5 things to watch ahead of Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC in the eastern conference final

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We are just two days away from playing a long-awaited game, the eastern conference final! The Union takes on an NYCFC team who they played last postseason in the same round; Philly fell 2-1 while missing 11 players due to Covid-19. Now, there’s a chance to make history and go to their first-ever MLS Cup in 2022!

CHESTER, PA – JULY 16: Philadelphia Union Midfielder Daniel Gazdag (6) is congratulated by teammates for scoring on a penalty kick during the second half of the Major League Soccer Match between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union on July 16, 2022, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Union vs NYCFC for a chance to go to MLS Cup!

This match is a much-anticipated one. Philly falling to NYCFC in 2021 was the end to what looked like a storybook run. The soccer Gods can be cruel, but they also give us great narratives. A rematch against the same team, in the same place, at the exact round of the playoffs as last postseason!

Philly vs New York City has been a budding rivalry for the past four seasons, and this will add another chapter to the book both clubs are writing. Here are five things to watch in the eastern conference final!

1. NYCFC’s Starting XI

NYCFC has a dangerous team, but they are on the verge of missing some very important players this weekend. First is their center back Maxime Chanot. Chanot was subbed out in the 14th minute of the eastern conference semifinal after an apparent injury. If he can’t go, their defense and shape could be very different, and it’s something Philly could exploit. Keep an eye for his name on the team sheet an hour before kickoff.

A player who might be an even bigger loss is Maxi Moralez. He is the talisman for this NYCFC team, pulling the strings to create and sometimes finish attacks. He was subbed out at halftime in the eastern conference semifinal. Losing him might be too much to handle, as he’s their captain and leader others look toward in tough times.

Another attacker is also possibly injured, Talles Magno. Union fans will remember Magno scored the goal in the 88th minute in last year’s eastern conference final to knock them out. Magno was a sub that came on for NYCFC in the eastern conference semifinal but would end up getting hurt near the end of the match. All three of these players are huge difference-makers for NYCFC. If they can’t go, Philly could get a big advantage.

2. Alejandro Bedoya’s role

The Union’s captain, Alejandro Bedoya has been injured since the middle of September, but it looks like he will play a role in the eastern conference final! Jim Curtin confirmed that Bedoya trained fully in a high-intensity training on Thursday. Will we see Bedoya from the start or maybe as a super-sub in this important match?

Union head coach, Jim Curtin mentioned that he will play a role on Sunday, but what that role will be is unknown. If he’s good to go, it would be a great advantage to see him start the match. The vocal leader he is is vital to Philly’s success, and they’re flat-out a better team when he’s on the pitch.

I’d expect to see Bedoya from the start if he can play, but we’ll have to wait to see the Union’s team sheet an hour before kickoff to know just how Alejandro Bedoya will impact this game.

3. Top goalkeeping will be on display

The two goalkeepers that will feature in the eastern conference final are two of the best in MLS and are possibly the best two left in the playoffs. Philly’s Andre Blake is the first-ever keeper to win goalkeeper of the year three times; NYCFC’s Sean Johnson is last year’s MLS Cup MVP, these two are on a different level than other keepers.

If either team wants to make the 2022 MLS Cup Final, they’ll need huge contributions from their goalkeepers. Both Blake and Johnson won’t be called upon to make double-digit saves, as their defenses are both very good, but it’s when they’re called to make a game-defining save that they will need to step up.

We’ve seen it from both teams, having a goalkeeper who can win you a match by making big-time saves can be the difference between survival and going out of the playoffs. The goalkeeper who can pull out more spectacular saves will be the one who will be celebrating a trip to MLS Cup on Sunday night!

4. NYCFC’s on-the-ball ability

NYCFC is a strong team when they play with the ball; however, they have shown in their few games that it’s not always how they play. In the eastern conference semifinal, they sat back at Montreal and dared them to come at them. This tactic allowed for room to counter and win by getting three brilliantly worked goals.

Sitting back isn’t really the NYCFC way though. In the first round of the playoffs, they dominated the ball and showed their great ability with it beating Miami 3-0. NYCFC’s midfield seems to be clicking at the moment with the ball at their feet, and if they choose to play with it, then it’s something to watch at Philly.

New York City cannot afford to sit back against Philly, or the Union will tear their defense apart, especially if they’re without Chanot. They’ll need to use the ball, and try to beat Flach, Bedoya or McGlynn, and Martinez to create attacks. That will be the main matchup to watch; whoever’s midfield can dominate the game and get in a rhythm might just determine who makes the 2022 MLS Cup.

5. Philly’s chance for revenge

The Union has waited so long for this match. While they may be downplaying that they’ve wanted to make it back to the eastern conference final and get another crack at NYCFC, we all know they are looking for revenge against NYCFC.

Philly’s goal is to make MLS Cup for the first time ever, and win it! It was clear that was the goal, as the team talked about it before the season started. Now they’re at the spot they were last postseason, and they get a crack at a team they beat twice in the regular season, after falling to NYCFC in heartbreaking fashion.

How the team deals with this pressure will determine how the match goes. However, I think that the pressure might not be as big a problem for Philly, as they have planned to make it here for so long. The opponent might be an added bit of motivation rather than pressure. It’s time for some revenge!

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Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire