FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan predicted a “very difficult match-up” as they prepare to face Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Thursday.
The match pits the two highest-scoring teams in the Eastern Conference against each other, though the Union finished four places and 18 points above the Orange and Blue as they topped the conference.
Philadelphia’s success was supported by their extraordinary home form, going the entire regular season without losing at Subaru Park and winning 12 of their 17 games in their own stadium.
Noonan is expecting a tricky encounter for his team, telling reporters: “They’ll be a very difficult match-up for us.
“They’ve certainly been one of the top teams in the league this year. It’ll be different than our first playoff game (a 2-1 victory over New York Red Bulls). There will be moments where we have to weather the storm.”
Philadelphia’s impressive season and unbeaten home record means they are favourites heading into Thursday’s fixture.
But the Union may be without captain Alejandro Bedoya, after the midfielder only returned to training on Tuesday with a hip flexor strain.
Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin remains unsure whether Bedoya will feature, saying it “will be close.”
“I can say that pretty confidently now,” Curtin said. “He’s not quite ready to start.
“In a game like this, with the intensity he’s going to start with, it’s a challenge. Hopefully he can help us come off the bench in some way.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Union – Daniel Gazdag
Gazdag set Union single season records for both goals (22) and goal contributions (32) this season, ending the campaign by scoring 15 in his last 15 games. He will look to carry that impressive form into the postseason.
FC Cincinnati – Brandon Vazquez
Vazquez netted Cincinnati’s late winner in their comeback victory over the Red Bulls, and the Union will have to keep a watchful eye on him if they are to make it through to the next round.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Cincinnati recorded a 3-1 home win against the Union on August 6, their first win over Philadelphia in MLS. The Union won five of the first seven meetings (two draws), though their match in Chester on June 18 ended in a 1-1 draw. Cincinnati are the only Eastern Conference team the Union failed to beat this season.
– The Union recorded clean sheet victories in each of their first three home matches against Cincinnati in MLS, winning the three games by an aggregate score of 7-0. They went ahead in the match in Chester this season before Vazquez equalized in the 39th minute for Cincinnati’s first goal at Subaru Park after 308 minutes of play without scoring.
– The Union completed one of the most dominant home seasons in MLS history, collecting 41 points (12 victories, five draws, zero defeats), tied for fourth most in a season, scoring 49 goals, equaling the Columbus Crew’s MLS record set in 1998 and finishing with a goal difference of +40, breaking the previous record by 10. The Union enter the playoffs on a nine-match home winning streak, tied for the longest in a single season in club history, though the previous mark, leading into the 2020 playoffs, ended with a loss to the New England Revolution in the first round.
– Cincinnati came from behind in its first postseason match to beat the Red Bulls 2-1 on Saturday, becoming the seventh expansion team to advance in its first playoff round. The only two expansion teams to advance in their first two postseason rounds were the Chicago Fire (won MLS Cup) in 1998 and Nashville (won play-in and first round) in 2020.
– Either Luciano Acosta, Vazquez or Brenner has scored Cincinnati’s last 14 MLS goals dating back to September 10, while only one of the 22 goals (excluding own goals) Cincinnati has scored since August 27 has not been either scored, assisted or both, by any of the three.