Layoff brings pros, cons as FCC approaches semifinal matchup vs Union

The unusual wrinkle present in the buildup to Saturday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal match at TQL Stadium between FC Cincinnati and the Philadelphia Union is all about the calendar.

Due to both this year’s MLS playoff format and the timing of the just-completed FIFA international break, Pat Noonan’s Orange & Blue will have gone three weeks from their two-game win over New York Red Bulls. The Union’s break is just a few days shorter following their defeat of New England.

So, is such a break helpful or harmful to the Supporters’ Shield-winning FCC squad? Noonan’s thoughts on the subject unsurprisingly are nuanced. The long pause can be a momentum-breaker, but a few players who were injured following the New York matches have had some extra time to return to match fitness.

“Yeah, I think the break while it’s less than ideal, it helped us for guys working their way back from injuries,” Noonan said in comments distributed by the club to media. “Because the reality is, if we would have played the week following [the Red Bulls match], we would have had a lot of guys unavailable. I think the only two that are off to the side that will be available are Obi [Nwobodo] and Santi [Arias], you know, they needed longer recovery. And because we had this time, we tried to make sure that with some of our guys we were just more diligent and on the safer side. You know, Alvas [Powell], Dom [Badji], they got to have that break to get back, you know, full health, so they’ve been out on the field competing the last couple days.”

Noonan acknowledged that he hopes future season schedules will manage to avoid such a lengthy break as well as not have consecutive three-game weeks in other parts of the season. Coping with this particular break in terms of match preparation has required some creativity, but he thinks the team will be alright in that regard.

“As for how we utilize this three weeks, it was try to get guys healthy, it was try to work on some things, as we got closer to this game, you know, against Philly, where the first week was really, you know, let’s see who we have available,” he said. “And, you know, let’s just work on some of our ideas, and then, really, we used a couple of our younger guys to help fill the numbers at times. So that was helpful and got our eyes on some of the guys that are doing well with our academy. But the reality is, we’ve had so many guys that have needed extra recovery, and with the guys that are away with international duty, it’s been hard to do too much, you know, tactically until these last couple days, which is what you’re usually given from one week to the next with your opponents. It’s somebody we’re, you know an opponent were familiar with. So, I think we’ll certainly have enough time with the bodies that are now joining training to be prepared.”

Between the extra-long layoff and the pressure that comes with an elimination match, Noonan, who this week was named Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year by MLS,  recognizes some inherent challenges to the team having a good performance. Still, he is positive about what he has seen in training so far this week.

“So, up until the last couple of days, we haven’t had our full group together,” Noonan said. “So [Tuesday] was probably our best training of the three weeks, or two and a half weeks. Today’s intensity was good. I think it lacked quality at times, because, you know, we are still trying I think to find the right moments to have the intensity with the ball and the tempo with the ball when to slow things down. The guys pushed hard today, but you know, like we just talked about, having the composure as well is certainly going to be important. So you know, I would say that the last two days have been, it felt more like the week leading up to an important game.”

Philadelphia has been led offensively this season by Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag and Mikael Uhre, with 14, 14 and nine goals, respectively.

Each team is missing a defender through suspension.  Philadelphia’s Kai Wagner is out for violating the league’s anti-discrimination policy via comments made against New England. FCC’s Matt Miazga misses out due to yellow card accumulation in the New York matches. FCC defender Nick Hagglund is also out for the remainder of the season with an injury.

Noonan said he expects a vocal and supportive home crowd for the big match, one reminiscent of what the Union enjoyed last season when they eliminated FCC from the playoffs.

“Last year in Philly was a great environment,” he said. “Good playoff environment and I think, you know, helped prepare us or will help prepare us for what it’s going to look like in our own stadium. We’re excited to finally play a game in front of our supporters after this break, and you know, I’m sure they’re ready to go too.”

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