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Philadelphia advance to Conference Semifinals

The Philadelphia Union advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 1-0 win over 10-man New England. They’ll take on FC Cincinnati.

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C. Donovan (79')

What happened?: A plain first half ended with a shocking moment. Revs midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and Union midfielder Dániel Gazdag were contesting the ball. Gazdag ended up on the ground, and Kaye attempted to step over him to get to the ball. In that split second, Kaye’s left foot came down on Gazdag’s chest. After Video Review, Kaye received a red card for violent conduct.

Only God and Kaye know how intentional that step was, but, either way, it altered the course of the game. The Revs were pinned in from there and held on admirably until Jack McGlynn delivered a low free kick that found the foot of Chris Donovan.

So, did we learn anything?: Red or not, the Revs hadn’t taken a shot for about 23 minutes at the time of the incident. Even at full strength, it’s hard to envision New England getting the better of the Union. It all felt inevitable. Far too much went wrong in Foxboro over the last half of the season, and there were very few timelines where they were able to rally and make something of this postseason.

Going forward, it’s fair to wonder what they can make of 2024 and beyond. Matt Turner and Djordje Petrovic did so much heavy lifting over the last few years. Unless they have a third-straight all-time great MLS goalkeeper on the roster, they’re at a disadvantage compared to the last few seasons. On top of that, key players like Brandon Bye and Dylan Borrero will all be coming off of significant injuries. Noel Buck is going to receive interest from clubs abroad. And, of course, they still need to find a new head coach and sporting director.

Whoever that is will have to start reworking a club culture that feels fractured after a tumultuous summer. Omar Gonzalez spoke to the good folks at The Blazing Musket last night about the state of the club and didn’t hold back about what went wrong this season.

“From my experience, when the front office is in shambles, it trickles down to the team,” Gonzalez said.

The whole interview is worth a listen. Gonzalez is remarkably candid. It’s clear from his statements that there’s a ton of work to do. Finding the right people to take the reins is going to be a steep challenge. Trusting that the right people are in place to find the right people is going to be difficult. There’s not much room for optimism in New England.

Anyway, none of that is to take away from the Union. It’s just that, right now, the Revs are more interesting. We know exactly who and what the Union are, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. No one is going to bat an eye at Philly making another Conference Semifinal. This is just how MLS works. You play a big long season and the Union win a bunch of games and then they win a playoff game or two or three. This is their third-straight appearance in the Conference Semifinals, and they’re one win away from a third-straight Conference Final appearance.

All they have to do is take down FC Cincinnati in what promises to be one of the bar fightiest matches of the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. But if any team has the experience and physicality to go blow for blow with Cincy at TQL Stadium, it’s the Union. If that doesn’t pique your interest a bit, don’t forget there’s the added element of both teams missing key members of their backline.

The Union’s Kai Wagner is suspended for violating the league’s anti-discrimination policy and Cincy’s Matt Miazga will miss this one due to yellow card accumulation. It might end up being a game that stays cagey for the majority of the time, but the missing pieces of the foundation for both teams make the likelihood of one or both crumbling into chaos a little higher than we expected heading into this.

No matter how it plays out, would you really be all that surprised if, in the end, the Union are back where they always seem to be?

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Good luck out there. Do it your way.