Match preview: FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner


Who: Philadelphia Union (8th place, 4 points, 1-1-2) at FC Cincinnati (2nd place, 7 points, 2-1-1)
What: 2019 MLS regular season match
Where: Nippert Stadium; Cincinnati, OH
When: Saturday, March 30, 7:30 pm E.S.T.
Watch: ESPN+, PHL17

Philadelphia Union hit the road this weekend as they travel to Cincinnati, trying to carry on the momentum of an emotional 3-0 victory over Columbus at Talen Energy Stadium.

It has been a shaky start to the season for Jim Curtin’s men, but the only way to bounce back MLS is to start picking up points, and the Union have done just that, taking four points from their last possible six.

On the other side of the coin is MLS newcomers FC Cincinnati. After getting thumped in their team’s debut, Cincy has gone on a tear, taking seven points from their last three matches, including a massive draw against the reigning MLS Champions for their first ever point.

As if facing a red hot team on their own turf was not a great enough cause for worry for Union fans, here is a statistic: Philadelphia Union have never won a game away from home in a meeting against an expansion team (0-5-3).

Maybe that statistic is worth noting or maybe it means nothing. We will know tomorrow after the final whistle.

Scouting report: FC Cincinnati

One of the hottest teams in the league, FC Cincinnati find themselves tied atop the Eastern Conference with D.C. United with seven points, all of which have come in the last three matches (2-1-0).

Back-to-back clean sheets for FCC by an aggregate score of 5-0 demonstrates that this unit can score in bunches just as well as they can defend when needed. A strong core of MLS veterans have been the backbone of the lineup with Kendall Waston holding down the back line and Fanendo Adi playing as the holdup-play, true number 9 striker.

It is an impressive start for an expansion side with minimal star presence, and they will look to keep that rolling in front of what might be a record crowd on Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

The crowd will undoubtedly be a factor, but what will be the biggest advantage for FCC on Saturday? Turf.

Cincinnati has played all four of its matches on artificial surfaces this season (Seattle, Atlanta, Cincinnati, New England) compared to Philadelphia having played just one so far (Atlanta). Nippert Stadium’s turf has played slowly this season and that does not bode well for a Union team that likes to run at the opposition and play quickly. Cincinnati likes to play in transition as well, but the edge has to go to the hosts in a matchup like this.

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

If it ain’t broke, fix it?

Union head coach Jim Curtin is going to have his work cut out for him when selecting a starting XI this week following a 3-0 home victory against Columbus.

Andre Blake and Cory Burke return from international duties with Jamaica; Derrick Jones is coming back from the U.S. u-23’s; and Marco Fabian is back from suspension.

Carlos Miguel Coronel is coming off of a one save shutout, but we would have to expect Blake to resume his duties between the sticks.

Cory Burke may have to stay sidelined with Fafa Picault producing chances at a high rate, eighth highest in MLS, to be exact, and with David Accam coming off of an emotional brace and earning MLS Player of the Week honors.

The time just does not seem to be right for Derrick Jones to have a consistent role in the starting XI, so where does that leave Marco Fabian?

Well, he would have to slot in at the no. 10, which leaves Brenden Aaronson to push wider or sit on the bench in place of Ilsinho. Aaronson has proven that he belongs, while Ilsinho provides some veteran presence in a road match against a team filled with just that.

Matchup to watch: Kai Wagner vs. Kekuta Manneh

The Union’s workhorse leftback will look to tame Cincinnati’s explosive right-sided forward Kekuta Manneh, who is a man on form at the moment. The Gabon native bagged a goal and an assist in Cincy’s last match against New England, but Union’s Kai Wagner will look to come up big for his side.

Player to watch: Marco Fabian

It stands to reason that the most expensive player on the pitch would be the “player to watch” but it would appear that Marco Fabian might have something to prove in his first game back following suspension.

The young Brenden Aaronson has been making a run at Fabian’s no. 10 spot with two excellent performances in his absence. Fabian has looked less than spectacular in his appearances, and while it is only fair to give him time to adjust to a new team and new league, you expect an instant impact from a two million dollar man.

Prediction: Union 2-Cincinnati 2

Union will not get their first road win against an expansion team here.

Cincinnati will be lifted by what is sure to be another record crowd for just their second ever MLS home match, and it will just be too much for the Union to overcome.

There will be times in this one where the pace of Menneh and the size and strength of Adi will be too much to control. FC Cincinnati is just as dangerous from set pieces as they are against the run of play from the counter attack. The size of Kendall Waston and Fanendo Adi will provide a unique challange for Union defenders.


  1. pragmatist says:

    I’m guessing that Ilsinho does not start, and maybe doesn’t play at all. Guys who are prone to injury don’t need to play on turf when there are other guys capable of filling their roles. Aaronson out wide left, Bedoya wide right, Monteiro/Medujanin holding, Fabian 10. Run Picault and Accam up top again. Don’t overthink it. Get your best players on the field in positions to take advantage of their strengths.
    Burke, Ilsinho, and Santos are great bench options to run at a tired defense.
    Unexpectedly tough matchup, but hopefully they keep it simple and play the guys who can take advantage of a fast surface and create chances.

    • +1, get the best players on the field, and if not performing or not fitting together(as is typical with a Union season, they still need nametags), make some early 2nd half subs.

    • +1 agreed with all this.
      Also a big deal is being made about size and toughness of cincy’s back line.
      Why play to their strength with Burke?
      Let them chase the little fast guys around all night!
      Hope that Monteiro starts at #6.

  2. Does anyone know how an artificial surface can “play slow”? I have no idea. Every turf field I’ve ever been on is way faster than grass, though I haven’t been on a pristine grass pitch.

    • Not sure about the slow part but I did watch part of their home opener two weeks ago and there were visible piles of the black pellets laying around. A lot of the time the balls would not roll in a straight line from all the ricocheting off them. I guess if the ball hits a big enough pile, ball stops.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      check out YSC and you will see how turf can play slow.

    • If you’ve never been on one of the newer (last 10-15 years) turf fields that uses rubber pellets as a cushioning base, I guess it is hard to understand.
      These types of fields are very definitely slower (running and rolling) when new; it’s not unlike running and dribbling on the un-packed sand at a beach. Until the pellets have been trampled and weathered some (usually for several weeks/months), it’s a pretty ugly and inconsistent surface.
      Also, there have been a lot of concerns with these types of fields harboring bacteria and causing staph infections.

      • pragmatist says:

        There have also been studies of these fields containing carcinogens due to the recycled tires. A little unnerving, considering how popular they have become.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    This will be a good test to see if Jim has grown as a coach. How many times have we seen him adjust a lineup for injury, suspension, etc. reasons… have success… then go right back to the same lineup before the injuries, suspensions. He really needs to stick with what worked up top. Add Fabian obviously, but just get the same group out there that played well and put 3 up against Columbus.

  4. Same old Curtain = loss.
    An adapting Curtain = win/draw
    For the love of God do not start Burke and Ilsinho. Blake in goal. Is Collin ever going to play? Fabian back in because we’re paying him too much. Aaronson must start. Bedoya wide.

    Let the supporters manage the team. We’ll win a playoff match.

  5. Bring Steel Back to Bethlehem says:

    Screw Cincy. I hope we win by 5 tonight.

    Did you know they get really good crowds? If not, they’ll be sure to let you know.

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