After a three-week break between matches, playoff soccer returns to the Queen City as FC Cincinnati hosts Philadelphia Union in an Eastern Conference semifinals rematch.
After making it to the semifinal last season, FC Cincinnati fell to The Union 1-0 at Subaru Park to end their first playoff run. But now the scene shifts to TQL Stadium as FC Cincinnati plays the favorites as Supporters' Shield champions and hosts.
The Orange and Blue have been dominant at home this season, with a 14-2-5 record across all competitions and are looking to continue its dominance at "The Fortress" as they would host all playoff rounds for the remainder of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The three-week break between matches, factored in due to sweeping the New York Red Bulls in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs and the international break, has given FCC head coach Pat Noonan and his squad additional time to recover and strategize for what promises to be an intense matchup.
"The break has given us time to look at a few more ideas, with or without the ball, and a little more video," Noonan said Wednesday after training at Mercy Health Training Center. "Regardless of the formation, we know we'regoing toa get a team that is experienced in these moments, is well coached and will be ready and up for the challenge."
While the recovery time has been useful for FC Cincinnati players, as some have reported nagging injuries they are working through, the preparation and intensity have ramped up with match week here and the chance at glory available.
"I think everyone's excited," forward Brandon Vazquez said. "It's been a while, and that feeling of building up into a game, especially playing here in Cincinnati, has everyone excited.
"We're sharp. I think the sessions this past couple of weeks have been intense. We know exactly what to expect from Philly. So, the intensity is there."
FC CINCINNATI vs. Philadelphia Union – Saturday, November 25, 2023 – 8 p.m. ET – TQL Stadium
Stream: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Apple TV Talent (English): Steve Cangialosi (PXP) & Danny Higginbotham (Analysis)
Apple TV Talent (Spanish): Pablo Ramirez (PXP) & Carlos Ramiz (Analysis)
Radio: ESPN 1530
Radio Talent: Tom Gelehrter (play-by-play), Kevin McCloskey (analyst)
For the second time in as many years, and the second time this postseason, FC Cincinnati will take on a familiar playoff opponent, sparking a rivalry from the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs.
Last season, the Philadelphia Union defeated FC Cincinnati at Subaru Park 1-0 to knock out the Orange and Blue in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The loss came on the heels of FCC defeating the New York Red Bulls in the opening round, creating a mirror image scenario to this year with FCC looking to flip the script.
All-time against Philadelphia Union, FCC is 2-6-3 but owns a 2-2-1 record when playing at TQL Stadium. Since Pat Noonan joined The Orange and Blue after serving as an assistant coach under longtime Union gaffer Jim Curtin, FCC has gone 2-1-2 against his old club, with the lone loss coming in the playoffs.
In 2023, FCC were undefeated against Philly Union, earning a 1-0 win at TQL Stadium on April 8 and a 2-2 draw at Subaru Park on September 16.
FC CINCINNATI NOTES
Home Field Advantage – With the top seed in MLS and the Supporters Shield in hand, the MLS Cup and the MLS Cup Playoffs run through TQL Stadium as The Orange and Blue would host all but one playoff match at home.
Across all competitions, FCC is 17-2-5 at TQL Stadium, with a 14-2-5 record against MLS teams this season.
FCC has also allowed the third-fewest goals at home this season (13) and owns the best home-winning percentage among MLS teams across all competitions (.894).
The Awards Pile Up – Over the break, FC Cincinnati personnel have earned a bevy of awards, including Luciano Acosta (Goal of the Year), Roman Celentano (Save of the Year), Matt Miazga (Defender of the Year) and Pat Noonan (Coach of the Year).
Acosta is also nominated for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP. Should he win that award, FCC would be the first club in league history to earn all five awards in a single season.
Do it in the playoffs – With goals in game one of the series with RBNY, Luciano Acosta and Álvaro Barreal now lead FC Cincinnati in all-time playoff goals with two a piece. With a goal in game 2 of Round One, Aaron Boupendza became the fourth member of The Orange and Blue to score a goal, joining Acosta, Barreal and Brandon Vazquez.17 FC Cincinnati players have made appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs for any club, totaling 7749 minutes of game action.
Second Half Stalwarts – FC Cincinnati finished the regular season allowing just 10 goals in the second half this season, the second-fewest in MLS history, and hold a +27 goal difference in the second half this year, the fourth best all-time.
In the opening match of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, FCC continued their strong second-half play. Earning a clean sheet and scoring late to improve to +1 in 2023 postseason play.
We Got History – In addition to the match history FC Cincinnati has with Philadelphia Union, the clubs are deeply tied culturally as general manager Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan spent extensive time coaching and working in Philadelphia before joining The Orange and Blue. Since Noonan joined FCC, The Orange and Blue have lost just once to his old club while owning a goal differential of +2 in the favor of FCC.
SCOUTING Philadelphia Union (No. 4 Seed EASTERN CONFERENCE)
The Union has played as full of a schedule as possible in 2023, with a third-place finish in the inaugural Leagues Cup, a fourth-round exit in the U.S. Open Cup, and a semifinal finish in the Concacaf Champions League. Philly will play its 52nd fixture on Saturday in just 47 weeks in the calendar year of 2023, excluding preseason matches.
Still, despite all those games, The Union have yet to earn a trophy in 2023 and have come frustratingly close on two occasions. In 2023, Union made it to the semifinal rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League and Leagues Cup before falling in both rounds. Ultimately, Philly won third place in Leagues Cup and punched their ticket to the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup. Still, the struggle of deep tournament runs in 2023 hampered the MLS regular season to the point of finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Like FCC, Philly will be without some key pieces due to suspension, with Kai Wagner serving the second game of his three-match suspension. His absence changes the dynamic of the Union backline and takes a significant weapon out of Philadelphia's arsenal. The break between matches, though, did provide ample time for striker Julian Carranza to recover from a hamstring injury and is prepared to rejoin the club. Carranza, a 23-year-old Argentine forward, scored 14 goals and added six assists in 28 games. 2022 Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes and midfielder Leon Flach may also be absent due to injury.
In the net, Andre Blake stands on guard as the long-time stalwart for Philadelphia. Winner of the 2016, 2020, and 2022 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, Blake has been dominant, making eight clean sheets and 73 saves.
Philadelphia is led by head coach Jim Curtin, who won the 2022 and 2020 MLS Sigi Schmidt Coach of the Year awards. FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan served on Curtin's staff while coaching in Philadelphia and marks another reunion with his old friend and now fellow Coach of the Year winner.
"Overall, we're ready to go. It's been a while since we played a game, but I know the guys are anxious to get after an opponent that isn't themselves," Curtin said of the upcoming match to PhiladelphiaUnion.com. "I think in some of the stretches of this year, we played seven games in this amount of time, so it's different. But guys got to rest up and recover; we'll be fully ready to go and give our best in Cincinnati and try to move on to this thing."