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Eastern Conference Final Recap: That's A Wrap

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s not the ending any Union supporter wanted for the 2021 season, but a lineup absent of a majority of the team’s regular starters left the Union had a significant disadvantage before the game even started. Philadelphia played a much more aggressive style in order to make up for the lack of experience in the lineup, but it wasn’t enough to send them through to the MLS Cup Final.

It didn’t take long for Jose Martinez to get himself involved in an altercation, taking issue with NYCFC’s Santiago Rodriguez, causing both teams to get in on the arguing.

The first scoring opportunity of the game would come from Jack McGlynn, whose free kick nearly made it into the right corner of the net, but Sean Johnson was able to make the save.

Despite some strong clearances from the Union, who were missing three regular starters and goalkeeper Andre Blake, NYCFC held the majority of possession. Even though they controlled most of the first half of the game, New York resorted to more physical tactics to try and keep the Union from getting ahead. Both McGlynn and Jamiro Monteiro were targeted whenever they had the ball, but it didn’t keep the home team down.

In the 38th minute, Kacper Przybylko found a scoring opportunity, stretching his leg all the way to knock the ball directly into Johnson’s body.

Leon Flach had a golden chance in the 43rd minute, when a slide tackle on the defender sent the ball flying towards the net. Johnson was able to backtrack to keep both teams scoreless going into halftime.

The Union continued their attacking runs on NYCFC, with Daniel Gazdag maneuvering his way through bodies in the opposition’s box to connect with Flach, who made a brilliant run at the goal. Johnson was forced into another save, but the intensity of the Union’s offense was immediately obvious.

The opening minutes of the second half were dominated by both McGlynn and Flach, with the young midfielders taking full advantage of turnovers, and applying tons of pressure while connecting with Gazdag and Monteiro.

It was in the 63rd minute that the pressure paid off for the Union. Gazdag and Monteiro had some back-and-forth up the left side to send the ball into the six-yard box. Przybylko was the nearest Union player to the net, but the ball deflected off of NYCFC’s Alexander Callens for an own goal to put the Union up 1-0.

However, just under two minutes later, Maxi Moralez found an equalizer for the away team.

Undeterred by the equalizing goal, Philadelphia continued their relentless pressing, but didn’t have any goals to show off. On the other side of things, New York got into the Union’s box to test Matt Freese, who was able to push the ball out of danger.

As the second half ticked on, it was looking like yet another playoff game would head into overtime, but Martinez intercepted a clearance and passed it off to Nathan Harriel, whose header just went over the crossbar, denying him a potential game-winning goal.

It would be the visitors that would find the back of the net a second time, with Gudmundur Thorarinsson found Talles Magno for a tap-in goal that would prove to be the game-winner.

The Main Takeaway: Although it was a thoroughly disheartening way to end the season, it was the furthest the Union have ever gotten in the playoffs, and proved why the Union are becoming powerhouses in MLS. They put on incredibly resilient performances, and proved just how good their regular Starting XI is. It’s been a historical season for the Boys In Blue, and while they didn’t make it all the way this season, they’ve built a sturdy foundation for an even better 2022 season.

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