Match Recap

Recap | Union fall in heartbreaker to Supporters' Shield Winners, 1-0


Philadelphia Union saw its 2023 season conclude with a 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on a late goal from the homeside.

Head Coach Jim Curtin brought his nearly his full roster to TQL Stadium for the must-win matchup; the only players unavailable for selection were midfielder Leon Flach, who was ruled out due to a lingering sports hernia injury that requires surgery and left back Kai Wagner who has two games remaining on his league-issued suspension. 2022 Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes returned to the bench after weeks of aggressive rehab following a sports hernia procedure of his own, but Curtin still opted for Jack Elliott and Damion Lowe paired at center back to start the match. On the offensive side, Philadelphia’s front three was back intact with the return of striker Julián Carranza, who’d missed the team’s series-securing win against New England Revolution with a hamstring injury. 

As for their opponent, former Philadelphia Union assistant turned Cincinnati head coach and 2023 Coach of the Year Pat Noonan fielded a group missing multiple starters. Most notably, defender Matt Miazga was unable to dress due to a yellow card suspension and midfielder Obinna Nwobodo, who was unable to return from an injury suffered against New York Red Bulls..Meanwhile defender Santiago Arias was on the bench allowing  former Union defender Ray Gaddis earned the start after sitting out of the team’s last match. 

Defense was paramount for the Philadelphia Union in the first half, as the hosts sought to turn the energy of the crowd into an early goal but the veteran-laced Union showed their bend but don’t break mentality. Andre Blake’s first of three key saves came just eight minutes after the opening whistle when Aaron Boupendza took the opening shot of the game after a series of quick passes around the top of the box. The Ohio side attempted to create an opening in Philadelphia’s locked-down defense with little luck until midfielder Yuya Kubo found the 27-year-old Designated Player from Gabon directly in front of the net, setting him up for a line-drive shot that went straight into Blake’s chest. 

The hosts nearly earned an early lead in the 13th minute; Alvaro Barreal sent in a pass from centerfield toward the box and in an attempt to stop the ball, Olivier Mbaizo took an unfavorable leap that missed it’s path, causing an awkward bounce in the 18-yard box toward Brandon Vazquez for a tap-in. The moment tested Blakes reflexes, but the three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year was quick to react, knocking it out of bounds. 

Four minutes later the Union sought to steal momentum with a free kick opportunity earned by Julian Carranza in the attacking half. Homegrown midfielder Jack McGlynn tried to create with his next level left boot but couldn’t sneak the ball through the defense and saw the effort blocked.

Nate Harriel nearly added to his playoff lore with another airborne attempt in the 25th minute, launching himself above his teammates and opponents to make contact with a Daniel Gazdag corner, but he didn't find the the same success he has as of late, sending it high above the night.

In Cincinnati’s next possession, Vazquez claimed the ball directly in front of the net, nearly finding the Union defense off-kilter after Elliott took an early slide, but Mbaizo was there to recover and turn in a key stop right of the goal.

In the 34th minute FC Cincinnati tried to score off a counter attack as Boupendza stepped into the midfield and took with him a Union center back. With space in behind, the forward attacked and opted for a long-range goal only to be denied by a leaping stop by Blake.

Out of the locker rooms the Union came out on the front foot as they attempted to get their playmakers on the ball early and often. Daniel Gazdag drifted into the open space on the right to get his first touch and quickly was thinking forward with a threaded ball that sent Julian Carranza in on goal but the Argentine forward was called offside.

With a crowd hungry for a goal, FC Cincinnati pushed numbers on a 53rd minute corner that presented highlight worthy moments on both ends. Acosta sent in a cross to the penalty spot that was cleared to the top of the box and presented a long-range blast from another former Union defender, Alvas Powell that was turned aside. The Union defense stood strong and tried to jump on the counter attack as a series of passes down the heart of the home team left McGlynn out on the left side for a cross to the back post that went a little too far.

Just past the hour mark, the postseason pressure and tension turned up for both teams as they looked for playoff magic. With matching pressing cues and direct attacking play, the margins were just a small as Curtin predicted in his Friday press conference. After a counter attack from Cincinnati at the feet of their playmaker Acosta, the Union ran it right back with a smooth passing play from McGlynn to the attacking trio. With Gazdag sending Carranza into open space, he stepped back and sent Uhre through on goal only to be denied on a cut back to his right before firing a shot.

The Union were forced into their first change of the night with a quarter of an hour left in the contest when Boupendza tackled Brujo Martinez from behind. While the Cincinnati forward was issued a yellow card, Martinez was unable to continue from the low tackle and was replaced by fellow Venezuelan Jesus Bueno.

After another big defensive stand, the Union went patient into the attack with five minutes remaining. The smooth buildup turned into a massive scoring threat when captain Alejandro Bedoya laid off a centering pass for Harriel at the top of the half circle. The homegrown ripped a one-timer that forced a big save from the Cincinnati keeper to keep it scoreless.

Cincinnati’s first change of the match came with two minutes left in regulation as Dominique Badji entered for Boupendza. The fresh legs created a prime scoring chance as he raced into the box to force a block and eventual tackle on Acosta just outside the Union’s 18. Acosta and Alvaro Barreal stood over the ball on the right side of the Union net with the outside back attempting the potential game-winning kick that went wide.

Three minutes into second-half stoppage time it was another set piece chance for the hosts. Barreal turned into distributor with a ball floated into the box for Ian Murphy who headed down the volley and right to Yerson Mosquera inside the box for the one time finish. After a lengthy check from the Video Assistant Referee for a possible offside on Murphy was completed and ruled the goal good and the Union’s season over.

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