Match previews / Union

Match Preview: Charlotte FC vs Philadelphia Union

Photo: Ruairi Rossi

Who: Charlotte FC

What: MLS Regular Season

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

When: Sunday, May 26, 7:30 PM EST

Watch: Apple TV-MLS Season Pass

Whistle: REF: Guido Gonzales Jr. AR1: Justin Howard AR2: Meghan Mullen 4TH: Nabil Bensalah VAR: Sorin Stoica AVAR: Jeff Muschik

After getting back to winning ways against a weaker opponent, the Philadelphia Union will have a tougher task ahead of them this Saturday. The Boys in Blue will make the trip down south to face off against Charlotte FC in a case of unstoppable force vs immovable object. Despite lacking offensive firepower, scoring only 14 goals, the Queen City’s team has shown a marked improvement in defense this year, allowing a stingy 13 against. Meanwhile, the Union’s offense is one of the best in the league with 25 goals scored but the defense is still leaky, having allowed 21. 


Scouting Report: Opposition

Last 5: L-W-W-W-D

Background and Transfers

A recent hot streak sees Charlotte sitting at a respectable 6th in the Eastern Conference just before the midpoint of the season. This season is something of a rebuilding year for one of the newer MLS clubs. The big three DP forwards, Karol Swiderzki, Kamil Joziak and Enzo Copetti, have all left the club. The Crown have not yet been able to properly address the gaps this leaves in their attack. Owner David Tepper did shell out $8 Million to Celtic to sign Liel Abada, a club record fee. However, the Young DP has yet to truly settle, as he only has one goal through five appearances thus far. Patrick Agyemang, a young American striker out of URI, is the team’s leading scorer despite only having three goals. Aside from those notable departures, the majority of the core of the team’s midfield and defense has stayed the same. 

New additions include several Crown Legacy players brought up from MLS Next Pro to the first team. This includes midfielder Nikola Petkovic and forward Luri Tavares. Midfielder Djibril Diani was brought in from Ligue 2 side Caen and has been able to contribute. This appears to have worked so far as Charlotte is tied for the 2nd least goals allowed in the league with 13. Goalie Kristijan Khalina, center-back Andrew Privett and midfielder Ashley Westwood have been pillars of stability, playing every minute so far, and are a large part of the team’s success defensively.   

Coaching and Tactics

Charlotte is managed by former Premier League player and manager Dean Smith. Most recently, Smith headed Leicester City’s ultimately fruitless relegation attempt for the final eight games of the 2022/23 season. However, he is most known for his tenure with Aston Villa. He took charge of the then Championship team in 2018 and won them promotion via playoffs into the Prem. 

Smith has fluctuated between using a more traditionally defensive 4-2-3-1 and a typically more attacking-oriented 4-3-3. While it wouldn’t be shocking were Smith to opt for the 4-3-3 with this game being at home and the Union in relatively poor form, don’t be surprised if Charlotte comes out in a 4-2-3-1. The Crown’s strength is in their defense whereas the Union have the opposite issue. Particularly due to the Union’s diamond emphasizing numbers in the middle of the pitch, a 4-2-3-1 could be a good way to neutralize that, as it puts 5 Charlotte midfielders against 4 of the Union’s.

Injury Report: 

Questionable: Liel Abada, Brandon Cambridge, Bill Tuiloma

Suspended: Brecht Dejaegere

International Duty: N/a


Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

Last 5: L-D-L-L-W

Review and Flach’s return

After three embarrassing defeats at home, the Union finally got back to their winning ways last week, thanks in no small part to Ryan Spaulding’s early red card. The win aided in soothing the growing discontent in the Union fandom, stemming from the team’s lackluster performances. However, one win does not make a season. Charlotte provides an opportunity to gain some ground back on prime playoff positions. 

After a long injury layoff, it finally seems like Leon Flach is back and approaching 100%. The feisty German midfielder brings a much-needed utilitarian defensive ability that might just be able to strike the balance between attack and defense that the current Union roster desperately needs to find in the coming weeks. Especially with Jose Martinez being forced off last game with an injury, Flach might suddenly be thrust into a full 90 role again, which has not been seen consistently since 2022. 

Tactics and Personnel

Tactically, it doesn’t feel like Coach Curtin will shake things up too much. An interesting trend is the Union’s possession stats. While they might appear to have more of the ball than in recent years, a quick glance comparing games with higher possession against results could show that this is more a function of teams scoring early and bunkering than of a direct change in Union philosophy. To date, the Union has played 13 MLS games in 2024. In 7 of these, they have held at least 50% possession. However, recently, they have had 50% or more n in only one win, their last against New England. 

Surprisingly enough, they remain undefeated in every game that they have had less than half of the ball. This indicates that the team still focuses on counter-attacking, a trend that will likely continue down the road as wins become even harder to come by. Since the return of the 3-back seems increasingly unlikely, the continuation of the diamond or 4-3-1-2 is probable. 

Only a few personnel questions hang in the air. Curtin confirmed in the pre-game presser that the team is seeking a second opinion on Blake’s knee injury. Blake, who just signed a new contract through 2026, will likely still be out for some time. Martinez suffered a pectoral injury against the Revs and is hopeful to return to match fitness. Lowe has recovered from his back injury and should be good to go. Markus Anderson’s injury was not addressed during the presser. It would not be surprising if Lowe were to draw the start. Despite some decisions going against him, he has been the most consistent between Glesnes and Elliot this year. Plus, his pace is an added bonus, especially since the backline has tended to get glued deep in their own half in many instances. 

The front three is almost certainly a lock. Curtin said the coaching staff believe Uhre has been playing well recently and Gazdag and Carranza’s performances speak for themselves. Will Bedoya start? Probably. Should Bedoya start? Probably. Going into the season it felt like Bedoya would begin as the starter and then bow out as Quinn developed. Instead, due to his depth and performance, Bedoya remains a key contributor for the Union in 2024. With all the defensive issues to consider, it still feels like Bedoya adds something to this team. While it is inspiring to see him continue to play at a high level this late into his career at some point, sooner rather than later, somebody needs to be able to fill that role or the system needs to change to cover for it. He isn’t gonna be around forever.

Injury Report: 

Doubtful: Andre Blake 

Questionable: Jose Martinez, Markus Anderson 

Probable: Damien Lowe

Suspended: N/a (but Damien Lowe is one Yellow Card away from suspension)

International Duty: N/a


Key Matchup: Andrew Privett vs Julian Carranza

Quietly, Andrew Privett has been one of the best defenders in MLS this season. The Penn State grad ranks 6th among MLS players for clearances with 61 and 1st among blocked shots with 17. Those aren’t ‘sexy’ stats, but they provide evidence that Privett is great at limiting chances. Dean Smith will likely try to have Privett mark Carranza. But, Charlotte has faced few high-scoring teams or players so far this year. Carranza will prove a new test for Privett and the revitalized Queen City backline.

Player to Watch: Mikael Uhre 

I know I just keyed Carranza as the matchup to watch but strike partner Uhre could be poised for a big game. He’s been involved over the last couple games and while teams might hone in on Carranza and Gazdag, Uhre should not be forgotten. His direct runs in-behind can be effective, not only in creating goals but drawing fouls. This was on display last week, but last season the Dane was particularly good at winning penalties. Perhaps this game, and the type of game it’s likely to be, will lend into Uhre’s strengths. 

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

This matchup in particular feels like it has draw written all over it. Charlotte’s defense is great but their offense lacks vitality and spirit. The Union’s attack is great but their defense has been struggling. Recent form tips the scales towards Charlotte but the Boys in Blue have the quality to get a result at Bank of America Stadium. Curtin will likely look to bunker and counter fast in hopes of holding out before grabbing a goal. But, if things go the way the rest of the season has… the Union might be looking at an uphill battle.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    I tend to agree with your call on the draw. I hope Flach is in the lineup again. I feel like he has been excellent since getting back to full health.

  2. C’mon the U ⚽️
    DOOP on Charlotte !!!

  3. Prediction: 3-2 loss

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