Philadelphia Union

Should Alvas Powell keep his starting spot for Union?

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For the majority of the 2021 MLS season, The Philadelphia Union utilized attacking-minded right-back Oliver Mbaizo. Unfortunately for Mbaizo, he entered MLS’ health and safety protocols right before the Union’s first playoff game in 2021. Thie meant that MLS veteran Alvas Powell had to step up, and he’s done very well so far. Alvas Powell has played almost all 240 minutes of the playoffs so far, and apart from one mistake has been a very defensively sound addition to the Union’s backline. Could Powell keep his starting spot as the Union host NYCFC in the eastern conference final, or will the Union’s problems with COVID-19 make the decision for them?

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

Should Alvas Powell keep his starting spot

This question of who will play right-back in the eastern conference final for Philly was a big question on the mind of Jim Curtin and the Union’s coaching staff, but then a big-old-wrench was thrown into the mix with the team not being able to train on Thursday due to health and safety protocols for many of the Union’s players. Could both Powell and Mbaizo be on that list? It’s a possibility, but still, if both are cleared to play Sunday, who would the Union choose to be a part of a strong backline that has been the backbone of this team all 2021?

Mbaizo was the starter all regular season

Olivier Mbaizo was the starter at right-back for the Union for the majority of the 2021 regular season. His flair and skill when moving up the field is something that had been really lacking in past years on the right flank. The only issue with Mbaizo is his tendency to be caught out of position and leave a hole the opposition can fill down his side. The Cameroonian went off to play important World Cup qualifiers just before the playoffs. His contributions helped push Cameroon into the final round of AFCON qualifying. The only downside was that he entered into health and safety protocols when coming back from international duty.

Mbaizo was not able to play in either of the first two playoff matches for the Union. Philly would have to rely on veteran Alvas Powell. Powell is no stranger to the MLS Cup Playoffs as he was a vital part of the 2015 Portland Timbers side that won the Cup. He made a few spots starts for Philly after being signed midway through 2021, and he has looked very sharp in the matches he’s played, especially on the defensive side. When it comes to being a backup, the right mentality is what is needed to help the team; Powell has that mentality and then some.

“I will run until I die”

Alvas Powell was called upon to be a starter in the playoffs, but he was dealing with his own bit of injury before he was even called upon to start in round one. When the Union’s coach, Jim Curtin, asked him if he’d be willing to give it a go, Powell’s response was “I will run until I die.” That is the type of commitment needed to be a true team player, and as things stand right now, it could be what keeps him in the starting XI should he be healthy enough to play in the eastern conference final.

Powell has looked pretty well defensively in the two 120+ minute matches he’s played for Philly in the playoffs. He did have one mistake against Nashville as he failed to track Mukhtar’s sneaky run to his side where the MVP candidate scored a goal. Other than that, Powell has fit right into the Union’s stout backline that keeps them in games. He could even be seen as someone who is more defensively inclined than Mbaizo. Could this be the determining factor on who plays right-back on Sunday; who will Curtin ride with for the chance to make the MLS Cup final?

Who will Curtin ride with?

Jim Curtin is usually a coach who likes to stick to his guns, but in this instance which gun will he stick to? Mbaizo was his guy for the regular season. He’s a right-back that was groomed to be the replacement for club legend Ray Gaddis. Do you go back to him in the biggest match in club history, or do you go with a veteran player who has stepped up and played very well?

Powell has experience in these types of matches and has shown the willingness to put the teams’ needs over the self with his willingness to play through anything. Maybe Curtin roles with this hot-hand to keep the playoff continuity intact. It would make sense to play your better defensive right-back against the strong attack of NYCFC.

No matter who plays for the Union at the right-back position on Sunday, Philly will still need them to stay vigilant against the strong front four of NYCFC, while pushing the tempo down the right-wing to help with the Union attack. Either player will be up for the task of helping Philadelphia make their first-ever MLS Cup final!

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

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Philadelphia Union Editor of Soccer Content

A passion for the beautiful game drives me.

Twitter: @Tim_Lovenguth

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