Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to your first place Philadelphia Union!
Yes, the Union are sitting at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference, after they defeated FC Cincinnati by a 2-0 score Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester.
Union starting XI: Freese (Coronel 40′); Gaddis, Trusty, Elliott, Mbaizo; Bedoya, Medunjanin, Aaronson (Ilsinho 67′), Monteiro; Picault (Accam 74′), Przybylko
FC Cincinnati starting XI: Richey; Deplagne, Waston, Hagglund, Powell; Stanko (Alashe 76′), Bertone, Cruz; Lamah (Mennah 76′), Alexander, Mattocks (Ledesma 82′)
The sheen has come off Major Leagues Soccer’s shiny new club, FC Cincinnati. They surprised everyone by earning 4 points in their first 3 matches, but since then they have come crashing down to Earth. The Union contributed to their slide when they handed Cincy their first home loss in a rain soaked match on March 30.
The Union have been on an opposite trajectory riding a three game unbeaten streak, and only having one loss in their seven previous games. Even with the short recovery time between Saturday’s cross-continent match against Vancouver, this was a game they were expected to win.
FC Cincinnati hung in there with the Union for the first 30 minutes. Both team got chances, but few quality ones. It wasn’t an exciting first half, but there were a couple moments of drama.
In the 11th minute, Union GK Matt Freese made a nice save off a corner and then fell down holding his abdomen. He got back up after a few seconds but a minute later the trainers came out out to look him. It appeared that he might come out, but eventually he got back up, did some stretching and carried on.
The Union got their best chance of the half in the 37th minute. Jamiro Monteiro got the ball into the box where Fafa Picault got a nice shot off. Cincy GK Spencer Richey made a nice kick save and Brenden Aaronson got taken out by a Cincinnati defender while going for the rebound. It clearly looked like a foul but there was no call by referee Guido Gonzales Jr. Cincy dodged a bullet there as that should have been a penalty kick.
The abdominal injury to Freese finally took its toll, and he was replaced by Carlos Miguel Coronel in the 40th minute.
The Union’s performance gained steam as the first half wore on, and even though they hadn’t scored yet, it felt like the momentum was on their side going into halftime.
The Union came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. They completely dominated, though they couldn’t find the back of the net until the 63rd minute when Kacper Przybylko broke the ice with a nicely placed header with a ball chipped into the box by Olivier Mbaizo.
Brenden Aaronson had another terrific showing, causing FC Cincinnati to get a little rough on him. Eventually, Union head coach Jim Curtin took him out and replaced him with Ilsinho in the 67th minute.
And it didn’t take long for Ilsinho to make an impact. Three minutes in, he used his fancy footwork to get past Kendell Waston, allowing Ilsinho to slot the ball between the centerbacks to a running Picault who shot it past Richey to give the Union an insurance goal.
The Union took their foot off the gas in the last 10 minutes. FC Cincinnati pressed for a goal, but they just didn’t have the juice to accomplish that.
The Union won a game they should have won, and in the second half at least, they made it look easy. Now the club and their fans can enjoy seeing Philadelphia on top of the Eastern Conference table with 17 points (Montreal and DC also have 17 points but the Union have the edge in goal differential). The Union play five of their next seven matches at home, so they need to take advantage of that and stay on top over that duration.
It’s fun to talk about what the Union need to do to stay in first place. Let’s hope we get to do more of that.
- This match wasn’t Auston Trusty’s finest moment. He let Darren Mattocks pick his pocket at one point on the first half and did well to catch back up to him to prevent a clean shot. There were a couple of moments where he lost possession in a bad place. And he got a yellow card for time wasting in the 81st minute.
- The Union now have two injured goalkeepers. Hopefully either Freese or Andre Blake will be available for the 18 on Saturday.
- The Aaronson non-penalty call wasn’t the only one by the referee. Alejandro Bedoya was taken out in the box at the death of the match, and probably should have been a foul there.
- Aaronson wasn’t the only midfielder with a strong performance. Bedoya and Montiero both had excellent showings.
- The Union have only surrendered one goal in their last 3 matches. There is life after Blake.
The Union will try to stay on top of the standings when they host the New England Revolution on Saturday night. DOOP.