A spot in the Eastern Conference Final is up for grabs Thursday night as FC Cincinnati look to continue what has been a historic season against a familiar foe in the Philadelphia Union.
Cincinnati handed top-seeded Philadelphia one of just five losses all season in a 3-1 win at TQL Stadium on August 6 and earned a point against the Union back in June at Subaru Park, where the Union went unbeaten in 2022.
The ties run deep between the two clubs, ever since Chris Albright joined FC Cincinnati last October after serving as the Technical Director of the Union for nearly a decade. One of Albright’s first moves was appointing Pat Noonan, former assistant coach of the Union, as head coach of the Orange and Blue in December.
“This should be fun,” Noonan said following the club’s first postseason win over the Red Bulls. “This is a cool story in terms of my last job and our group getting to this point, not having been here before, and going against a very good team in Philadelphia. It’s neat.”
Noonan was part of the staff that lead the Union to four straight playoff appearances from 2018 to 2021 and lifted the MLS Supporters' Shield in 2020. The first-year head coach knows the challenges his former side will present on Thursday.
“It will be a hostile environment. We have an opportunity to see what we are about. It’s no surprise that they are there, they are one of the best teams in the league, and I think the guys will be excited to face the opportunity.”
FC Cincinnati made several offseason signings, one of the first being the acquisition of Alvas Powell, who spent the 2021 season with the Union.
Cincinnati also signed veteran defender Ray Gaddis. Gaddis spent his entire career with the Union after being drafted in the second round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
“It’s going to be great seeing so many familiar faces,” said Gaddis. “I have so many memories of my time in Philadelphia, but it’s a playoff game. We are competing against one another. It will be a great game.”
Gaddis played nine seasons with the Union and is the club leader in all-time appearances (221). Gaddis retired following the 2020 season but made the decision to join FC Cincinnati after speaking with Chris and Pat.
“I’ve known Chris for a long time in this space. I worked with Pat in the past as well. It was easy to come back knowing the details and the vision the club had. It was an exciting opportunity. I came back to help this team get here and you have seen what we have done collectively as a team this season.”
And the former Union signings kept coming. FC Cincinnati acquired Sergio Santos from the Union on July 8 to add power and pace to a roster chasing their first MLS playoff berth in club history.
Santos showcased those qualities on the biggest stage this past Saturday against the Red Bulls, coming off the bench and assisting on Brandon Vazquez’s match-winning goal in the 86th minute.
“I’m very happy. It’s great for Brandon [Vazquez] as well,” said Santos immediately after his game-winning assist. “But we’re ready to get back home and get back to training for another match. We will celebrate this win, but we are ready to prepare for Philly.”
Santos scored 19 goals while adding seven assists in 83 appearances with the Union from 2019-2022.
“I’m hungry to get back there," Santos said. "I have friends there and we know that they are a good team. But we are just as capable. We will go to Philly expecting to win and, hopefully, reach the finals.”