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Oppo Research: 5 Things you should know about Philadelphia Union

We scout the strengths and weaknesses of the best professional soccer team in Philadelphia, I mean Chester, ahead of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Philadelphia Union's Julian Cáranza is one of the biggest goalscoring threats in MLS | Courtesy Philadelphia Union

In this Eastern Conference Semifinal edition of Oppo Research, we look at Philadelphia Union, who will host New York City FC at Subaru Park on Sunday, October 30, at 8 pm ET in a grudge rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final.

1. Carranza, Gazdag, and Uhre are the best attacking trio in MLS

OK, those are the words of Brotherly Game’s Joe Lister, but we admit we have to agree: This year the Union added Young Designated Julián Carranza (14 goals, 9 assists) and Designated Player Mikael Uhre (13 goals, 6 assists) this season to join Dániel Gazdag (22 goals, 10 assists), and they simply shredded the rest of the league. 

It’s a major upgrade from 2021’s Kacper Przybylko (12 goals and 4 assists, now with Chicago Fire) and Jamiro Monteiro (2 goals and 6 assists in 2021, now with San Jose Earthquakes). What a difference a year makes.

The Philadelphia front office is known for refusing to splash out on new players, but bringing in Carranza and Uhre are two of the best signings made by any club in the offseason. 

2. The Union are undefeated at home

That’s right: Philadelphia didn’t lose a single game at Subaru Park in 2022. They’re a league-best 12-5-0 at home. 

Not only that, they’re on a winning streak at home that stretches deep into the summer. The last time the Union drew at home was June 18, when FC Cincinnati leveled the score with a diving header that crossed up Andre Blake

3. Philadelphia rarely stumble – but when they do, Bedoya usually isn’t in the lineup

Philadelphia squeaked by FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, beating the lower-seeded team with a flukey goal despite enjoying a bye week and playing in front of the rabid crowd that packs into Subaru Park — and having Carranza, Gazdag, and Uhre on the field.

Give credit to a hungry Cincinnati who wanted the result, but the Union’s unconvincing performance can also be chalked up to missing Alejandro Bedoya, who was out with a hip flexor strain. 

The 35-year-old captain also didn’t feature in the 0-0 draw with Atlanta United on September 17, or the 0-4 loss to FC Charlotte on October 1. We’ll do the math for you: when Bedoya was missing, Philadelphia scored just one goal in three games. 

In yesterday’s pregame press conference, Union head coach Jim Curtain said that Bedoya will feature on Sunday, although it’s not clear if it will be as a starter or as a sub.

4. Philadelphia are a complete team

There are no overt weaknesses to be found in this squad. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the league in Blake, a defense that let in just 26 goals, and a midfield (when Bedoya is healthy) that can provide service to three ruthless goal-scorers. Jim Curtain is the 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the year, and he is unquestionably one of the best head coaches the United States has ever produced. They have it all.

When Philadelphia do come up short, it’s while playing on the road against other good teams: LAFC in California, FC Cincinnati in Ohio, FC Dallas in Texas. As you can see, it’s not a long list.

5. Jim Curtain is a sneakerhead

Actually, it’s fairly endearing. There’s even an Insta that keeps up with his latest footwear. 

One More Thing: The Union’s celebration of Paul Rushing has lock-her-up energy

Yesterday, the official Twitter account of the Union posted a picture of Philadelphia trainer Paul Rushing. The filter is heavily saturated — there’s no accounting for taste.

Why the photo? It was taken right after Rushing was sent off during a game for shoving NYCFC players when he was on the field to attend to a Union player. Rushing was shown a red card – the first in MLS history for a trainer – and now he’s being turned into a folk hero by his club for going vigilante. Usually, you celebrate medical staff for keeping their focus when tensions run high, not for losing control of their emotions and failing to do their job.

Union fans will tell you that Rushing is a legend because he was trying to protect Carranza, who had hit his head. That’s suspect. True, NYCFC’s Nicolás Acevedo approached Carranza, which is what many players do after somebody goes down — sometimes it’s out of concern, sometimes it’s to talk smack, but it’s normal on-field behavior. Also normal: Trainers working while hotted-up players mill around. It happens in every game, in every league, in every country in the world.

When Rushing shoved Acaevedo, and then Taty Castellanos, it was abnormal — it literally never happened before in MLS. As for the narrative that Rushing was acting out of concern for his player, he stepped away from Carranza to go after Castellanos, and had to be restrained while he tried to follow him around the field. Then he was ejected. It’s hard to take care of your players when you’re waiting out the game in the staff lounge.

What should be just a footnote to a June game is now being turned into a meme by the club, presumably, because it gets the crowd going. There’s some lock-her-up energy in this kind of populism. We might just be talking about a soccer game, but it’s wild to watch the club try to whip up support by valorizing aggression even though it shatters a very reasonable norm — namely that bench personnel should not be involved in confrontational incidents on the field, to use the terminology of the MLS rulebook

Maybe the tweet just a gag? A way for the Union to trigger snowflakes? That’s entirely possible, but if that’s the case it’s not funny as much as it is immature troubling tacky.

See you Sunday.



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