The Philadelphia Union have been a team since 2008, and I'm not sure they've had many bigger games then this one right here. The only game I would consider is the CCL game against Club America at home, but we all know how that one turned out. I'm saying this because of the unreal ending to last week's game, there have definitely been some 4/4 Philly fans turning their heads.
The Glesnes goal basically went viral, with outlets like NBCS Philly, Barstool Philly and Bleacher Report showcasing the goal. The reason I'm mentioning this is because after Saturday, there might actually be some non-diehard Union fans watching this game when it kicks off at 5:30 on ESPN. Just some added pressure to all the other factors going into this game.
Anyway, I thought I had to mention that to the non-Union fans who may be reading this.
How to Watch?
Kick off is set for 5:30 at Subaru Park on Sunday, November 28th. If you will not be in Chester for the match, it will be on ESPN, after the Eagles game I might add. If you will be in Chester, quick reminder that the Union have said to be in your seats by 5:20 for the pre-match presentation.
How Does The Bracket Work?
The MLS Playoffs are similar to pretty much any tournament system you would see in the major sports. 7 teams make it from each conference, the #1 seed in each conference gets a bye. I'll attach a photo, but the Union are the #2 seed and Nashville are the #3 seed. The winner of this game will face the winner of New England/NYCFC with a trip to the MLS Cup on the line. The bracket is single elimination.
Who is Favored?
Betting lines in MLS get a bit weird, but the Union are the higher seed and at home so I would guess that they will be considered the favorite. It is important to note that these two teams played at Subaru Park on October 23rd, and the Union won a very close match 1-0 off a penalty from Kacper Przybylko. In their last game, Nashville beat Orlando City SC 3-1 in a game that always felt like it was going Nashville's way. The Union outlasted NYRB 1-0 in extra time after a crazy strike from outside the box from centerback Jakob Glesnes. I can say the Union will end up being the favorites but this will definitely end up being a close match.
Matchups to Watch
Will Jamiro Monteiro and Olivier Mbaizo be back for the match?
The big surprise from the starting lineup against New York was that both Mbaizo and Monteiro, two starters, were not in the 18 man squad. Shortly after, we learned that both were in the MLS' health and safety protocols and would not be available for this match. This could mean a multitude of things, so we do not know for sure if ether of them tested positive. Jim Curtin said after the match that he could not provide any information on their status ether. The international break just happened recently, so there is a chance that could be some reason, but I don't want to speculate much. Both are obviously huge losses, with Monteiro holding down the attacking midfield and Mbaizo being really the perfect wingback. Paxten Aaronson played pretty well in Jamiro's abscence, and I thought Alvas Powell played brillant in place of Olivier. There is really no way to tell if ether will be available for Sunday, so we'll just have to wait and see. UPDATE: Jim Curtin has said that Jamiro Monteiro has been cleared and will be available for selection, whereas Mbaizo remains in the protocols.
Hany Mukhtar vs. the Union backline
Mukhtar has been a goal scoring machine this season, bagging 18 goals in MLS competitions and earning himself a spot in the MVP discussions. Mukhtar also scored 2 goals in Nashville's 3-1 win in the first round. Although the Union's CB pairing of Jack Elliott and Glesnes has been highly rated this season, I think they've been mostly up and down. As of late, they've been really good, especially against New York. But it seems like every once in a while there is a stupid mistake that ether does lead or could lead to goal. Mukhtar is not a guy who will mess up a gift from the defense, so they need to be on their absolute A game. Former Union ST CJ Sapong also highlights a dangerous attack for Nashville.
Kacper Przybylko vs. Himself
Yeah, your gonna think I'm trying to be funny here, but I'm genuinely serious. Kacper has been in a goal drought recently, and some of the shots he has been missing have been really bad. The one that sticks out is in the 82nd minute of Saturday's game, where Sergio Santos gave him a ball right in front of the goal and he skied the shot.
We know that Kacper is a good player, but it feels sometimes he just overthinks things. If Przybylko is going to continue to start over Cory Burke and Santos up top by himself, he is going to need to lock in and finish those chances when needed, especially if Monteiro is out again.
The Union don't really post an official injury report before the day before the match, but obviously Jamiro Monteiro and Olivier Mbaizo's status for this game are up in the air. Unless something comes up during the week, everyone else is expected to be a full go. Super sub Ilinsho returned to the squad in last week's game, but most likely wasn't going to be used unless there was an emergency situation. After another week of training, we'll see if Curtin uses him. I'll make sure to update this article once the injury report for both teams comes out.
This game stresses me out so much, because I just struggle to think of where it will go. The last game against the Red Bulls was very predictable to me, both teams probably considered more defensive focused playing after a 2 week break. Obviously I didn't expect extra time and a goal in the 123rd minute, but regulation played out as I thought. For this game, even if Monteiro and Mbaizo don't play, I still have some good confidence that the Union can get the result at home. But Nashville's offense are dangerous, and like I said earlier, Philly's backline has little margin for error. I'll go with 3-1 Union, but the game will be close the whole way. I hate predicting goal scorers but one for Przybylko, one for Burke and how about a goal for Ilsinho off the bench late.