Match previews

Match preview: FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (11-7-9, 42 points, 3rd place in the East) vs. FC Cincinnati (4-15-8, 20 points, 14th place in the East)

What: 2021 MLS Regular Season

Where: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

When: Saturday, October 9, 8:00 p.m. Eastern

Watch: PHL17,

Whistle: Not available at time of publication

With just seven matches left in the regular season, Philadelphia Union’s recent good run of form has them well on their way to sewing up a playoff spot.  They look to continue the good times against the absolute dregs of the league, beleaguered FC Cincinnati, on Saturday night.  But international obligations and red cards will leave Jim Curtin drawing on a second-choice lineup for his squad’s first-ever trip to TQL Stadium.

Scouting Report: FC Cincinnati

Cincinnati has been a disaster ever since entering MLS — the epitome of poor roster construction and even worse club management.  This season, they sit dead last in MLS, having managed just four wins through 27 games.  It hasn’t been pretty, and it recently cost head coach Jaap Stam his job.  This week, Cincinnati hired former Union technical director Chris Albright as their new general manager, with a mandate to find a new coach and overhaul a hugely disappointing roster.

About that roster: the danger man for Cincy should be Brenner, their $13 million offseason signing from Sao Paulo.  The 21-year-old has just seven goals on the year, despite starting every game.  Other players to watch include diminutive midfielder Luciano Acosta (six goals and nine assists),  and Argentine youngster Alvaro Barreal (three goals and three assists).  Former Union man Haris Medunjanin has shifted into a part-time role this year, making just eleven starts in 22 appearances overall.

In their last match, a 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls, interim manager Tyrone Marshall sent his side out in a 4-2-3-1, using a central defense of former U.S. international Geoff Cameron and little-used Tyler Blackett.  Having conceded just one goal, Marshall may return to the same combination in an attempt to fix the sieve-like defense that has allowed 52 goals so far in MLS — twice as many as the Union.

Injury report: OUT: Maikel van der Werff (sports hernia).  QUESTIONABLE: Joe Gyau (achilles)

Suspended:  None

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

International obligations, injuries, and suspensions will force Jim Curtin into some tough choices in writing out his lineup.

The list of unavailable players includes Andre Blake, Olivier Mbaizo, Alvas Powell, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez, Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, and Cory Burke.

In goal, Curtin will choose between Homegrown Matt Freese and veteran Joe Bendik, although the latter is listed as questionable with a toe injury.  Might we see three at the back ahead of the keeper?  That would lead to a rare start for Stuart Findlay alongside stalwarts Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott.  Leon Flach could play left wing back or a defensive midfield role, while other reserves in contention for starts include Matt Real, Nate Harriel, Jesus Bueno, Paxten Aaronson, and Quinn Sullivan.

The Union have used reserve-heavy units twice this year, both losses to league-leading New England Revolution.  Cincy will present a much weaker test.  A goal early would do wonders in killing off the game.

Injury Report:  OUT: Cory Burke (ankle); Ilsinho (hamstring).  QUESTIONABLE: Joe Bendik (toe).

Suspended: Kai Wagner (red card)

Key MatchupSergio Santos vs. Cincinnati center backs

The defensively leaky home team doesn’t have anyone to compete with Santos for pace.  If the Union can get Santos active early, it could discombobulate the fragile opposition.

Player to Watch: Paxten Aaronson

Expect the Homegrown midfielder to play the central attacking role in whatever system Curtin uses on Saturday night.  Aaronson is yet to record an assist in his eight appearances this season.  It would be nice to see him add effective distribution to his game.

Prediction:  Philadelphia 2-0 Cincinnati

An early goal from Santos and a late belter from Sullivan send the Union on their way.


  1. Don’t know why people want to see 3 CBs – nothing against Findlay but he has not done anything to show he deserves time. He definitely has not shown enough to shift our formation and lose a midfielder for him either.

    I think the formation depends on what Curtin wants to do up top. I think at least one of the games against NE where we had absences too he went with only Santos up top in a 4-2-3-1, I can see that. But Kacper and Santos are both healthy and had a full week between games so I can see sticking to the diamond.

    Either way I hope to see many HG minutes.

    EDIT: To follow up I would like to see some HGs go the full 90. I mean, I’m sure some will simply because of a lack of bench. But at this stage in the season, after bringing them all along slowly, I would hope they are at the point now where they can go 90 in one game.

    • I think 3 CB’s could just be a case of lack of outside defenders. I believe the only two available are Harriel and Real, and it’s been awhile since Real has even made the gameday roster.

      • last time Real made the game day roster was 8/4 vs Toronto.
        last time Real got more than 1 minute was 6/23 with 32 minutes against Chicago.
        If he does not see the bench today that will be a clue about Ernst Tanner’s intentions for him.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        He’s on the bench today.

    • Chris Gibbonds says:

      One argument for 3 in the back would be to take some of the pressure off of the outside backs (whoever they end up being). It’s tough to see Harriel and Real being effective in the way that Mbaizo and Wagner are – particularly with all they’re tasked to do.

  2. Jack McGlynn should also be considered for a start, especially if Flach takes Wagner’s spot.
    I’m worried about Cincinnati bunkering and the game ending in a 0-0 draw just like last year when they played in Cincy.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Am I crazy to think this game isn’t a lock, with all the starters out? I do think the Union get the W, but I have some reservations. Is that just my Philly sports/Union fandom rearing it’s ugly head?

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Based on my comment above, I don’t think you’re crazy at all.

    • This type of game scares me… everybody expecting a win… it would not be the first time teams with few wins would have one against the Union….

    • I agree with Peter that this is a game for home grown creators to step up.
      Aaronson has scored and so has Sullivan.
      Historically McGlynn has been the creator.
      As had Brandan Craig.
      If we do not see Craig on the bench tonight I conclude that for whatever reason he is unavailalbe to the first team this year.

  4. Given lack of available personnel and Curtin’s defense first penchant, do they go 4-5-1?
    Quinn, Aaronson, Bedoya
    Flach, McGlyn
    Real, Elliott, Glesnes, Harriel
    This looks like a bunkering setup, but 4 of 5 midfielders are under 20 and can bust up field dynamically with speed on transition – and Santos is there as a threat over the top.
    Flach as part of double pivot can cover for McGlyn’s speed in a way Bedoya couldn’t at that position. Double pivot also adds defensive stability to youth at the back corners.

    • This is a lineup I would love to see. Especially McGlynn with Flach – I think McGlynn can operate as a DLP here and ping the ball all over the field while Flach covers.

  5. I can’t imagine using anything other than the usual 4-4-2 diamond against Cincy. With the goals Cincy has shipped, go after them full force, regardless of who is available. Time to test the mettle of the kids. Sullivan, Aaronson, McGlyn… Get Real and Fontana (no longer kids, I don’t think) minutes. This is as good an opportunity as any to see what sort of worth you have deeper in the squad.

    Also agree, however, that this is not a cakewalk. Union has had a long tradition playing both down and up to the level of its competition. I’m hoping they go for it, put Cincy back on its heels and get 3 points.

  6. I’m calling a 3-5-2 (or call it a 5-3-2) like Villa have been playing. I think we HAVE to go with Santos and Kascper up top from the drop. Back 3. McGlynn and Flach playing a central 6/8. Aaronson between them and the strikers. Bedoya and Real playing the wingbacks.
    I think Jim prefers to have Sullivan coming off the bench, using his skill and confidence to run at tired defenders (also known as the “Ilsinho sub”)
    That also gives him the flexibility to bring Harriel off the bench to move Bedoya to a different spot on the field (i.e., moving him centrally, pushing Flach out wide and taking Real off).
    Of course, a back 3 means you-know-who is possibly the first one off the bench if a CB sub is needed – “PK in waiting” Collin

  7. Referee info:
    FC Cincinnati vs Philadelphia Union
    TQL Stadium (8PM ET)
    REF: Lukasz Szpala
    AR1: Jeremy Kieso
    AR2: Ian McKay
    4TH: Chris Penso
    VAR: Chico Grajeda
    AVAR: Gjovalin Bori lists 5 appearances, 2 reds and 19 yellows for Szpala.

    • On the professional referees organization website Szpala is tied with Dave Gantar for the highest frequency of red cards per game, 0.40, as of 10/4.
      That would encourage me not to risk all three of my center backs on the pitch at once, especially since my most versatile outside back — Wagner — is unavailable.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        All 3 are starting. It’s a 3-4-2-1 with Sullivan the odd one out from the starting lineup. Collin is the center back on the bench (along with Bendik, Real, Bueno, Sullivan, Fontana, and Davo).

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