Preview: Haris Medunjanin bids farewell to MLS with FC Cincinnati hosting Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati's match against Philadelphia Union has playoff implications for both sides, but they'll pause prior to kickoff to honor Haris Medunjanin, one of Major League Soccer's finest professionals and a player beloved in both organizations.
FC Cincinnati hosts Philadelphia at TQL Stadium Saturday (7:30 p.m.) in a match featuring a first-place Union team that's on a five-match winning streak and a Cincinnati side tied for the seventh and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Prior to the start of the vital contest, though, the clubs will jointly honor the 37-year-old Medunjanin, who this week mutually terminated his contract with FC Cincinnati in order to move back to Europe to be closer to family.
If Medunjanin sees the field in the match, it would be the 168th and final appearance in a six-year MLS career. He played three years with the Union before playing parts of the last three with Cincinnati, and those years were decorated, impactful and subtle in equal measure.
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Without much star power attached to his name even though he played in the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Medunjanin quietly built a brand around MLS by raising the level of those around him through intense practicing and leadership.
He was admired for his accomplishment and the longevity of his career in Europe, and then for developing his game to suit his aging body.
When Medunjanin parted with the Union late in 2019, he left as the club's all-time assists leader (29). He was also a key contributor to a kind of on-field renaissance that's seen Philadelphia rise to the top of the league in several areas, including competing for championships.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin still frequently speaks with of Medunjanin with admiration.
As he leaves FC Cincinnati, Medunjanin played his role in nurturing the young club's green talent. FCC is also in the midst of a legitimate playoff chase for the first time since it joined MLS.
"It's always a struggle in the beginning," Medunjanin said of his Cincinnati stay. "This is the third year of Cincinnati in the first league, so it takes some time. It's a process you need to deal with. Of course, everyone wants every year to be in the playoffs but it's not working like that. Sometimes you need to have a little bit of luck, but hopefully this year – we are there, you know, fighting."
Medunjanin will have left both clubs better off than when he arrived, but he didn't command many accolades or headlines in doing so.
In the days since the announcement Medunjanin would depart Cincinnati for what he described Thursday as a one-year stay at second-division Dutch outfit PEC Zwolle, Medunjanin is finally receiving his due credit.
Some are saying Medunjanin's "raised the floor" for MLS, and even FC Cincinnati captain Luciano Acosta has referred to Medunjanin as "captain" in a recent social media post.
"The professionalism. It really was remarkable the way he stepped into the training environment every day, with a smile, with respect, with the right attitude," FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said. "I will miss that, our group is going to miss that. That's going to be a void now and how do we find ways to pick up some of the pieces that are now leaving us with the conversations that you have with your teammates, when you can see they're struggling, which he was capable of doing, and how you motivate your teammates in certain areas and in certain ways where he had a great feel for that.
"That presence will be missed and I will miss our conversations daily because there was always a great dialogue with Haris about certain aspects of the game. Things outside of the game, just life in general. He's a great person to talk to, and be around. I will miss that. And I think our group will miss that.
"Maybe he didn't have that high-profile name . . . ask other players on other teams, ask other coaches, ask his teammates about him. And you'll get a pretty good idea about what Haris meant.”
Philadelphia enters Saturday's match having posted a 5-0 record in July, and outscored opponents, 18-2.
The Union (12-2-9, 45 points) are locked in a heated battle with Los Angeles FC for the Supporters Shield, which is awarded to the MLS regular season champion. That battle looks set to continue into the waning moments of the 2022 season, with LAFC (15-4-3, 48 points) out in front for now.
FC Cincinnati (7-8-8, 29 points) is looking to win for just the second time in its last 11 matches. The club has hit a midsummer rut, and needs at least a draw against Philadelphia to stay within striking distance in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Even with the pregame ceremony in his honor on Saturday, and a mid-August departure set for Europe to celebrate his son's second birthday, Medunjanin is focused on FC Cincinnati's place in the playoff picture.
"There's still 11 games to go and a perfect game this Saturday against the No. 1 seed in the east to show yourself if you are a playoff team or not, if you can compete," Medunjanin said. "So, that's a perfect opportunity for everybody to show the league we still exist."
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Saturday | TQL Stadium, Cincinnati
TV/Radio/Stream: WSTR Star 64 / ESPN1530 / FCCincinnati.com (in-region); ESPN+ (out of region)
Series info: Philadelphia leads the all-time series with five wins and two draws, or an 0-5-1 record for FC Cincinnati against the Union.
Cincinnati.com prediction: FC Cincinnati 2, Philadelphia Union 2.
2022 record: 7-8-8, 29 points; tied for seventh place in MLS Eastern Conference
Goals for: 37
Goals against: 42
Coach: Pat Noonan –- first season at FC Cincinnati
Projected starting lineup:
Roman Celentano, goalkeeper
Ray Gaddis, right back
Tyler Blackett, center back
Geoff Cameron, center back
Nick Hagglund, center back
Alvaro Barreal, left back
Obinna Nwobodo, midfielder
Junior Moreno, midfielder
Luciano Acosta, midfielder
Brandon Vazquez, forward
Brenner Souza da Silva, forward
2022 record: 12-2-9; 45 points, first place in Eastern Conference
Goals for: 40
Goals against: 15
Coach: Jim Curtin - ninth season as Union head coach
Projected starting lineup:
Andre Blake, goalkeeper
Olivier Mbaizo, right back
Jakob Glesnes, center back
Jack Elliott, center back
Kai Wagner, left back
Leon Flach, midfielder
Alejandro Bedoya, midfielder
Jack McGlynn, midfielder
Daniel Gazdag, midfielder/forward
Julián Carranza, forward
Mikael Uhre, forward
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Preview: Haris Medunjanin bids farewell to MLS with FC Cincinnati hosting Philadelphia Union