There are a lot of things going on right now in a busy Philadelphia sports scene; the Eagles are an undefeated 6-0, the Phillies are in the NLCS vying for a chance to go to the World Series, the Sixers are back in action with championship aspirations, and the Flyers have started off better than expected. Because of all that, it’s somewhat understandable if you haven’t caught up with what’s going on with the Philadelphia Union right now. Allow me to first bring you up to date. The Union had a record breaking regular season, locked up the top seed in the MLS’s Eastern Conference, and secured a 1st round bye in the playoff bracket. They have the best goal tender in the league, one of the best defenses in MLS history, and a powerful goal scoring option in Daniel Gazdag. They’re a wagon.
Ok, we’re all up to speed? Good. So with that 1st round bye secured with their regular season record, the Union’s first playoff game was set to be in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. That means that they were a mere 3 wins away from hoisting the MLS Cup before even taking the field. Now, that number is at 2. FC Cincinnati pulled a 1st round upset over NY Red Bulls, but they weren’t as lucky in the semis. It wasn’t a vintage Union with; they actually looked to be in pretty rough form for a large part of the match, but they did what was needed to advance. This year, the Union’s calling card has been tenacious defense matched with a league-leading 2.12 goals per game. They’ve been great on both sides of the ball. Last night, though, they were outpossesed by Cincinnati 54%-46% (normal for a countering team like the Union), had 1 more foul, 2 more yellow cards, and conceded 4 more corners. The Union only outshot FC Cincinnati by 1 both in shots and shots on target. It wasn’t a comfortable win as some might’ve expected.
Frankly, even Leon Flach’s game winning goal in the 59th minute felt discombobulated, maybe as a result of rust of the long layoff between their final regular season game and their Semifinals matchup. Regardless, though, the Union found a way to win. Andre Blake was spectacular in the game, notching another clean sheet. The defense was stifling, as they have been all year. It was less of a juggernaut look, and more of a boa constrictor type of match, slowly squeezing the life out of their opponents at Subaru Park in front of a sellout crowd. While it wasn’t typical of the Union’s performance this year, it was still beautiful when everything was said and done. The great teams find ways to win games in whatever way necessary, and through one playoff game, the Union are proving that they are indeed a great team. They’ll now await either Montreal or NYCFC to advance for a matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals, making them the 2nd team in the past week to advance to the conference/league final (Phillies, NLCS). Regardless of play style, it should be an exciting contest in Chester.