Good morning muchachos and muchachas. Ittttttttttttttttttttttttt’s time! (Bruce Buffer voice). Philadelphia Union vs. Lionel Messi and Inter Miami tonight at Subaru Park in the Leagues Cup semifinal. There’s a Champions League berth and shot at a trophy on the line here, so its one of the bigger/biggest games in Union history, considering the combination of stakes and opponent.

We’ve spent enough time talking about ticket sales and crowd split and other hypotheticals, like moving the game to Lincoln Financial Field, but how do you actually line up against Messi and Miami? Here’s how I’m playing it:

Daniel Gazdag is back from injury, which is great news, but Julian Carranza didn’t train on Monday. Alejandro Bedoya is also back, but not 90 minutes fit, so this is how I’m rolling the lineup.


  1. You could go either way with Olivier Mbaizo and Nathan Harriel at right back. Mbaizo gives you a little bit more going forward, but Harriel has been solid on set pieces lately and is a good defender. It’s probably a wash. Pick whichever guy you want.
  2. I’m scrapping the 3-5-2 and going back to the 4-4-2 diamond. You need to be compact against Messi and Sergio Busquets, and the Union just get way too spread out and frenetic with 3 CBs out there. Can’t have Jakob Glesnes pushed way up the right flank or else the Union will get absolutely cooked in transition. Burned worse than Izel Jenkins. Keep it tight, win the ball, counter press.
  3. Jose Martinez and Jesus Bueno have key roles in this one. I need Brujo to shadow Messi and know where he is at all times. Leo likes to stand around when the ball is in the Miami half, but once possession switches, he’s quick to distribute and get into great positions. Can’t let him ghost into the box on those sneaky late runs. Keep your head on a swivel. It is impossible to shut down Messi entirely, but you gotta limit the damage as best as you can.
  4. I need Bueno to cheat a little bit to the right and help Harriel or Mbaizo with Jordi Alba at left back.
  5. Gazdag needs to shade Busquets out of possession, stand on his left shoulder, and try to deny him the ball. Think of it as pseudo-forward marking. Can’t let him pick you apart from the d-mid spot.
  6. Mikael Uhre did not play well against Queretaro, but made some key runs against New York and really opened the game up. This match has UHRE’s name written all over it. Whenever possession changes, he needs to immediately hoof it with those linear runs in behind the defense. Miami’s center backs, Kamal Miller and Serhiy Kryvtsov, aren’t exactly speed burners, and goalkeeper Drake Callender can be a little iffy coming off his line. You win this game by playing your bread and butter direct game and going over the top and into the channels as soon as you win the ball.
  7. The Union philosophy is to put the opponent’s weakest players on the ball in possession. Strangle the good players and let the “lesser” players beat you. If Dixon Arroyo, Benjamin Cremaschi, and Robert Taylor have the game of their lives, so be it. But if you get carved up by Busquets, Messi, and Alba, either you didn’t mark them tight enough or they showed their world class-talent once again. And in that case, all you can really do is applaud them.

That’s about it. This is an incredibly-straightforward game, and winnable. Miami needed a miracle to get by Dallas in Lionel Messi’s only other road game since coming to America, and conceded some absolute trash goals in the process:

Miami added the three Barcelona superstars, but they have holes elsewhere in their lineup. Their Messi-era roster is far from complete, and you see it on clips like that one.

The Union have home field advantage, the better goalkeeper, the better center halves, and plenty of midfield bite. Carranza’s injury is a big bummer, and there’s a significant lack of depth at forward, but if they can junk this game up, win some tackles, earn a few set pieces, and play their direct transitional game, they’ll put a lot of stress on that Miami backline.

I’m just hoping it’s a good game, no early red cards or injuries or anything like that to sour the mood. Play hard, but not dirty. Make Messi uncomfortable, but nothing cheap. Should be a banger.