Roundtable / Union

PSP Roundtable: 2022 MLS Cup

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

This time of year is usually when we’d be looking back on the Union season that was.

Okay not really. For the past few years the MLS Cup Playoffs didn’t start until late November, but due to the extremely corrupt unique way the host of the 2022 World Cup was chosen, the MLS season was shifted and now the MLS Cup Final will be played nearly two weeks before the playoffs would have started otherwise.

So it goes.

But even if the calendar says it’s earlier, it feels later than usual for a traditional PSP Round Table because the Philadelphia Union, a team once defined by disappointment and frustration, are headed to the MLS Cup Final where they’ll face the team they tied on points in the Supporters Shield standings for the trophy many feel they were unfairly denied last season.

So while our round tables usually take a retrospective view, this one is a little bit different. We’ll be looking at the Union as the head into what must be the most important game in team history, and the opponent they’ll be facing.

What player do you expect to be the biggest difference maker for the Union?

Chris Gibbons: I know it’s “team” first, but Daniel Gazdag is it for me. LAFC can press with the best of them and if the Union can break lines and get the ball onto the Hungarian’s foot, they can do damage.

Jeremy Lane: Chris makes a good point, but I think everything in this team starts with Andre Blake. He’s likely going to need to make at least one big save. When he does that, it brings the team to life, as we saw against NYC, and everything starts to flow.

Tim Jones: Paul Rushing and friends, because they will determine how much we can get from Ale Bedoya.  Bedoya helped absorb NYC FC’s opening bursts in the first half and generated a good deal of Union pressure offensively down the right channel. If he could do that for 30 minutes at the beginning in Los Angeles before McGlynn replaces him, that would help significantly.

Dan Walsh: Alejandro Bedoya. He helped set the tone against NYC. No Union player touched the ball as much as him while he was on the field. His presence allowed McGlynn to enter the game fresh against a tired NYC team, and that slowed things enough to give McGlynn time to pick passes. (See the second goal.) Bedoya’s absence has revealed that Flach-McGlynn is less effective than Bedoya-Anyone.

Jim O’Leary: I think it’s going to be José Martínez. Elliott and Glesnes will be responsible for Vela and Arango, but LAFC’s attack extends deeper than that so someone is going to have to keep Opoku and Cifuentes busy. Martínez can be spectacular in that role, and he’ll need to be on Saturday.

Mike Servedio: The Union has used a “team first” ethos all season and it won’t be different in the final. The back line, Jose Martinez, and Andre Blake will have to be very, very good to keep LA at bay. The offense, particularly the front three, will have to be very, very good with their press, create turnovers, and turn those turnovers into opportunities and goals.

Peter Andrews: Jack McGlynn. I’d be very surprised if Bedoya plays at all in this game, just based on the way he was moving during and after the Eastern Conference Final.  If he doesn’t, there will be enormous pressure on the youngster to hold up defensively and to contribute with his attacking ability (as he did with a beautiful cross-field ball to get the game-winner against NYCFC).

Thomas Hill: Only one vote for Blake? It’s him by far. Sure others may have the opportunity for a standout game, but others can pick up their slack if they don’t. Blake is the only keeper, and if he shows up in a superhuman way like he’s known to do, he could single handedly drag the U to the cup.

What Union player are you most worried about?

Chris: It’s Jose Martinez – full stop. Isn’t it? On the stage where he made his debut in 2020, mouth bloodied and flying all over the pitch, he has a chance to do something special again. But with Martinez, the special and the insane are always an inch apart. If LAFC can bait him, he sometimes bites.

Jeremy: I think worried is too strong, at this point, but for me the potential weak point is Jack McGlynn. With the array of attacking talent LA has, he’ll need to do his job defensively. His value offensively makes that a gamble absolutely worth taking, but it’s a concern.

Tim: The right back choice. Harriel started in Los Angeles in early May. It would be no surprise to see that decision reprised, especially if Bedoya cannot start. Abosrb initial pressure and then adjust to introduce more offense.

Dan: Bedoya. The Union can win with him, even if he can only go one half. Without him, it’s a tough ask. His injury has revealed anew not only how underrated he is, but also how valuable.

Jim: Yeah it’s absolutely Bedoya.  As obviously injured as he was against NYC, he was essential, and he’s going to be even more important in LA. But it remains to be seen if he’s up for it.

Pete: Tim’s point about right back is a good one.  I expect Olivier Mbaizo to keep his place after a very good performance about NYCFC.  But the Cameroonian international has had howlers in playoff games before, and LAFC is the toughest test he’s faced all year.

Thomas: I’ll agree with Pete. I don’t think I’m overly concerned about anyone, but if I had to pick then yeah, right back and Mbaizo.

Which LAFC player poses the biggest threat to the Union?

Chris: Weirdly, all of them. For as much as the narrative about LAFC is Vela, Bale, and Chiellini, that roster is loaded with good, well coached players at every spot. The Union have played them very, very well over the years save for one match, but it’ll take 97 minutes of focus to get the Boys in Blue over the top.

Jeremy: I’m going to go left field a bit and say Ryan Hollingshead. If he’s getting involved offensively, that means the Union have been unable to contain LA’s threat, and haven’t posed enough of their own.

Tim: Midfielders running onto balls in the box.

Dan: Chicha Arango. LAFC has attacking tools everywhere, but all it takes is one goal to win, and Arango has a knack for finding the easy garbage goals that could be all that’s necessary to win a close game.

Jim: I’m going to agree with Jeremy. LAFC’s forwards are going to be a challenge but one that I’m confident the Union defense can handle. But second-wave attackers like Hollingshead and Cifuentes could pose a significant threat if they’re allowed to get too comfortable in the Union half.

Mike: I think Chris and Jeremy are both on the right track. Jose Martinez has to have a dominant, unimpulsive performance, for which he is very capable of. Jack McGlynn is likely to start and the occasion will be a lot for the young player. Big occasions don’t seem to rattle McGlynn, but he’ll have to be on his game, particularly his defensive responsibilities in Los Angeles.

Pete: LAFC are indeed loaded, and any of these are good answers, but it’s Carlos Vela for me. Although Vela hasn’t come close to matching his 34-goal 2019 campaign in recent seasons, the guy just has game-breaking ability if the Union give him any time and space on or off the ball.

Thomas: Do I need to say anything else? Everyones naming different people and concerns. LAFC is stacked, we already knew that.

How much does it matter that the Union will be on the road for this game?

Chris: A lot? A little? Certainly more than 0%. The traveling City fans in Section 120 sang their hearts out for all of 30 seconds after their team took the lead, only to be drowned out by Union fans – they didn’t make a peep before or after. LAFC has a great home field advantage and a loud stadium – that’s worth something.

Jeremy: The home-away splits for the Union are pretty significant. They were the best team in the league at home, basically, and something less than that away. But I’d frame it more that the Union would have a significant advantage at home, rather than that they are disadvantaged away, especially when you consider the performances they’ve had in LA the last few times they’ve traveled there. And they will relish being the underdog.

Tim: That they will travel to LA on Tuesday and have three days to acclimate and adjust will help, Chris’s and Jeremy’s points are well taken.

Dan: It’s a big deal. LAFC had the league’s best home record at 13-2-2, and the Banc has one of the league’s best atmospheres. The situation has renewed the question of MLS’s wisdom to use wins as a tiebreaker over goal differential. These teams tied on points, and in almost any other league in the world, the team with better goal differential (Union) wins that tiebreaker, which would’ve put this game in Chester.

Jim: I actually think the Union is as capable of feeding off a negative away environment as they are a positive home. Three of their four road losses were against Toronto, Chicago, and Dallas; not exactly stadiums with intimidating atmospheres. In more hostile environments they fared much better, so LAFC’s fans may inadvertently be giving the Union something to respond to.

Mike: It obviously matters. As Chris says, LAFC has a terrific, loud stadium. Getting the home crowd behind them will be like a 12th man. If the Union can take a lead and keep the fans a little edgy, they’ll have a better chance. That said, Philly doesn’t change their tactics away from home, and they’ll be out to press and harry the home side, giving them a better chance of winning in LA than most teams.

Pete: It definitely matters. The Union haven’t played a playoff game on the road since 2019.  But the playoff experience they’ve gained in the last four years should serve them well nonetheless.

Thomas: Define matters? I think the Union more so get a boost at home than they are bad on the road, so in that sense it matters, but I don’t think the Union will be quaking going into L.A.

The Union face LAFC in southern California this Saturday, November 5 at 4 p.m. on Fox, Univision, and TUDN.


  1. It looks like Union fans are taking over half of the upper deck on one side plus a few sections on the lower deck – we might be able to bring the home field advantage with us

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I LOVE Jim’s point on this topic. In an empty stadium, the U don’t have much to feed off of. In a hostile one, it plays right into their underdog ethos.

  2. Love the discussion above. I think the difference maker for me is Julian Carranza. I expect both Blake and Gazdag to hit their usual high levels. If Carranza can have a game like he did against NYC, we can win. He probably needs to, to be honest.

  3. The fact that Curtin doesn’t usually make full use of his subs in non-blowout games could work to the Union’s advantage as it won’t be an issue if Bedoya starts but has to come out earlier rather than later (especially if it is at halftime and doesn’t use up a window). The major risk is that someone other than Bedoya gets hurt and that ties up another window.

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