenson, along with MLS pool goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.

The loss of such essential players has sent the Union faithful into panic mode, but Curtin assured the masses in his press conference that the remaining players are up to the challenge of earning a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

There’s been a lot of emotion, a uniqueness in the week,” Curtin said. “The group was unable to train [on Thursday] due to players going in health and safety protocols of MLS. We were able to return to practice today on the field. We will follow the league protocols with hope of having as many players available for our game against New York City FC. I cannot speak on the health of certain individual players, but our players have worked tirelessly to get to this point and I know that they will be brave even in the adversity that we are facing right now.”

NYCFC will be formidable opponents, after their penalty shootout against the New England Revolution caused a major upset to bring them into the Eastern Conference Finals. Although they will also be without some key players, including MLS MVP finalist Taty Castellanos, they’ll still have a significant advantage over the Union in terms of roster experience, strength, and preparation for a game of this magnitude.

Curtin is still confident that the Union will come out victorious, stating, “We’ve stepped up in big moments all year long. International absences, challenges of Concacaf, players losing loved ones, adversity on and off the field, this group always finds a way to step up. I expect this weekend to be more of the same. We’ve had a next man up mentality all season long and we will continue to do that. We will make our fans proud. If history has shown us anything, it’s that a group of men, or a group of women, with absolutely nothing to lose can oftentimes be the most dangerous.”

The head coach also added, “I said it to the group, this is why you get paid money to play a sport. This is what the literal definition of what it means to be a professional—always being ready.”

Predicted Lineup: Matt Freese, Stuart Findlay, Brendan Craig, Anton Sorenson, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Jack McGlynn, Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybyłko, Daniel Gazdag

  • The defense will be the biggest concern for this lineup, seeing as everyone in the back line but Mbaizo has gotten very limited playing time this season, and the defense has been one of the main things keeping the Union in the playoffs. The midfield and strikers are relatively intact, but will be missing Bedoya’s crucial leadership skills, along with not having the option of an incredibly dynamic Sergio Santos.

Score Prediction: It’s entirely possible that this lineup will get the job done and keep NYCFC in check. New York is without their most dangerous offensive pieces, which will be a huge relief. It’s likely that the pattern of ending regulation play in a tie and finding a winner in stoppage time or penalties will continue, and the Union will find themselves with that winning goal. The universe has been on their side so far, and they need all the positivity they can get going into this game.

Eastern Conference Semifinal Recap: It Was the Night Things Changed

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

On a chilly November night in Chester, two teams faced off in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The energy in Subaru Park was unlike anything seen before at the stadium—the Sons of Ben marched proudly into the stadium while waving flags and beating drums; there was no shortage of pyrotechnics as the teams made their way onto the field; every touch of the ball warranted a roaring reaction from the packed stadium. This game had everything—golden scoring opportunities that strikers missed, overtime that couldn’t be ended with a Jakob Glesnes rocket, and a penalty shootout that ended in one team making club history.

Jamiro Monteiro returned to the starting lineup for this game, and immediately showed why he’s the primary playmaker. The Union were able to skip through Nashville SC’s defense on multiple occasions early in the game, largely controlling possession and scoring chances. Alvas Powell tried his luck with a long-range shot, while Kacper Przybyłko’s effort missed the net trying to find a clear path in a sea of bodies.

Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar made sure to give the Union’s defense some trouble, racing down the right flank and trying to maneuver around Glesnes, but the defender was able to stretch his leg out and deflect Mukhtar’s shot.

The possession and attacks on both sides evened out, as both sides looked to break through the other’s steadfast defense. The Union did their best to utilize the skill of Monteiro and Daniel Gazdag, bringing balls up the sides of the field and crossing into the box, but it wasn’t in the Union’s destiny to strike first.

Mukhtar would break the scoreless deadlock, catching a pass from Eric Miller, and catching the Union’s back four and Andre Blake in an uncharacteristic moment of inattentiveness. Subaru Park fell almost completely silent as the Nashville players celebrated, and suddenly, the game was really on.

The Boys In Blue didn’t look fazed by falling behind, continually persisting for a goal like they had been doing for the entirety of the first half. A corner kick from Monteiro found the feet of Gazdag, whose first effort was blocked by Nashville goalie Joe Willis. Gazdag stayed on the ball, picking it up when it rolled loose and knocked it past Willis to draw the Union level in first half stoppage time.

Early in the second half, a scuffle in the Union’s box saw Leon Flach go down with an apparent knee injury. Jim Curtin was forced to sub on Sergio Santos to fortify his offense, which paid off, as Santos instantly started pressuring Nashville’s defense.

In the 62nd minute, Santos’ first real look on goal came off of a spectacular Gazdag cross. However, the Brazilian striker found himself caught in traffic and looped a shot just wide of the net.

The chances kept coming for the Union, as Alejandro Bedoya found himself getting involved. Bedoya lifted a ball to a lone Monteiro at the far post, but Nashville intercepted the cross before it could reach him.

As the clock ticked down, counterattacks on both sides grew more and more chaotic and aggressive. Philadelphia bombarded Nashville’s defense with an intricate web of passes and shots and rebounds from all sides, while Mukhtar’s speed forced the home team to sprint to track back in order to prevent Nashville from getting into a dangerous area.

Gazdag seemed to be the heroic goalscorer once again, netting his second goal of the game, which looked to be the crucial game winner, but referee Allan Chapman disallowed the goal after pronouncing that there had been a foul on the goalkeeper.

The regulatory 90 minutes were up, and the Union found themselves in overtime for the second consecutive playoff game.

The Union stayed aggressive in their pressing on Nashville’s defense, but the visitors held strong and kept the Union goalless. Monteiro and Santos were the main players in the Union’s counterattacks, but their efforts were fruitless. Curtin then made an ambitious double substitution, swapping Monteiro and Przybylko for Cory Burke and Jack McGlynn. Although the fans told every player to shoot when they got anywhere near the box (hey, it worked last time!), no dramatic rocket of a goal could save the Union this time around. This semifinal was going to penalties.

All eyes were on Blake as Nashville stepped up to take the first penalty. Mukhtar, naturally, was the choice to start off, but he was brilliantly denied by the Jamaican keeper.

Center back Jack Elliott was first for the Union, and he calmly sent his shot past Willis to give the Union the advantage.

Anibal Godoy was the second penalty taker for Nashville, and the second one to be denied by Blake’s excellent directional awareness and agile reflexes.

It was then Santos’ turn, but his PK was saved by Willis.

Alex Muyl gave Blake a break by kicking a ball more worthy of a field goal than a soccer goal, putting the Union even closer to victory.

McGlynn stepped up in the third slot, and the 18-year-old perfectly executed a stutter-step penalty kick that most professionals nearly twice his age can’t pull off.

Walker Zimmerman had the world on his shoulders as he stepped up for Nashville, but couldn’t convert.

Every fan in the stadium was on their feet. The Union players stopped for a second, almost not believing what they had just witnessed. It was only when Blake began sprinting towards his teammates that the realization finally hit—the Union were advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in club history.

Man of the Match: ANDRE. JASON. BLAKE. He didn’t need to do anything more this season to prove that he is the best goalie in MLS, but it will be a cold day in hell before he gives anything less than 110% for his team.

The Main Takeaway: Once again, the Union fall victim to failing to capitalize on relatively easy chances, and have to find their wins in overtime. They’ll be taking on the winners of the NYCFC vs. New England Revolution, and one could bet their life savings that neither of those teams will allow the finals to go past regulation time. The Union performed better than they did against the New York Red Bulls, and remained consistently undeterred by a tough Nashville side, but the real test of their abilities will fall in these finals. Either team they’ll face will be hard (but not impossible!) to beat, and they might not have the home field advantage that they’ve enjoyed so far this postseason. The Union need to step into their power, and show just how sure of themselves they’ve become. They are capable of beating any team they face. They need to start playing like it.

Eastern Conference Semifinal Preview: Union vs. Nashville SC

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union started off their 2021 playoff run in the most sensational fashion, complete with a packed Subaru Park, a plethora of chances that couldn’t be capitalized on by either team, and the latest goal in MLS history—a 123rd minute strike by the Union center back Jakob Glesnes. Despite the win, the performance against the New York Red Bulls was far from their best, and they will be facing an incredibly dangerous Nashville SC at home.

Head coach Jim Curtin is well aware of Nashville’s defensive capabilities and how their prowess at the back will interact with the Union’s own excellent back four.

“I don’t anticipate a high-scoring game,” Curtin predicted. “You have two great defensive teams. The chances will be few and far between. They are excellent at playing forward quickly and they can really pick you apart with their passes. They are really clinical on their transitions.”

Nashville head coach Gary Smith commented on how in-form the Union are, along with highlighting how much of an advantage they have playing at home.

“Philly’s home form is very good,” Smith said. “I mentioned tongue-in-cheek on Tuesday night that, in any other league in the world, it’d be us playing at home, but we do understand the rules.”

He also acknowledged, “The fact they’re at home will give them an advantage, there’s no two ways about it. They’ve proven, not just this year but the last four to five years, their system, style of play, and players they’ve brought through, it makes it extremely difficult to play against.”

Difficult indeed, seeing as the Union have won six straight home games, keeping a clean sheet in the last five. In fact, they have allowed a mere five goals in their last 15 home matches, tying the fewest in any 15-match home span in a single season, including the playoffs, with the Colorado Rapids stretch in 2016.

On the flip side, however, the Boys In Blue have scored just eight goals in eight playoff games. Somewhat even more perplexing, only two of those goals have come from strikers (Sebastian Le Toux in 2011 and Cory Burke in 2018). In the last four postseason games, no striker has netted a goal.

There is also the issue of history repeating itself. The Union’s first playoff win came in 2019 in overtime, at Subaru Park, against the Red Bulls. They have yet to win a playoff game beyond the first round, and this Nashville team will undoubtedly do everything in their power to keep it that way. However, Curtin is choosing to look on the bright side of things.

“Little by little, we’ve progressed each year,” Curtin stated. “We haven’t done it in a flashy, loud, obnoxious way. We’ve done our talking on the field. The players deserve all the credit for consistently improving, being a team that punches above our weight a little bit. But we don’t fear anybody.”

Although they don’t fear anybody, Nashville’s premier playmaker Hany Muhktar will be a player to keep an eye on. He’s the biggest threat to the Union’s offense, and will likely keep Jose Martinez and center backs Glesnes and Jakob Glesnes occupied for most of the game.

For the home team, their usual main man in offense is Kacper Przybyłko, but the Polish striker has been noticeably absent from the field—even though his name has been in the starting lineup. With Curtin favoring a 4-3-2-1 formation as of late, Przybylko is supposed to be the main target in front of the goal, but he hasn’t proven himself to be all that reliable in doing his job. That being said, Przybylko seems to come alive when people start doubting him, so it’s possible that he’ll find his form again on Sunday.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Alvas Powell, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Daniel Gazdag, Jack McGlynn, Kacper Przybyłko

  • Olivier Mbaizo is still unavailable for selection due to medical reasons, which will see Alvas Powell once again step up on the right side. In an effort to not overexert tired legs, Curtin will likely try out Daniel Gazdag in the No. 10 spot for this game, and continuing to pair a playmaker with a Homegrown, will let Jack McGlynn show off his skills. While Paxten Aaronson had an okay outing against New York, McGlynn’s substitute performance showcased a dazzling display of maturity, focus, and a disciplined but creative skill that has quickly become the 18-year-old’s signature.

Score Prediction: These two teams are incredibly similar, which, like Curtin predicted, will cause a low-scoring game because the defenses on both sides are just that good, and they can anticipate the other’s movements and tactics all too well. It won’t be easy or pretty, but the Union always seem to find a way to win when circumstances are tough. A 2-0 win sees the Union through further than they’ve ever gone in playoffs, because they just love making history this year.

Playoff Recap: Jakob Glesnes For President!

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Playoffs are already an exciting event as it is, but the Union decided to really kick off the postseason in quite literally the most dramatic way possible. There was extra time. There was a game-winning goal that rocketed off the foot of a center back in the 123rd minute of play. And, once again, the Union beat their bitterest rival to advance into the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Let’s recap.

Even before kickoff, the energy in Subaru Park was both tense and hopeful. The Sons of Ben filled out the River End, chanting expletive-filled messages to drown out the prominent opposition fans that occupied the section right next to them. Every touch of the ball garnered an emphatic reaction from the crowd, as blood pressures rose to touch the planes flying overhead, the incessant pounding of drums echoed the hammering of fans’ hearts, and even the biggest non-believer sent silent prayers upwards that their team would come out of this game victorious.

The Red Bulls tested the Union early on, easily controlling the opening minutes of the game. The visitors almost exclusively held possession, and didn’t allow breathing room for any Union player that managed to get a hold of the ball. Despite the offensive pressure, the backline of Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, and Alvas Powell (replacing Olivier Mbaizo, who was out for medical reasons), along with Andre Blake, kept the Red Bulls scoreless.

Powell would have the first scoring opportunity for the Union, catching a header from Kacper Przybylko and firing it at the goal, but Red Bulls’ goalie Carlos Coronel was able to make the save.

As the game progressed and neither side being able to break the scoreless deadlock, things naturally began getting physical. Powell and Omir Fernandez found themselves going at it more than once, and, of course, Jose Martinez got in the middle of a couple of altercations of his own. Somewhat controversially, only Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood received a booking, having been shown a yellow card for a high elbowing of Paxten Aaronson.

Speaking of Aaronson, who took over the No. 10 role for Jamiro Monteiro (also unavailable for medical reasons), the Homegrown once again showed his creativity and maturity in midfield. After Alejandro Bedoya sparked a counterattack, Aaronson found himself with a scoring chance that went just wide of the net.

He wasn’t done, however, as he employed some of his signature clever footwork to maneuver out of a tight space and send a laser of a pass to a waiting Daniel Gazdag, who couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Time ticked away, and both sides were becoming noticeably more tired and frustrated with the lack of goals. Not even substituting on Sergio Santos, Cory Burke, and Jack McGlynn seemed to inspire the Union’s offense, as chance after ideal chance missed the net. At the end of the standard 90 minutes, the scoreboard still showed goose eggs for both teams, meaning that extra time was upon them.

In the first half of extra time, both teams seemed to mirror each other in terms of attacking styles, which only made for a continuation of the stalemate. The tired legs were evident for the Union, as Santos, Burke, and Gazdag all put pressure on to find a goal, but nothing came to fruition.

As the second half of extra time commenced, Burke and Santos linked up once again, but Coronel stopped the shot. Burke once again came close in the 117th minute, but the ball was taken off of him by a Red Bulls defender.

There were mere seconds left in extra time, and a dreaded penalty shootout was looking inevitable when an unlikely hero stepped up to score a goal. Glesnes was standing outside the box when the ball came right to him, and in a move of perfect control and calmness, he chested the ball down to his foot and sent a trademark rocket past Coronel.

It was a reaction that nobody can articulate, as it’s nearly impossible to capture the relief, the disbelief, the excitement, and the stunned realization that the Union were moving on unless you were there. Surely the fans could be heard all the way in Center City as Coronel jumped to save the ball just a second too late, and every Union player faced the crowd, passionately yelling and gesturing for them to get louder, rowider, crazier. Even Jim Curtin couldn’t keep his cool, as he sprinted from his technical to celebrate with his players. And honestly...who can blame him?

Man of the Match: Jakob Glesnes, surprisingly enough. Scoring the latest goal in MLS history and getting Subaru Park rocking the way he did is a pretty solid case to get MOTM.

The Main Takeaway: It was an exciting win, but it was far from the Union’s best performance. Against a Red Bulls side that squeaked into the playoffs, as opposed to the Union getting in only behind the New England Revolution, they simply needed to be more assertive, have better communication with each other, and play more cohesively. One of the biggest reasons the Union were able to get seeded so highly is because they have an almost telepathic connection when it comes to passing, spotting runs, and setting up goals. Maybe it was nerves or pressure or the cold temperatures, but the Union weren’t on their game. If they want to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they’ll need to beat either NYCFC or Atlanta United, neither of which will be as forgiving as the Red Bulls.

Playoff Preview: Union vs. New York Red Bulls

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s all been leading up to this—the Union are set to take on their longtime rivals, the New York Red Bulls, at Subaru Park for the first game of the 2021 MLS Playoffs. Any Union fan will notice that this matchup is eerily reminiscent of the 2019 playoffs, where the Union and Red Bulls faced off, and the Union earned their very first playoff win in a dramatic 4-3 win. Can the magic be recreated in this game?

Although the Union are seeded much higher than the Red Bulls, recent history shows that 12 of the games between these two opponents have been decided by a single goal.

“The games between us are always very highly contested,” Jim Curtin said. “We’re talking very close games, one, or at the most two goal games. They’re very tight. We worked very hard to get a home game, we have more confidence here, we have a crowd that cheers us on.’

Curtin also acknowledged that although they’re bitter rivals, these teams are not dissimilar: “There’s not much separating the two teams. It can come down to something like restarts. We’re, for example, number one in scoring on restarts on the attack, but conversely, they’re number one in defending off restarts.”

It cannot be overstated just how good this Union team has been, especially as of late, which is largely due in part to the phenomenal goalkeeping of Andre Blake, who boasted 12 clean sheets in the regular season, and the center back pairing of Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes. Along with wingbacks Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo, who effectively run the left and right wings of any MLS field they step onto, the defense will be as important as ever to defend against the Red Bulls.

Another interesting matchup that could happen in this game is Homegrown vs. Homegrown. The Union, of course, possess some of the best young players in the league in Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, and Jack McGlynn, but the Red Bulls can answer with Europe-bound Caden Clark.

“We’re not comfortable,” Clark said of facing the Union at home. “We’re a dark horse team in these playoffs that can go far. You look at how we play, we’re just an energized team who can beat any team on any day. If we have a good game, I strongly believe we can win just based on who we are and how we play.”

It should also be said that ever since they got a taste of silverware in winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2020, the Union have been hungrier than ever for the MLS Cup. Finishing in second place and making it to the playoffs wasn’t an easy journey, and in the grand scheme of the league, the Union still aren’t taken as seriously as perhaps they should be. It’s a strange limbo where they’re certainly not underdogs anymore, but they’re not viewed as a serious threat. A point to prove is always good motivation to play well, beat your bitterest rivals, and eventually lift the most coveted trophy in MLS.

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

  • The Boys In Blue will have to go in all guns blazing for this game, and that means putting together one of the most consistent and cohesive lineups in MLS on the field together. It’s the absolute best foot forward for Curtin and his players, and it’s the best chance they have at getting a convincing result against the Red Bulls. They, of course, have solid options on the bench, but the more minutes this lineup can play, the better.

Score Prediction: It’ll most definitely be another close game for these two, with both having points to prove with this first playoff game. The Union will edge the streaky Red Bulls 3-2, but they’ll have to be on their best game to reach the second round.

Week 34 Recap: Let the Games Begin...

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union’s outing against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium marked the end of the regular MLS season, along with seeing the Boys In Blue clinch second place in the Eastern Conference.

The first half of the game saw tempers flare on both sides, proving just how much this Decision Day matchup meant to both teams on the field. The Union’s Jose Martinez and NYCFC’s Valentin Castellanos were the first ones to see tensions boil over, with Castellanos making an early tackle on Martinez with his studs up, but Martinez was able to avoid the brunt of the contact.

Later, in the 21st minute, Leon Flach was on the receiving end of NYCFC’s aggression. The 20-year-old was wiped out by Gedion Zelalem just outside the 18-yard box, causing Zelalem to initially receive a yellow card from the referee. However, after the play was reviewed on VAR, Zelalem received his marching orders with a red card.

Now a man up, the Union offense were off the races. Olivier Mbaizo made the most of his right wing, sending a laser of a pass to Kacper Przybyłko, who couldn’t get his foot on it. The ball skittered to the back post, where a waiting Flach recovered it and sent it back to the Polish striker, who was able to tap it in to put the Union up 1-0.

The defense was also on point for this final game, with center backs Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott proving why they’re one of the most efficient and solid duos in the league. A myriad of well-timed blocks and toed-away clearances ensured that Andre Blake wouldn’t have much to do in the first half, and kept the home team without a goal.

As the first half ticked away into stoppage time, the Union almost nabbed a second goal. Glesnes made a routine clearance on an NYCFC counterattack, which found Daniel Gazdag in NYCFC territory. Gazdag stayed on the ball during a one-on-one faceoff, but pressure from the defender marking him forced a weak pass off the Hungarian’s foot.

Despite the lack of power on the cross, Przybylko didn’t let a potential goalscoring opportunity go to waste. Although he was able to gain possession, the small, tight angles of the Yankee Stadium pitch proved to be too difficult to navigate, and neither Przybylko nor Gazdag could find the back of the net.

The Boys In Blue went into halftime up 1-0, but they quickly squandered that lead once the second half kicked off. A poor clearance found NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez, who sent a ball skipping across to Golden Boot-contender Castellanos, who was able to head it past Blake to draw NYCFC level at 1-1.

It was anyone’s game at that point, but the Union’s workrate immediately went up after losing their goal advantage. Alejandro Bedoya displayed an impressive bit of skill, intercepting a counterattack before dancing out to the flank and finding Jamiro Monteiro. Monteiro floated a pass to Przybylko in the box, but it failed to lead to a goal.

Jim Curtin, in true Curtin fashion, made a trifecta of substitutions to bolster the offense in the last third of the game. Homegrowns Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn entered the fray, along with Cory Burke, but a second goal wasn’t to be for either side, as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Man of the Match: It was a good team performance, and everybody did their part to pick up the away point, but Przybylko’s goal (his 12th of the season) made a strong case for him to be MOTM. His lone goal made the draw possible, but a special shutout also needs to be given to the midfield, who created a multitude of goalscoring opportunities throughout the entire game.

The Main Takeaway: Although a win would’ve obviously been the most ideal outcome, clinching second place was the ultimate goal, and it was achieved. The Union now have a home playoff game (against the New York Red Bulls, no less!) and can go into the playoffs motivated by a series of exemplary performances. Now, it’s all eyes on the MLS Cup.

Week 34 Preview: Union vs. NYCFC

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s the last game of the regular season, as the Union look to head into the playoffs with a win and a second place finish.

Jamiro Monteiro’s absence was a big surprise for Union fans in the game against FC Cincinnati, especially given his previous transfer drama, but Jim Curtin assured fans that him being left out of the squad was due to a knee injury, and that Monteiro is back in full training.

“He’s back and trained fully and no real issue with the knee,” Curtin clarified. “I’ll be honest, when the initial MRI was read, it was listed as a potential grade 3 strain, which is ‘you’re done.’ He’s bounced back in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense and the strength of his knee is stable and he’s trained fully the last couple days and looks great. Knock on wood, it’s a good spot for Jamiro.”

It’s a good spot indeed, seeing as the Union will need every bit of strength they can get, as this is the third time this year that they will be battling NYCFC for second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s a three-way fight between Philadelphia, New York, and Nashville, and the Union are hungry for that spot.

“The importance of home field comes up and it’s something that is in our hands,” Curtin said of the possibility of having a playoff game at home. “We’ll have to be at our very best. [Yankee Stadium] is obviously a very difficult place to go and play. They play very well there against all teams in our league, it has unique dimensions obviously.”

Playing in a baseball stadium could present some challenges for the Union, as the field is narrower and NYCFC are much more comfortable playing in that environment than most teams in MLS are.

“With the way the field dimensions are, New York City has become very comfortable and used to it,” Curtin said. “For us, we can replicate it and make the dimensions tighter, but we’re going to have to solve the problems on our own. Their record in Yankee Stadium speaks for itself.”

At this point, it’s up in the air as to whether Curtin will deploy his preferred 4-4-2 formation, or continue to use the 4-3-2-1 shape that he’s been favoring recently. With Monteiro back to full fitness, fans could very well see him and Daniel Gazdag share the No. 10 position in an effort to generate as much offense as possible for the Boys In Blue.

Although the Union’s back line is one of the best in the league (if not the best), they’ll face a significantly difficult opponent in forward Valentin Castellanos, whose 18 goals have put him at the front of the race for this season’s Golden Boot.

Speaking about the counterattacks his trusty defensemen will face, Curtin said, “Right up the center of the field is where it becomes critical to cut off the service to those guys as best we can. We want to try and limit their touches. Tough matchup, tough field, tough dimensions. But there’s no excuses now going into the last game and trying to get a result.”

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, Kacper Przybylko

  • With limited options for a second striker, seeing as Sergio Santos is questionably fit at best, and Cory Burke is still easing back into the squad after an injury of his own, a 4-3-2-1 formation is looking optimal. Monteiro and Gazdag share the creator role surprisingly well, and both Flach and Bedoya have proven that in this midfield shape, they’re capable of handling the offensive and defensive responsibilities in midfield. As stated before, this back line and goalie combination is the best of the best, so Curtin will be putting his best possible foot forward for this game.

Score Prediction: It’ll be a close one, and while the Union are going into the playoffs all guns blazing, they simply don’t have the best away record. Especially playing in a stadium with such unfamiliar and awkward dimensions, they probably won’t make the necessary adjustments as quickly as they need to. A 2-2 draw is looking most likely to finish out the season.