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Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union are the most complete team in MLS playoffs

The Philadelphia Union have been building to this moment for years. The process started with the appointment of Jim Curtin as head coach all the way back in 2014, and has gathered momentum in recent seasons with the Union considered one of the best teams in Major League Soccer at this moment in time.

Philly finished second only to an historically strong New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference in 2021 before losing to eventual MLS Cup winners New York City FC in a playoff match that saw Curtin’s squad decimated by Covid-19 absences. 12 months on, the Union look stronger than ever before.

Curtin’s Philadelphia side are preparing to face NYCFC in the post-season once again with the two East coast teams set to clash on Sunday evening. As the hosts and number two seed, the Union will be the favorites to book a place in this year’s MLS Cup. There’s no reason they can’t go all the way and lift the trophy.

“They were a deserving champion last year, for sure, but I also think that they didn’t get our best punch with 11 guys out and six starters,” Curtin said when asked to assess the Eastern Conference final against NYC FC and how Philly will get another shot at their 2021 conquerors. “I think everybody can agree with that, so we get to rematch.”

Not only did the Philadelphia Union finish the 2022 regular season with the best attack in MLS, they boasted the best defence too. That formula has made the Union a winning team with some arguing they are the most complete side in American soccer right now despite Los Angeles FC ultimately winning the Supporters’ Shield.

In Andre Blake, Philadelphia boast one of the best goalkeepers operating in MLS, while Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes have established one of the strongest centre back partnerships in the league in front of the Jamaican shot-stopper. That has given Curtin a sound foundation to build on.

This defensive solidity helped keep FC Cincinnati at arm’s length in the Eastern Conference semi-final. Philly kept a clean sheet against a team that had scored seven times in their previous two matches and 64 times in 34 games over the regular season. Cincy were a dangerous opponent, but the Union stopped them from finding their attacking rhythm in a 1-0 victory.

“I think it’s good that Cincinnati pushed us as hard as they did,” Curtin said after the match. “Chris Albright and Pat Noonan have done an incredible job there. We needed to grind out a 1-0 win because if you look at our last 10 games at home, I think we outscored our opponents 42-6 which doesn’t happen in the playoffs. So this was a great test for us. It sets us up well for a really tough opponent in New York City.”

Daniel Gazdag has been a difference-maker for the Philadelphia Union in attack with the Hungarian midfielder registering 22 goals and six assists over 35 regular season appearances. From front to back, the Union boast quality and Curtin has found an approach and a system that gets the most out of his players. Philadelphia are more than the sum of their parts.

Other MLS franchises have spent more than the Philadelphia Union. They have certainly made more eye-catching signings with the likes of Gareth Bale and Riqui Puig pitching up in MLS this summer to play for LAFC and the LA Galaxy respectively. However, the Union have done an excellent job of building a well-rounded squad that allows them to compete for the biggest honours.

Curtin is Philadelphia’s biggest asset. The 43-year-old has earned a reputation for himself as one of the best coaches in MLS over the last few years and that reputation would be bolstered further if the Union end up winning MLS Cup this year. The sight of Curtin with silverware in-hand would be an image of his own brilliance.

The reputation of Curtin is so strong that many see him as a future US men’s national team head coach, something that could become particularly pertinent if Gregg Berhalter’s side flop at the 2022 World Cup. Before then, though, the Philadelphia Union have a trophy to win. They certainly have the quality this season to lift their first MLS Cup.

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