The Union fall to top of the Eastern Conference Cincinnati FC 1-0

Apr 8, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (18) attempts to make a save on a penalty kick in the second half against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (18) attempts to make a save on a penalty kick in the second half against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Union had another game where nothing seemed to go right for them in the Eastern Conference Semifinal rematch. Both Cincinnati F.C. and the Philadelphia Union have had rough times scoring goals this season. The Union came out and surprised Cincinnati with their 5-3-2. It wasn’t until Curtin made some subs bringing in Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre and Aejandro Bedoya that seemed to energize Cincinnati. About ten minutes later, was the Luciano Acosta penalty kick that sealed the game at 1-nil. While the Union ended up getting some really good chances in this game, Roman Celentano kept the clean sheet for his 4th of the season.

Ex-Philadelphia Union assistant coach, Pat Noonan, explained how the Union surprised them with their change in their formation and how it made it difficult for his guys to get going early on.

“Jim Curtin and his side surprised us. We weren’t expecting them to come out in the 5-3-2 formation. It made it difficult for us to get into the wide areas to make some plays happen.” Pat Noonan went on to talk about the diamond formation Jim Curtin runs and whether or not he thinks the book is out on how to expose the Union. ” I don’t think the book is out on the Union. They have been running the diamond formation for years with having success and consistency.” Pat Noonan did praise the Union understanding that they are having a rough go in the beginning of this season, especially with having the Champions League sprinkled in.

This was the formation and lineup Jim Curtin started the game with.

“We tried a new formation. I give credit to the players that started the game. They did a great job executing the game plan and keeping the game at zero, getting us to the 60-minute mark. On any other night, it should be a zero-zero game. We asked some guys to play out of position and I thought they stepped up and did a good job. Making the game hard for Cincinnati. Unfortunate on the goal, we had a situation to make a play and lost our footing a bit and got punished for it. Breaks aren’t going our way right now, but I am a big believer that you make your own luck. I think the group will continue to work hard. We obviously can’t feel sorry for ourselves as we have to turn around quickly and head to Mexico and face Atlas in the Champions League.” Jim Curtin opened up the post-game press conference with this message and sounded frustrated throughout the press conference. The Union haven’t been playing well and as a coach, it is tough.

Jim Curtin did make 6 changes to his starting lineup. Obviously the more important game, with it being early on in this MLS season, is on Wednesday where the Union will be traveling to Mexico holding a 1-nil lead over Atlas F.C. With the number of games having to be played this season, Jim Curtin is going to have to make some tough decisions in order to get some of the guys rest. Some of the guys on the pitch last night tried their best to get things going, but it’s clear that they still need some time to develop or need to play with some of the other starters.

Damion Lowe was supposed to start in this game but went down with a hamstring injury on Friday which pulled him out of the lineup. The back 5 did well early on making some good plays. Jesús Bueno did his best in his first career MLS start but did not have a great game. The best of the chance was a Bueno miss. Bueno made a run into the box and was able to get the ball wide open at the top of the box. Bueno ended up sailing the ball over and squandering the chance.

Chris Donovan and Quinn Sullivan had some chances being the dual strikers. Donovan had some chances but ended up not able to finish them. It feels like Donovan plays better when he has Uhre or Carranza out there with him. It was one of those games where it felt like the Union were missing a spark off of the bench to bring the extra bit of energy that was needed. I understand moving on from Corey Burke and Sergio Santos to make space for Quinn Sullivan and Chris Donovan, but moving on from both was a mistake. Watching Santos bring the energy he always does and almost had a goal for Cincinnati, that was called offsides, was pretty hard to see.

I don’t know if Jim Curtin was saving Andreas Perea or Joaquín Torres for CCL play on Wednesday, but when asking Curtin about either player, here is what he had to say.

“We discussed a lot of different formations, different changes. Unfortunate that he didn’t get selected recently. A good young player that we have a lot of confidence in. He is still learning the defensive side of the ball in our system. Again, he is a guy that I think will get better here. We had to make a decision to set up for Champions League in the best way possible. We went with this, and it was close to working, but it didn’t work. I think it did work to set us up for the most important match Wednesday night trying to survive down there in Mexico and trying to push for an early goal. Guys will be fresh and ready to go and will have to bounce back quick!” Curtin had to make a decision and its never an easy one.

Overall, the penalty kick came from a bad defensive breakdown from the Union and one that forced Blake out to trip Acosta. Even if the PK wasn’t awarded, the Union conceded a goal in that sequence. Glesnes made a big save, and the defense was committed to protecting the net while Blake was down but was unable to keep the ball out. Confusion ensued and the PK was awarded. Blake stepped and made the right decision, but Acosta was able to just put it past his outstretched hand.

The Union did have some great chances towards the end of the match, but Celentano was in a class of his own making some major saves. The Union woes just have been continuing and the final third has been a challenge. Overall, it is early in the season and when the Union can get a span of just MLS play might give them the time to ultimately keep a consistent lineup and allow this team to start putting the pieces together. Especially when Kai Wagner returns. The Union will play Wednesday in Mexico against Atlas at 10 PM.