The Philadelphia Union has once again advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. This time around, they dispatched FC Cincinnati by the score line of 1-0 courtesy of an outside-of-the-foot strike by Leon Flach. This game was an absolute chess match as both teams were not trying to show their hand early on. The key matchup heading into this game was El Brujo vs Luciano Acosta as Acosta had gotten the better of El Brujo in the last matchup.
El Brujo must have learned well from that game as he made Acosta a non-factor in the game, except for a shot that was easily stopped by Andre Blake. The striker duo of Vazquez and Brenner were made ineffective as the Union defense made their lives a living hell, giving them no space whatsoever and shutting down any real threats they had. When they did not, Andre Blake stepped up to do some of his usual theatrics and show why he is a now three-time Goalkeeper of the Year.
Union vs NYCFC Playoff Preview
Now that the team has gotten past that mountain, another familiar mountain stares them in the face in the form of NYCFC. While this team is very familiar to the Union, this matchup will add even more drama and intrigue if we all remember back to last year. The Union faced off against this very NYCFC side but was severely hobbled by a COVID outbreak that saw eleven players forced out, six of which were key starters.
The Union tried their best and nearly stole the game, but unfortunately lost 2-1, which saw NYCFC advance to face Portland where they ended up winning MLS Cup in PKs. Let us take a look at how NYCFC got to this point, a player to watch out for, and a prediction for what is sure to be an absolute juggernaut of a game.
2022 MLS Season
NYCFC has sure had an interesting season. There is B.T.L and A.T.L in the periods of this team. The first period, B.T.L, or Before Taty Left, was an up-and-down period for the club. It saw them get knocked out of the CCL semifinals by eventual champion Seattle Sounders. It also saw them lose twice to this very Union side. There were certainly some good and bad moments in that period, and it made for a very unpredictable side.
The second period, A.T.L, or After Taty Left, has also been an up-and-down period but more recently, it has been up. Since the Campeones Cup victory over Atlas, this side has not lost a game. This includes the two playoff games that have gotten them here to this point. The first was a 3-0 demolition of Inter Miami at Citi Field in very wet conditions.
The second game saw them travel up to Montreal and after weathering an intense storm, which saw Sean Johnson stand on his head and Montreal miss a number of key chances, this NYCFC side walked out of the Stade Saputo with a 3-1 victory. So, while Union fans are sure to be excited about the prospect of facing NYCFC again in the ECF, this team is not to be taken lightly and will certainly bring a formidable plan to Chester.
This NYCFC side is not fully the same that the Union saw back in June. They have seen their star striker leave for La Liga, but there are still players on this squad that can absolutely pick teams apart given the chance. The player I believe will be a deciding factor in this game is a man who like Alejandro Bedoya has been drinking from the fountain of youth this season. This person is none other than the diminutive attacking midfielder Maxi Moralez.
The thirty-five-year-old attacking mid has certainly had his injury issues this year. But, since the departure of Taty Castellanos, he has truly stepped up and become an absolute leader on the field. His ability to pull the strings of the offense and follow up on plays will make him an absolute threat in this Eastern Conference Final. El Brujo will once again have his hands full with a smaller and just as dangerous attacking-mid threat. If El Brujo can do to Moralez what he did to Acosta, the NYCFC offense will be in for a long and frustrating night.
Who says soccer does not have storylines and intrigue? The fact that these two teams face off in the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back years truly makes things very interesting. Especially since most Union fans will tell you that they feel like revenge is in order after what happened last year. I am sure this is on the mind of Jim Curtin and the entire squad that was a part of last year’s matchup, but they cannot let them distract them from the game at hand.
If the Union can play their style, the chances will surely come against an NYCFC defense that has had some injuries and could be susceptible to a counterattack. But the Union must be careful about being exposed on the counterattack themselves. NYCFC still have dangerous attacking threats and they will absolutely put them to full use in Chester. I fully expect Subaru Park to be rocking and for both teams to throw everything they have at each other.
This game will certainly have a lot of chances, but it will be interesting to see which team is more clinical in front of net and can get it past the star keepers occupying both nets. In the end, I do believe that the Union will be able to exact revenge on this NYCFC side for last year’s game. It will be a tight affair, but I believe the Union will come out on top 2-1. Game time on Sunday is 8 pm ET.
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Mandatory Credit: Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire