Eastern Conference Final Preview: Union vs. NYCFC

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The playoffs have been nothing short of chaotic and dramatic for the Union, but things have taken a turn for the worse in the leadup to the Eastern Conference Final at Subaru Park.

It was announced on Dec. 4 that 11 Union players had been placed into Health and Safety protocols, rendering them unavailable for selection against NYCFC. It’s a crushing blow, as a majority of the players on the list have been crucial to Philadelphia’s success in these playoffs. Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, Joe Bendik, Cory Burke, Jack Elliott, Jakob Glesnes, Ilsinho, Alvas Powell, Sergio Santos, Quinn Sullivan, and Kai Wagner will have to quarantine pending COVID-19 test results.

To fill out the roster, Jim Curtin has added Homegrowns Brendan Craig and Anton Sorenson, along with MLS pool goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh.

The loss of such essential players has sent the Union faithful into panic mode, but Curtin assured the masses in his press conference that the remaining players are up to the challenge of earning a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

There’s been a lot of emotion, a uniqueness in the week,” Curtin said. “The group was unable to train [on Thursday] due to players going in health and safety protocols of MLS. We were able to return to practice today on the field. We will follow the league protocols with hope of having as many players available for our game against New York City FC. I cannot speak on the health of certain individual players, but our players have worked tirelessly to get to this point and I know that they will be brave even in the adversity that we are facing right now.”

NYCFC will be formidable opponents, after their penalty shootout against the New England Revolution caused a major upset to bring them into the Eastern Conference Finals. Although they will also be without some key players, including MLS MVP finalist Taty Castellanos, they’ll still have a significant advantage over the Union in terms of roster experience, strength, and preparation for a game of this magnitude.

Curtin is still confident that the Union will come out victorious, stating, “We’ve stepped up in big moments all year long. International absences, challenges of Concacaf, players losing loved ones, adversity on and off the field, this group always finds a way to step up. I expect this weekend to be more of the same. We’ve had a next man up mentality all season long and we will continue to do that. We will make our fans proud. If history has shown us anything, it’s that a group of men, or a group of women, with absolutely nothing to lose can oftentimes be the most dangerous.”

The head coach also added, “I said it to the group, this is why you get paid money to play a sport. This is what the literal definition of what it means to be a professional—always being ready.”

Predicted Lineup: Matt Freese, Stuart Findlay, Brendan Craig, Anton Sorenson, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Jack McGlynn, Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybyłko, Daniel Gazdag

  • The defense will be the biggest concern for this lineup, seeing as everyone in the back line but Mbaizo has gotten very limited playing time this season, and the defense has been one of the main things keeping the Union in the playoffs. The midfield and strikers are relatively intact, but will be missing Bedoya’s crucial leadership skills, along with not having the option of an incredibly dynamic Sergio Santos.

Score Prediction: It’s entirely possible that this lineup will get the job done and keep NYCFC in check. New York is without their most dangerous offensive pieces, which will be a huge relief. It’s likely that the pattern of ending regulation play in a tie and finding a winner in stoppage time or penalties will continue, and the Union will find themselves with that winning goal. The universe has been on their side so far, and they need all the positivity they can get going into this game.

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