Top-seeded Philadelphia Union battles FC Cincinnati in conference semis

Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (left )and FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum and Jeff Dean)

Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (left )and FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum and Jeff Dean)

The Philadelphia Union will host FC Cincinnati in the Conference Semifinals Thursday night, with kickoff scheduled at 8 p.m.

The Union finished first in the Eastern Conference, earning a bye in the first round. Major League Soccer’s playoff format consists of three rounds of single-game eliminations leading to the final round, the MLS Cup.

Philadelphia faces fifth-seeded FC Cincinnati, who advanced after picking up a 2-1 come-from-behind win against the New York Red Bulls in the opening round.

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The Union and Cincinnati played twice during the regular season — the first match ending in a 1-1 draw at home and the second finishing with a 3-1 win for Cincinnati in Ohio.

The Chester-based soccer club had hoped to win the Supporter’s Shield award, given to the team with the most points at the end of  the regular season, but lost out to Los Angeles FC in the penultimate gameweek. Philadelphia and LAFC both finished with 67, but LAFC won the tiebreaker by having more wins.

Although the Union missed out on the Supporter’s Shield, the club can pull away with the more significant hardware.

The team has the potential to win the MLS Cup, and five members in the organization were named finalists in the MLS Year-End Awards.

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The league has begun to highlight some of the top performers throughout the year, and Union head coach Jim Curtin certainly believes that his players are deserving of awards.

Before voting by members of the media, and club’s players and technical staff closed on Oct. 10, Curtin urged voters to, “consider our guys when you’re voting for these things, take your vote very seriously and really think about it.”

Star goalkeeper Andre Blake won his third AllState Goalkeeper of the Year award, making him the first player in the league’s history to secure the award three times. Blake is still being considered for the Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player award as well. If Blake were to win the MLS MVP award, he would become the second goalkeeper in the league’s history to win the award, after Tim Meola.

Defenders Jakob Glesnes and Kai Wagner were nominated for Defender of the Year. Glesnes was given the final nod, becoming the first Union player to win the award. With the help of Blake, Glesnes, Wagner, and Jack Elliott the Union gave up 26 goals this season, setting a MLS record for the fewest goals allowed in a 34-game season.

Longtime captain Alejandro Bedoya is a candidate for the MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year award. The 35-year-old has been a strong advocate for gun safety and is a member of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Finally, Curtin was nominated for the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year award, after leading his club to the top record in the Eastern Conference.

All of the plaudits so far have been great, but Curtin reiterated to the fans and media that his team has bigger goals.

“We’ve had a lot of records and accolades this year, and all of the goals against and goals for, and win total is all nice, but this group only wants one thing, and that’s to go out on the field Thursday night, and get a victory and start our playoff run the right way.”

The Union remains undefeated at home, and is determined to keep its streak intact.

Tickets are still available for the match at Subaru Park, or fans can watch on FOX Sports 1.

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