Match Report / Union match reports

Match report: FC Cincinnati 4-3 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Ron Soliman

After an incredibly disappointing 2-1 home loss to Inter Miami on Saturday, the Philadelphia Union (4-8-5) headed west to take on 2023 Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati (11-3-3) in a quest for 3 points. The Union were seeking just a second win in their last 12 matches. Cincinnati returned home to TQL Stadium after its 4-2 weekend victory over San Jose on the road, but is without Matt Miazga who suffered what could be a long-term injury.

Thrice the Union rallied from a goal down, with a Tai Baribo brace looking like it earned the Union a point on the road. But a last minute goal from 2023 MLS MVP Luciano Acosta broke the Union’s back and Cincinnati stole all three points.

The Union change formation

Coach Jim Curtin decided to mix things up a bit, whether due to player absences (because of international duty, injury, or sale) or in an attempt motivate the team, as the Union eschewed its usual 4-4-2 diamond and switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation.  Goalkeeper Oliver Semmle started his tenth straight match and had Nathan Harriel, Jack Elliott, and Jakob Glesnes as three center backs in front of him, while they were flanked by wing backs Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo on the left and right respectively. Leon Flach and Jesus Bueno lined up in the center of the midfield in a double-pivot, while Jack McGlynn took on the duties of the attacking midfielder. Up top were Mikael Uhre and Tai Baribo, who started his first match as a Union forward. 

First Half

The first twenty minutes saw the two teams probing each other’s defenses, looking for weakness. Neither team registered a shot on goal. Cincinnati broke stalemate in the 28th minute when Acosta took a give and go from  Yuya Kubo. Acosta then crossed the ball to the far post, where Kevin Kelsey got in behind Harriel. It looked like Kelsey mis-timed his header, but he got enough to nod the ball off Oliver Semmle’s hand and then the post into the goal.

Five minutes later referee Jair Marrufo shrugged off a call for a Cincinnati penalty as he (correctly) saw the play as a shoulder to shoulder play. Both teams continued probing, with Cincinnati looking more dangerous.  A block from Elliott (after Acosta got around him initially) in the 40th minute saved what could have been a second Cincinnati goal. 

The Union showed renewed spirit as Glesnes carried the ball up the right side of the field, finding a streaking Mbaizo who carried the ball towards the touch line before crossing into Cincinnati’s box. Uhre rose above his man and directed a header down and back across the box to Baribo, who scored his first Union goal to tie the game in the 43rd minute.  

Cincinnati continued pressing through five minutes of injury time, but the teams entered the locker rooms at half with the scored knotted at one apiece.  

Second half comes up short

Neither team made any half-time changes as the second half kicked off. Two minutes into the half a penalty was called on Elliott as Kubo got him and was toppled over. After a brief VAR review, the decision to award the penalty was upheld. Acosta stepped up to the spot and scored, sending Semmle the wrong way.  

The Union tied the game a second time in the 55th minute, with a league-leading 11th goal from set pieces. Wagner whipped a corner in to the far post, where a wide open Bueno had shed his man. Bueno made no mistake and one-timed the corner into the goal. 

It didn’t take long for Cincinnati to score again, as the 60th minute saw Luca Orellano spot Semmle too far off his line and he lofted a shot from midfield over the goalkeeper into the net. Kelsey almost had his second a few minutes but headed over the bar. Cincinnati continued to have the better chances as the Union seemed content to press on the counter-attack. Some sustained possession from the Union finally saw a wide-open Harriel miss a header off a Wagner corner in the 68th minute.

Jim Curtin made two changes in the 72nd minute as Union tried to come back from a goal down for a third time in the game. Quinn Sullivan and Jeremy Rafanello came on for Uhre and Bueno respectively. Two minutes later Cincinnati brought on fresh legs as well. Curtin made another change in the 83rd minute as he continued to chase points, bringing Chris Donovan on for Mbaizo. Former Union forward Sergio Santos made an appearance for Cincinnati, and saw his first touch fail him as Semmle came out to stuff him. A minute later Santos saw another chance blocked, as the Union struggled to maintain possession.

The Union finally maintained some possession and made numerous crosses into the Cincinnati box, with one finding Wagner’s head who sent it back across the goal mouth to Baribo, who shocked the home crowd in the 90th minute to tie the game for a third time. Ten minutes of injury time proved enough, however, for Acosta to carry the team on his back as he scored Cincinnati’s fourth goal in the 100th minute. The play started with Markus Anderson being dispossessed close to midfield, and saw the play end with Acosta evading numerous Union defenders to send a shot under an outstretched Semmle’s arm.

Three Points

Tai Baribo – the forward who has struggled to get on the field much at all (29 minutes total before tonight) got his first start in Union blue (and tan), played ninety minutes, and scored his first and second goals. 

Another close game – The Union lost another close game, falling to 1-6 in games decided by one goal.

A rookie mistake – Markus Anderson came on in the 94th minute to try to run out the clock with some fresh legs, but found himself dispossessed in the 99th minute, leading to Acosta’s winning goal. 


Philadelphia Union (3-4-1-2)
Oliver Semmle, Nathan Harriel, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Kai Wagner, Olivier Mbaizo (Chris Donovan 83′), Leon Flach, Jesus Bueno (Jeremy Rafanello 72′), Jack McGlynn, Mikael Uhre (Quinn Sullivan 72′), Tai Baribo  (Markus Anderson 90+4′)

Unused Subs:  Andrew Rick, Olwethu Makhanya, Sanders Ngabo, CJ Olney, David Vazquez, 

Real Salt Lake (3-4-1-2)
Roman Celentano, Nick Hagglund (Yamil Asad 74′), Kipp Keller (Alvas Powell – 63′), Ian Murphy, DeAndre Yedlin, Obinna Nwobodo, Pavel Bucha, Luca Orellano (Bret Halsey 85′), Luciano Acosta, Kevin Kelsy (Sergio Santos  85′), Yuya Kubo (Gerardo Valenzuela 74′)

Unused subs: Alec Kann, London Aghedo, Malik Pinto, Aaron Boupendza, 

Referee –  Jair Marrufo

Scoring Summary

CIN – Kevin Kelsy – 28′

PHI – Tai Baribo – 43′

CIN – Luciano Acosta – (PK) 48′

PHI – Jesus Bueno – 55′

CIN – Luca Orellano – 60′

PHI – Tai Baribo – 90 + 4′

CIN – Luciano Acosta – 90 + 10′

Discipline Summary

CIN – Kipp Keller – yellow card – 6′

PHI – Kai Wagner – yellow card – 12′

PHI – Jack Elliott – yellow card – 12′

PHI – Jack McGlynn – yellow card – 80′


  1. Setting the result aside, I thought this wasn’t a terrible performance, especially given how shorthanded the Union are right now and how good Cincy are. Great to see Tai Baribo get the brace. It’s hard to imagine why Chris Donovan has been so firmly ahead of him on the depth chart. Also good for Jesus Bueno to score — he’s someone I thought would take another step this year but has been just a bit-part player.
    But… the mistakes. Woof. I liked the Oliver Semmle signing and thought he could slot right in as a low-level starter in MLS. He has been very bad, and tonight was maybe his worst game in a Union shirt. The club has been very spoiled with the past ten years of Andre Blake. And it’s an absolutely boneheaded play at the end by Markus Anderson to try to beat his man at midfield — the giveaway leads directly to the goal. Just can’t happen at the professional level.
    Finally, this might just be a me problem, but I’ve had enough of Kai Wagner’s constant whining histrionics after every call. The guy is the best player on the Union, but he doesn’t bring an ounce of leadership to the table on a team that’s sorely lacking it right now.
    All in all, a frustrating night, as the Union slide below the playoff line.

    • David Stradley says:

      Agreed. I left tonight feeling better than I have after recent matches. I went into the game thoroughly expecting the Union to be thrashed. They showed fight, spirit, and at least some ability to create from possession. But, yeah, the stupid mistakes keep costing them…and the marginal calls are going against them and other teams are creating some lightning-in-a-bottle plays.

      Also agreed: Kai should just play the game. Redirect that energy into the game. You’d hope maybe he learned his hot-headed ways are not helpful after his racist comment altercation to end last year.

    • In fairness to kai, I’d be bitching and moaning too if I was given a 6′ yellow for something that was not even a foul. I would imagine he’s “earned” a reputation with the officials by now though.
      Blake cannot get healthy fast enough. I worry he’s gonna rush back to play in Copa, and then reaggregate his injury and be out most of the rest of the season. This is the second time in less than 2 months Semmle has been caught off of his line.

    • Great points, all. It was an enjoyable game to watch. It’s a pity that MLS plays during FIFA international windows.

      Good to finally see what Taribo can bring.

    • High school defending…

    • Sums it up for me, Peter. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Cincy’s first goal rolled in. I’m still not convinced it even touched Kelsy at all. Most I could say for Semmle there is he expected the header to go far post and instead it just bounced in on the chip.

      And Baribo’s performance today really has me wondering about Curtin’s judgement here. It’s always easy to second guess a coach from a distance, but he was pretty good out there tonight. Knew where to run and struck the ball well. Bright spot in a depressing run of form.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        I may be a lonely voice but I’ve been saying in his limited minutes that there was something there.

  2. Whatever, we lost. Do I care anymore? The seasons PROBABLY already over. What matters this season is now figuring out the post-carranza era. And this was an interesting audition.
    Reasons why Baribo could be the answer.
    1. He plays well with uhre.
    Not too sure about this one but I thought his partnership with Uhre looked good, I dare say better then carranza with Uhre. They linked up well, and Uhre played some good passes to him.
    2. He is a pure finisher
    Simple, his strength is definitely finishing. Some people just have a knack for scoring. Baribo could be that guy. His 2 goals were both just “being in the right place at the right time” but being in the right place at the right time is a skill. And definitely one that Baribo has.
    3. He runs.
    He had longest distance ran out of anyone in the game and top speed too. (According to MLS) those definitely aren’t bad things.
    Sorry for the Baribo glazing, But I’ve been hyping him up all year since we got him. I’ve been waiting for this.

    • Baribo has always been the answer i have been screaming it from my seats since he’s been healthy. Even though carranza and Uhre have goals it is because they play 95% of the time. Baribo has touch, he can hold the ball up, he has awareness, he can distribute and he has the ability to accurately beat keepers with his shots, he is class and anyone who knows the game knows he should have a starting spot in the line up. This is not a comment I’m making after just two games played. I saw this in him when we signed him. Wake up Jim, and wake your team up too!

  3. We are beyond the pale … you are now (re)entering —The Twilight Zone. At least I remember it and am comfortable with the place and the malaise and the ever increasing asymptote of disappointment.
    By the way— and I recognize there is a lot to nit pick after this most recent PHENOMENAL way to drop points…is it me or is Leon Flach unable to check his shoulder and play to the open man in his blind side.
    I’ve seen this kind of midfield play for years now in my son’s youth soccer leagues. Dude IS NOT a 6. At least not in the system I’d run.
    Closed body shape. Playing right back in to pressure over and over. Supposed to pivot the game in possession. Whatever.
    I’ve got the corner bag blues.

    • Bueno was just as bad, bad passes and getting picked off several times killing possession in mid. Jr Martinez without the Jose bite…

  4. John P. O'Donnell says:

    So, it looks like they are finding ways to lose now. Anderson had someone running down the opposite side of the field and this isn’t Union 2 as the little hesitation was all it took to lose the ball and the game as he tried to make a pass across the field. Granted it took an MVP player to finish them off but did anyone really think we would walk with a point? Just needed to keep the ball and stay next to the line and it you lose the ball it goes out of play.
    Tai gets a start and two quality goals. Sadly Sammle looks great one minute and bad the next. It’s time to give Rick a start as this season looks over. Play the kids!

  5. Steve Taylor says:

    “While the [Union] world winds down to a final prayer
    Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
    I predict by dinner I won’t even care
    Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better”

  6. Eric Boyle says:

    Sigh. I can’t find too much fault with the U coming back three times. Not only did Baribo score twice but he was all over the field, tracking back on defense etc., for the full 90 minutes. I would have liked to see them go for more possession to see the game out though.

    Twellman actually had some good commentary about the struggles, except for the part about spending money this summer lol.

    You have to think that the outcome may have been different with a healthy Blake in goal….

    • It is so weird hearing halfway decent commentary in the Apple era.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Did Apple have different commentators than Fox Sports? Tony Meola needs to be put out to pasture. He was shocked that there were two yellows given out on one play when Elliott’s was clearly for arguing. If he’s never seen that before, he should not be announcing since he’s never watched a game before.
        Not that this excuses anything the Union did, just makes it even harder to watch.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      The Union were never going to have a healthy Blake in goal last night. If he was healthy, he would still have been away with Jamaica.

      • Eric Boyle says:

        Jeez, it was a rhetorical question! The point is it shows how much the Union have relied on Blake to make a key save in a game like that.

        Healthy meaning Blake at his best.

  7. In no other league was that a penalty. Kubo dove after a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. Then 5 minutes later he did it again. He’s a piece of work. And “work” isn’t the word I want to use.

  8. I am not even mad at the Union after this game.
    I just can’t.
    There were just too many factors involved in this game making it just absolutely fucked.\
    Questionable reffing, a backup keeper, a miraculous shot just insane wonkery.
    Sometimes you gotta just shrug and go MLS After Dark.
    Two things can be true Markus Anderson made a mistake so bad that Jim Curtin has buried him so far in the lineup that he has come out the other side of the earth and is currently floating in space and the Union had enough people back to defend the shot that one the game and should have shut Acosta down.

  9. Shoulda left Baribo in, he was on a hatrick….

  10. Snakebit. Scuffed header, questionable penalty, miraculous 1/2 field low probability boot. Compounded by stupid mistakes. It’s not their year. At least Baribo looked like he belongs.

  11. Call SEPTA, get a driver over to the training ground to teach these guys how to park a bus. Fifteen years of this team being unable to defend when it really counts, it’s tedious. This is football, people. It’s a low-scoring game. Please.

  12. Taken in isolation I would be encouraged a make shift line up really showed a lot of grit against a strong team, kind of like the covid playoff debacle against nyfc. A pk that should’ve been a yellow to kubo for simulation. A ridiculous strike from midfield. A few key moments that shifted things the wrong way. But in the context of this season it just felt inevitable that a mistake right at the end would see us implode once again. Ala mls cup finals.

  13. Taken in isolation I would be encouraged a make shift line up really showed a lot of grit against a strong team, kind of like the covid playoff debacle against nyfc. A pk that should’ve been a yellow to kubo for simulation. A ridiculous strike from midfield. A few key moments that shifted things the wrong way. But in the context of this season it just felt inevitable that a mistake right at the end would see us implode once again. Ala mls cup finals (and the nyfc playoff game).

  14. OneManWolfpack says:

    Incredible to me that this team still has not been taught how to take a ball to the corner and try to kill off a game. You scored three goals, against a top team in the East, on the road… and LOST… because you couldn’t kill off about one more minute. As much as it’s on Anderson, that’s on Curtin too.
    If this isn’t a wake up call that we are playing checkers while basically every other team is playing chess… then we never getting that call.
    Hey FO – you like sold out stadiums? You like good vibes? You like selling concessions? Then spend some damn money on first team caliber players for god sake. I won’t stop saying it, until it happens. Don’t dare go in the fuckin tank leading up to the World Cup here in 2026. Don’t dare make this team irrelevant when the whole world will be here. Get it together.

    • paulcontinuum22 says:

      OMW, they’re *already* irrelevant. The U are merely a Jay Sugarman tax write off at this point. He doesn’t care if they lose every game from here on out. Who would WANT to coach this train wreck with him as the front office dear leader?

  15. Lack of Leadership ???? ? Some of you guys will never get over the incident with Kai and Bobbie Woods thats very evident. (Peter and David) By the way Elliot was just as pissed as Wagner and got a yellow for dissent. At least he supported his team mate. I have also seen Martinez go ballistic as much as Kai plus Martinez commits the stupid foul a lot more often. so enough of the Kai criticism. enough of that ….. If you are looking for a scapegoat or lack of leadership you might as well start with the coach. Curtin should have made it clear to Anderson that he should #1 preserve the tie. You dont have to be a hero just dont give the ball away by forcing it or trying to make a spectacular play…. Overall I think the Union played hard. I loved Baribos effort. I have not seen that kind of commitment since Le Toux whose motor never stopped. Curtin would be a fool not to start him next game. In a way this was a good loss. Tanner and Curtin must show leadership and guts and demand the owner spend some real money on a sure thing. Namely a quality replacement for Caranza. I thought Wagner showed leadership by being honest with the press about what this team needs to grow. That takes courage. Its something Curtin will not do or say to the public to the press or fans.

    • Joe, I’ll say the same things I said to you the last time you got angry I criticized Kai’s behavior: the circumstantial evidence suggests (but does not prove) that he is a difficult guy to get along with, and my frustration with him is based on covering the team closely for several years, including talking to many people on and around the team. And, frankly, Kai’s racist incident in November didn’t come into my mind yesterday — but you’re absolutely right that it colors my view of the player, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t. It was unacceptable behavior in any context and it cost the Union dearly.
      I also think it is fair to see Kai’s recent comments to the press, however honest or true you may think he was, as another example of poor leadership. He threw his own teammates under the bus because he was frustrated. (“We need a guy with pace. We don’t have a guy with pace on the whole pitch. Now [that Carranza is] gone, we need a real finisher in front of the goal.”) You may think that’s good. But I wonder whether his teammates agree.

      • +1 not angry, frustrated with ownerships lack of pre planning. They new Caranza was leaving. They did little or nothing over the preseason to add a talented forward to their roster. Wagner was being honest about their lack of speed at forward. He also said you ant just compensate with kids and you need a balance of vets to share the load and reac expectations.Sometimes you need to be frank and honest with the press. Especially when ownership is being dishonest and the coach is too diplomatic to say anything. A lot of people overlook Martinez behavior problems. Let’s be objective though. Martinez has been suspended because of accumulated yellow cards many more time than Wagner. Wagner has put up more assist and more key passes than Martinez has by far. I know they don’t play the same position but other than the suspension Kai served at the end of the season he is a much more valuable player than Martinez I M O. I realize Curtin is in a tough position but what has to happen before he stands up and is more honest with the fans and recognizes they need a bonifide replacement for Caranza. I personally would have much more respect for Curtin if he were more honest. That old coach speech about I am going to take blame for the loss guys gets old. I ha e been watching hing this team from the beginning and had season tickets before I moved.. The fans deserve a better commitment from management to improve the 1st team.

      • I get the frustration and agree we should see more commitment from ownership and management. But there is a difference between being honest and airing criticism publicly. Jim is pretty frank in public when he needs to be, but he’s smart enough not to throw the existing players under the bus to placate a few grumpy players and fans. I suspect he’s pretty direct with Ernst and ownership behind closed doors, at least I hope he is.

  16. The one downside I can see from baribo’s break out performance is the FO thinking ‘cool well we have our carranza replacement, we don’t need to spend on getting anyone else’

  17. paulcontinuum22 says:

    MLS dot com’s power ranking review of the U was nothing short of a drive-by. It will be napalm city next week.

    “The Union lost another home game. And this time they lost another home game to an Inter Miami side missing multiple key players and, ya know, multiple players on the pitch. Allowing a stoppage-time winner on a breakaway goal from a SuperDraft pick despite being up 11 men to 9 for your fifth home loss of the season is…man, that’s something.

    “It feels like it’s time for a refresh in Philadelphia. Kai Wagner certainly thinks so…It’s been rough this year for Philadelphia. It will only get tougher with Julián Carranza reportedly on his way to Feyenoord. It feels like the end of an era. Philly’s front office has a big task in front of them.”

  18. Deez Nuggs says:

    Tai Baribo doesn’t show up and accidentally drop two on the best team in the league. We need to be questioning Jim’s judgement in keeping him off the field for so long.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      And for the record, the “I don’t like how he trains” argument only goes so far. If you have a team of Chris Donovans then, yeah sure, whoever works hard. But I’d wager there are a few managers out there that absolutely chafe at Messi walking around the field, not running, never chasing back on defense, but — dammit — they’re putting him on the field anyway. Sometimes a coach has to recognize skill and talent are more important; you deal with different kinds of people. And you use what you have.

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