Coaching records indicate an overwhelming edge for the Revolution over the Philadelphia Union in their playoff match Tuesday. The Revolution’s Bruce Arena (33-12-6) has compiled the best record in MLS postseason history. The Union’s Jim Curtin (1-3-0) did not earn his first victory until last year.
Nearly everything else favors the Union in this matchup, scheduled at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa., at 8 p.m. They have had the Revolution’s number all season, compiling four wins and a draw, and have not lost to the Revolution in nine games (7-0-2) since 2017. At Subaru Park, the Union have seven successive victories (19-2 goal differential) over the Revolution since 2015.
“I don’t think the bookmakers have us favored in this one,” Arena said. “Their team is solid at both ends of the field, probably one of the leaders in the league in goals scored as well as goals against. It will be certainly a big challenge for our team.”
Arena does not easily accept the role of underdog. He has called the Union “the so-called best team in the league” and joked that they might present the Revolution with the Supporters Shield (best record), since they owed their record to their dominance in the matchup.
But the Union achieved their success not only because of the Revolution. Curtin has been coaxing the best out of the Union for several years, guiding them to a 14-4-5 (47 points) mark this season. Even without their 3-0-1 record against the Revolution, the Union (2.04 points per game) would have had the best record (1.96) in the league.
“What is it about Philly? I don’t know,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner said after a 2-0 loss in the regular-season finale. “They have their game plan and they stick to it. They work hard, they tackle hard, they’re in the refs’ ear all game, and the best thing about them is that they don’t make little mistakes.”
The Union are set up to counterattack, so they mostly concentrate on stifling the opposing midfield, soaking up pressure, then capitalizing on mistakes. Their style is not inspiring, but should be effective in the playoffs; they do not rely on setting an offensive tone, so they can be off their game and still succeed.
Curtin, a former central defender, has recruited a budget-conscious roster, setting up a low-profile back line in front of former UConn star Andre Blake, the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. The midfield is driven by ex-Boston College star Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Andres Martinez, and Jamiro Monteiro, freeing Brenden Aaronson to spark the counter. Sergio Santos (8 goals) and Kacper Przybylko (7 goals) provide efficient finishing.
If the Union need bench help, they have Anthony Fontana (four goals in 170 minutes versus the Revolution) and Cory Burke (two goals and an assist in 215 minutes against the Revolution).
The Revolution have been in contention in five games (including a 1-0 loss in the MLS Is Back tournament) against the Union this year but have scored only twice. The matchup has proven especially frustrating for the Revolution, who have set an attacking tone in each game. They were twice thwarted on added-time corner kicks.
In the MLS Is Back tournament, the Revolution were driving for a possible equalizer when Alexander Buttner was taken down, but they were not allowed to execute a final corner, Arena being red-carded for disputing the decision.
In September, after rallying to equalize, despite playing shorthanded following a controversial red card, the Revolution lost, 2-1, on Fontana’s 95th-minute goal off a corner. Then, in a 2-1 home loss to the Union in October, the Revolution’s Lee Nguyen ran through the penalty area, then sent a last-minute, point-blank shot high.
But the Revolution have reason to hope. Their revival has been based on having three Designated Players (Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa, Carles Gil) on the roster for the first time, but the DPs were often DNPs this season.
The “Big Three” did not complete a full game together until Friday’s 2-1 playoff victory over the Montreal Impact, thanks to Bou’s dramatic 95th-minute goal. Bou also set up Gil’s 38th-minute volley, and Buksa had a shot saved off the post just before the deciding score, as the Revolution took their first postseason victory since 2014.
Turner called the match “definitely a decent little warmup” because of the Impact’s 4-3-1-2 alignment, with former Barcelona midfielder Bojan Krkic in the playmaking role.
“I think our biggest thing for this game is that we bring energy, bring commitment, lay into some tackles, and really just compete,” Turner said. “We’ll take the underdog role if Vegas won’t give us the odds in our favor, that’s for sure.
“Listen, we know every game we’ve played them we’ve been able to analyze and put together a 90- or 120-minute plus penalties performance that gets us through to the next round,” Turner added. “It’s one and done and the pressure is a little bit different, so we’re going to go and make them have a real difficult time and hopefully, similarly to how we finished the Montreal game, we can be out there creating chances.”