Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs Club Tijuana

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Who: Philadelphia Union vs. Club Tijuana

What: 2023 Leagues Cup, Group East 1, Matchday 1 of 3

Where: Subaru Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

When: Saturday, July 22, 8 p.m. Eastern

Watch: Apple TV (free), FS1, Univision

Whistle: Not available at time of publication

Fresh off a two-game winning streak in MLS, Philadelphia Union turn their attention to the newly expanded Leagues Cup tournament on Saturday night, when they’ll host Liga MX’s Club Tijuana.

The match is the first of three group-stage games held in Chester over the next week, with the Union facing Querétaro in midweek before the two Mexican clubs face off next weekend. The top two finishers in the group will advance to the 32-team knockout round.

It’s hard to know what to make of this tournament. Will it be a highly competitive and entertaining contest between teams from North America’s top two leagues? Will it be a series of glorified friendlies between sides understandably focused on their domestic campaigns? Or will it be somewhere in the middle?

Scouting report: Club Tijuana

The Xolos are an unfamiliar opponent for the Union, but they’re led by a familiar figure for USMNT fans — former Mexico manager Miguel Herrera.

Tijuana finished near the bottom of the pack in the spring’s Clausura campaign (15th out of 18 sides) and second from bottom in the “coefficient table,” a mechanism that Liga MX uses to fine bottom-performing teams in lieu of relegation. But they’re off to a decent start three matches into the Aperatura, with one win, one draw, and one loss so far.

It’s hard to say much for certain about how Tijuana will roll out for this one. Herrera set up his men in a 4-2-3-1 in their last match, a 2-1 win over Cruz Azul. Midfielder Lucas Rodriguez, formerly of D.C. United, will likely start in the middle for the Xolos. Recently acquired Paraguayan striker Carlos Gonzalez has three goals so far and will likely lead the line.

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The group stage presents one central question for the Boys in Blue: start the top group, or use the tournament to get minutes for reserve players?

Manager Jim Curtin must balance the desire to win this tournament and maintain sharpness when league play resumes with the risk of injury or overuse for his best XI.

Expect Alejandro Bedoya, at the very least, to get some rest. The club’s captain injured his quad again and had to leave last weekend’s match against NYCFC early on. After the match, Curtin suggested that Bedoya would likely have a similar timeline for his calf injury earlier in the season, which caused him to miss several games. Jesus Bueno and Andres Perea are candidates to take that role in central midfield.

Other candidates for playing time include defender Damion Lowe, midfielders Joaquin Torres, Richard Odada, and Jeremy Rafanello, and striker Chris Donovan.

The Union’s most recent acquisition, 19-year-old center back Olwethu Makhanya from the South African league, is also on the roster and could be available for action. Also added to the roster are Union II’s Andrew Rick, amateurs David Vazquez and CJ Olney, and season-long loanees Nelson Pierre and Anton Sorenson. It will be fascinating to see whether any of these players are handed their first-team debut.

Curtin must also keep in mind the short turnaround before the midweek match with Querétaro, which will be on Wednesday night at Subaru Park.

Matchup to watch: Union defenders v. Lucas Rodriguez

However Curtin sets up his backline, the group will need to keep an eye on Tijuana’s dangerous attacking midfielder.

Player(s) to watch: Jesus Bueno

Hard to pick here without knowing what the squad will look like, but Bueno’s a good choice. (No pun intended.) He looked sharp in extended action against NYC FC, and gives the Union flexibility with his ability to play both the No. 6 and No. 8 roles.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-0 Club Tijuana

Color me skeptical that Tijuana, a middling-at-best side in Liga MX, will trouble the Union too much. There are variables, of course, like the possibility of a sparse and/or pro-Tijuana crowd, or heavy rotation by the Boys in Blue. But on the whole Philly should have enough quality to get the three points they need.


  1. santo bevacqua says:


    What kind of fan support do you see for the leagues cup.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Tomorrow’s game was included in the season ticket package so I’m guessing there will be more seats filled than not (although who knows how many will be sold to Tijuana fans). For the rest of the tourney, STH had the option to opt out of seats back in March so it wouldn’t surprise me if there were more Mexican fans than Union fans Wednesday. For any KO matches, the Union will host unless they meet LAFC in the final.

  2. Gruncle Bob says:

    Stubhub has end zone tickets (non-sob) listed for $27, inclusive of fees. So it doesn’t look like a sellout at this point.

  3. I thought they sent Odada away.

  4. Andy Muenz says:

    What the heck is going on with penalties in the Women’s World Cup? Through 5.5 games there has been a PK attempted in every game, but only 2 of 6 have been converted. With those kinds of numbers, the question of whether it’s football or soccer goes away. It’s hockey where only about 1 in 3 penalty shots result in goals.

  5. HopkinsMD says:

    From memory, Odada has looked good when given opportunity and has been lauded by plenty of observers. I’d be curious to see him in action with the first team, though I can appreciate Bueno’s form backing up El Brujo is creating a logjam at D-mid.

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