Philadelphia Union

With backs against a wall, Union show why they’re a top team in MLS

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The Philadelphia Union were hit hard by Covid, and still almost pulled off the biggest win in club history this past Sunday. They fell in the eastern conference final 2-1 to NYCFC after a heartbreaking goal for the visitors. The result is a tough pill to swallow, but the effort by the Union shows us just how far the Union has come in 12 seasons. With their backs against a wall, the Union showed why they’re a top team in MLS.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Twitter

Backs against a wall

The Union embraced the underdog mentality on short notice when they found out 11 players were going to be out for the biggest match in club history. It was next man up as players who rarely played in 2021 were called to fight for Philly as they tried to grind out a path to MLS Cup 2021. Alas, the group fell just short as an 88th minute NYCFC goal sealed a brutal end to the Union’s 2021 season. While the pain of the loss is still fresh in the minds of fans, it’s important to look back at the effort, and why it is setting up Philly as a top team in MLS moving forward.

A unified XI

Matt Freese, Oliver Mbaizo, Aurelien Collin, Stuart Findlay, Nathan Harriel, Jack McGlynn, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag, Jamiro Monteiro, and Kacper Przybylko were the 11 players that were called upon to beat an NYCFC team missing a few important players as well. This Union team had just six normal starters on it and was missing a third of their backline and star goalkeeper. The attack was intact; however, their struggles in the early round of the playoffs didn’t disappear in the eastern conference finals.

Homegrowns Matt Freese, Nathan Harriel, and Jack McGlynn came in and played very well given the circumstances. Stuart Findlay held things down at centerback with his MLS veteran counterpart Aurelien Collin. Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag, and Jamiro Monteiro gave 100% effort on the day as normal starters; unfortunately, Kacper Przybylko and Oliver Mbaizo had rough goes of it while trying their best. Of these players punching above their weight, two deserve to be looked at a bit deeper to understand their importance.

Captain Jamiro

Jamiro Monteiro captained this Union side during their valiant performance. This would have been something unimaginable just five months ago. Monteiro was away from the team and visibly upset about his role on it as he was relegated to the bench at times for Daniel Gazdag. In the eastern conference final, those two played as dual-10s and almost pulled off the unthinkable.

Captain Jamiro was a sight to behold, and he took to Instagram after the match saying “we will come back stronger.” His commitment to the team in their biggest match was heroic! Could we see more of Monterio in the blue and Gold in 2022?

Turning back the clock

Aurelien Collin didn’t play at all during the 2021 season, and in their time of most need, he stepped in and looked like a vintage version of himself. The defender who had lost a step from his MLS Cup MVP form in 2013, turned back the clock and had an amazing performance.

In what could have been the final performance of his professional career the veteran stood tall and gave his all for his club. He knew what it felt like to make an MLS Cup and win it, he did all he could to make this improbable Union team taste the same glory. The team fell just short of that glory, but the effort from Collin, the entire team, and head coach Jim Curtin should be commended.

A shorthanded coaching mastercalss

Jim Curtin gave a rousing press conference on Friday when he mentioned that his team was hard hit by Covid. His words were buzzing in the ears of players who knew they’d have to be the ones carrying this team in the eastern conference final. Curtin said all the right things ahead of the match and did all the right things with a depleted roster during the match.

In the game, Curtin only made one substitute when the match was tied. He brought on versatile midfielder Jesus Bueno for Jack McGlynn. This was to lock down the midfield and hold for extra time. After the Union scored a goal and only held a lead for two minutes of game time, Curtin’s tactics were made clear. Unfortunately, when NYCFC scored in the 88th minute, that tactic was thrown out the window. Paxten Aaronson and Anthony Fontana were then brought on to try and will an equalizer. Curtin did a great job, but only bring a knife to a gunfight.

A knife to a gunfight

Curtin spoke after the match about how his team fought so hard for him, for the fans, and for the city of Philadelphia. However, he spoke to the Union’s resources being less than others a few times. The first was about how he had healthy players not able to play. this could have been a dig at MLS’ health and safety protocols, but more so, could be about his team not having the same caliber of players.

As he was speaking to the press Curtin heard NYCFC’s party in the away locker room, which is right next to the press room at Subaru Park. He noted hearing them and jested about NYCFC’s ability to have Oil Money fund their team. He’s not wrong, and he was making that point to speak to the Union’s owner Jay Sugarman. If the Union were able to bring in some more quality players maybe then when the team is hit by bad luck they’ll still have a difference-maker who can win them a game, or limit game-changing mistakes.

A theme of 2021 ended this teams hopes

In 2021, the Union’s form barely dipped from what it was in 2020. However, the 2021 team had a habit of making bonehead mistakes at terrible times which resulted in dropped points. In the eastern conference final, both goals were a result of mistakes from right-back Oliver Mbaizo. It was an unlucky and avoidable mistake, but that was the theme of 2021 for this Union team.

The 2021 season was nothing but a success, but the end was plagued by bad luck and mistakes. Now the tides turn to during up the roster for the 2022 season. Transfers in and out will set this team up for next year, which is only 80 days away now!

2022 is only 80 days away!

The Union kicks off their 2022 season at home in 80 days! They welcome Minnesota United to Subaru Park on February 26th. In 12 weeks, the 2022 season kicks off!

Now that the eastern conference final is behind us, we can tie a bow on the 2021 season and look forward to the offseason moves the Union is going to make. The 2021 season may be over, but there is little time before a ball will be kicked in 2022. The Union should bolster their roster, and take the next logical step; being a consistent top team in MLS.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Twitter

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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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