Match previews / Union

Match Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. FC Cincinnati

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (3rd place, 50 points, 13-11-8) vs. FC Cincinnati (14th place, 20 points, 4-8-20)
What: 2021 regular season game
Where: Subaru Park, Chester, PA
When: Sunday, October 31 at 7:30 pm
Watch: PHL17, Star64, ESPN+
Whistle: Not available at time of publication, check here for updates.

The penultimate game of the 2021 MLS season sees the Philadelphia Union hosting FC Cincinnati in a bid to have at least one more game in Chester this year. Cincinnati has had an absolute shambles of a season, losing an astounding 20 games so far with the possibility of earning the distinction of the fourth-most losses in an MLS season – if they can’t get a result in their final two games.

Standing between the Ohioans and a date with history is your Philadelphia Union. After a disappointing draw in Toronto earlier this week, the Union are looking to give themselves a buffer before next weekend’s trip to the Bronx to face New York City FC on Decision Day.

Scouting report: FC Cincinnati

Potential FC Cincinnati Lineup

Unfortunately for MLS’s first “Queen City”, it appears the visitors they peaked before joining the league with their impressive and exciting 2017 US Open Cup run. Since that magical moment it’s been a parade of the usual “expansion team” struggles mixed with more than their fair share of outright misfortune. Head coach Jaap Stam departed in September, and since then interim coach Tyrone Marshall’s team has slipped even further into last place in both the Eastern Conference and full-league standings. Of note, former Union Assistant Technical Director Chris Albright was named FC Cincinnati’s new General Manager earlier this month.

On the field things haven’t been any more stable, with the Orange and Blue fielding five different formations in the last five games. So take that into consideration when consulting the speculative lineup to the right. It’s only a guess, and it’s not like there’s a defined pattern one can point to that would indicate what to expect on Sunday night.

Despite the results, Cincinnati does have several players worth paying attention to. There is of course former Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin, and designated player Luciano Acosta from Argentina. And of course there’s the $13 million dollar man himself, Brenner, who was recently named to the MLS 22 under 22 list.

But despite that not insignificant collection of players, Cincinnati is still a deeply flawed team. If you were keeping tabs on other league action on Wednesday night while the Union were in Toronto, you may have noticed that at one point Cincinnati was leading Nashville 3-1. But included in that tally was an own goal in the sixth minute, and a penalty in the seventeenth. So while it was a brief beacon of hope for Union fans, don’t assume that the eventual final scoreline of Nashville 6 – 3 Cincinnati was in any way not representative of who was the better team on the night.

  • Injury report: Maikel van der Werff (D, sports hernia) and Beckham Sunderland (GK, concussion); Questionable: Gustavo Vallencia (D, hamstring)
  • Suspended:No suspensions, but Luciano Acosta (M) and Caleb Stanko (M) are each one yellow card away from an accumulation suspension.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Potential Philadelphia Union Lineup

While the most the Ohioans can hope for is an ignoble place in the record books, the Union actually have a lot to play for on Sunday. Officially they haven’t booked a ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs yet, so the first order of business is of course securing that minimal definition of success. And even beyond that, there’s the question of seeding. Currently in third, the Union would secure at least one home game in the playoffs if they hold that position, and more importantly face the seventh-seed team (currently DC United) instead of fifth (Orlando City) in that match. And their final game of the season is against the team currently just three points behind them in the standings (NYC FC) making Sunday a must-win to give themselves a buffer going into Decision Day.

Unfortunately, despite the disparate qualities of the two teams, the Union aren’t a sure thing on Sunday. At best the striker corps has been unreliable this season; but with Cory Burke out with an injury, and Sergio Santos recovering from an injury, this certainly isn’t “at best”. Even Ilsinho, historically a wellspring of offensive potential, will be missing the game due to his ongoing hamstring issues.

This all leaves head coach Jim Curtin with essentially one option up top- Kacper Przybyłko. The German-Polish striker is capable of greatness, but is also capable of long, long periods without producing anything of value. Granted, heading into the playoffs would be a great time for him to start one of those streaks.

Of course, there is a rack of young talent waiting on the bench to show themselves. Both Matheus Davó and Jesús Bueno could justify their transfers by “arriving” on the team with goals over the next few weeks, and homegrown assets like Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, Jack McGlynn, and Anthony Fontana all have things to say about offensive soccer.

However if you’ve watched much of the Union this season, or previous seasons honestly, you know that’s not going to happen. Jim Curtin will never turn down the opportunity to let someone play out of a rut, so it’s fairly likely that the starting XI will be full of names we’ve seen plenty of already. The only possible exception is Andre Blake, who may still be with his family following the passing of his grandmother earlier this week.

There has been some experimentation with formation though, and the lineup on the right is certainly experimental. It brings Stuart Findlay back from the hinterlands, freeing up Jack Elliott to move into the midfield. Elliott’s presence in the midfield gives them a solid dose of defensive reinforcement, allowing José Martínez to focus on offense and reducing the defensive responsibilities of both Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner. Setting both outside backs loose on the opponent’s defense, and letting el Brujo work his magic could have fascinating implications. If it were to happen.

  • Injury report: Ilsinho (M, hamstring), Cory Burke (F, ankle), Alvas Powell (D, hamstring)
  • Suspended: No suspensions, but Kai Wagner (D) is one yellow card away from an accumulation suspension.
Key matchup: Luciano Acosta vs. José Martínez

Both of these midfielders are among the most important players for their respective teams. And since they each play a position where they’re going to be seeing a lot of one another, we’ve got something of a South American showdown on our hands. If el Brujo is able to do what we know he can do, it should remove Acosta from the game and make Cincinati’s attack especially toothless.

Player to watch: Haris Medunjanin

The Bosnian midfielder is well known in Philadelphia, and for the most part well liked. And he’s still perfectly capable of delivering those shockingly accurate long-range passes that set up strikers in seriously dangerous positions. Of course he’s also still perfectly capable of pointing at an attacking player as if that will somehow prevent them from doing what they are trying to do. Forcing him to do more of the latter, and preventing him from doing the former, will be key for the Union’s success on Sunday.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2 – 0 Cincinnati

The Union have not been a team to rack up points against an opponent this season. So even though they should be able to handle Cincinnati without issue, there’s no reason to expect a shocking scoreline.


  1. Wow that is certainty an experiment. I’ll be honest, has Elliot EVER impressed when he has played DMid or is he still living off the fact he played there sometimes in college 6 years ago?

  2. Did I miss something? Is Flach inured? If not, there is absolutely no way Curtin isn’t starting the exact same lineup that faced Nashville. And if he did change it up, Flach would be starting.

  3. What is this lineup? Lol if we have to play Findlay for some reason I’d rather see Elliot replace kascper up top

  4. In the time elapsed since Jim wrote the piece, th injury report has appeared on the Union website and Sergio Santos is out. He injured the other hamstring late in the Toronto match..
    Also in the report is that Cory Burke trained fully on the day when Curtin was asked the questions. Whether that was Thursday, or late morning today, Friday, I cannot tell. The report is dated Friday at 12:45 pm. In either case Burke will not be close to full match fitness.

  5. Also in Curtins PC he said Santos hurt his OTHER quad and is out for the game…

    Striker really needs a complete revamp this offseason if you ask me.

  6. Kacper won the CCL Golden Boot and Monterrey won CCL 1-0 on a 9th minute goal.

  7. Reading that part about Cinncy’s early history gave me flashbacks to early Union days (minus expensive players).

    As for the formation you put out there can I just please ask you to DM me with what substances you are using and where you got them. Sound like some fine hallucinogens.

  8. Higuian announced his retirement and tomorrow’s his last game. Hoping that’ll spark Miami to get a result against NYC.

    • Which one?

    • No such luck. NYC won 1-3. Union need a win/draw tomorrow and at least a draw next week to finish ahead of them (or a win next week)

      • Some good news. Atlanta failed to win, against Toronto at home nonetheless. If Union beat Cincinnati tomorrow night, they practically would clinch a home playoff game. The best Atlanta could do is 53 pts (and 14 wins) and the 2nd tiebreaker is goal difference. Union is +11 now and Atlanta is +7. Just beat Cincy!

      • Dead Bull getting a result over Atlanta midweek combined with a Union win tomorrow would clinch a home game for the Union. Unfortunately, the goal difference situation isn’t that great for the Union since a tie means that Atlanta wins twice (including in Cincinnati) and the Union would have to lose which would help Atlanta. And if Atlanta makes up that goal differential they would probably end up with more goals scored.

      • Yeah it would be close, but a 2 or 3 goal win tomorrow would make things more comfortable.

    • Too bad Gonzalo won’t go away with Frederico. He is so incredibly annoying. So was Thierry Henry in MLS. The elitism they both brought here was disgusting. If you are so above playing soccer in America, then why even come in the first place?

  9. The Medunjanin description made me lol, thanks! Brought back memories of him pointing at what was happening in front of him. I enjoyed his passing when he was here but loathed the Sunday morning pick-up level of defense.

  10. Was anyone else at the open practice today? Was I missing something or was Monteiro not on the field?

    • Monteiro was not on the field. I noticed it also. Liked that Ilsinho looked happy and loose. And I think it probably was Fontana with most of the goals during the scrimmages

      • Just checked MLS website and Monteiro is listed as OUT with a knee injury.

      • Here are the officials for todays game.

        Philadelphia Union vs FC Cincinnati
        Subaru Park (7:30PM ET)
        REF: Fotis Bazakos
        AR1: Brian Dunn
        AR2: Cory Richardson
        4TH: Alan Kelly
        VAR: Jorge Gonzalez
        AVAR: Jeff Muschik

      • Andy Muenz is correct about Monteiro.
        That may explain why for the first time this season the Union’s game guides have not been updated to include one for today.
        Also I did not happen to notice Matt Real at that practice.
        Interesting that Jim Curtin publicly referred to Brandan Craig as a center back.

    • Monteiro has been emotionally out since the transfer news that Curtin asked us all “to respect.”

  11. Columbus win at DC combined with Dead Bull win over Montreal means the Union clinched a playoff berth. Since Atlanta drew, they can’t clinch a top 4 seed this weekend.

  12. Anyone see the goal that Cowell scored at RSL yesterday? Take a look at this, and you will not regret Chris Seitz being long gone from the Union:

    I hope Berhalter considers bringing Cowell into the USMNT for the World Cup, assuming that we get there. They should have hosted the upcoming Mexico match in Alaska. I mean, Canada is playing Costa Rica in Edmonton!

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I miss Fafa and Haris. And Roger Torres.

    Happy Halloween…

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