Week 34 Recap: Let the Games Begin…

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union’s outing against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium marked the end of the regular MLS season, along with seeing the Boys In Blue clinch second place in the Eastern Conference.

The first half of the game saw tempers flare on both sides, proving just how much this Decision Day matchup meant to both teams on the field. The Union’s Jose Martinez and NYCFC’s Valentin Castellanos were the first ones to see tensions boil over, with Castellanos making an early tackle on Martinez with his studs up, but Martinez was able to avoid the brunt of the contact.

Later, in the 21st minute, Leon Flach was on the receiving end of NYCFC’s aggression. The 20-year-old was wiped out by Gedion Zelalem just outside the 18-yard box, causing Zelalem to initially receive a yellow card from the referee. However, after the play was reviewed on VAR, Zelalem received his marching orders with a red card.

Now a man up, the Union offense were off the races. Olivier Mbaizo made the most of his right wing, sending a laser of a pass to Kacper Przybyłko, who couldn’t get his foot on it. The ball skittered to the back post, where a waiting Flach recovered it and sent it back to the Polish striker, who was able to tap it in to put the Union up 1-0.

The defense was also on point for this final game, with center backs Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott proving why they’re one of the most efficient and solid duos in the league. A myriad of well-timed blocks and toed-away clearances ensured that Andre Blake wouldn’t have much to do in the first half, and kept the home team without a goal.

As the first half ticked away into stoppage time, the Union almost nabbed a second goal. Glesnes made a routine clearance on an NYCFC counterattack, which found Daniel Gazdag in NYCFC territory. Gazdag stayed on the ball during a one-on-one faceoff, but pressure from the defender marking him forced a weak pass off the Hungarian’s foot.

Despite the lack of power on the cross, Przybylko didn’t let a potential goalscoring opportunity go to waste. Although he was able to gain possession, the small, tight angles of the Yankee Stadium pitch proved to be too difficult to navigate, and neither Przybylko nor Gazdag could find the back of the net.

The Boys In Blue went into halftime up 1-0, but they quickly squandered that lead once the second half kicked off. A poor clearance found NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez, who sent a ball skipping across to Golden Boot-contender Castellanos, who was able to head it past Blake to draw NYCFC level at 1-1.

It was anyone’s game at that point, but the Union’s workrate immediately went up after losing their goal advantage. Alejandro Bedoya displayed an impressive bit of skill, intercepting a counterattack before dancing out to the flank and finding Jamiro Monteiro. Monteiro floated a pass to Przybylko in the box, but it failed to lead to a goal.

Jim Curtin, in true Curtin fashion, made a trifecta of substitutions to bolster the offense in the last third of the game. Homegrowns Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn entered the fray, along with Cory Burke, but a second goal wasn’t to be for either side, as the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Man of the Match: It was a good team performance, and everybody did their part to pick up the away point, but Przybylko’s goal (his 12th of the season) made a strong case for him to be MOTM. His lone goal made the draw possible, but a special shutout also needs to be given to the midfield, who created a multitude of goalscoring opportunities throughout the entire game.

The Main Takeaway: Although a win would’ve obviously been the most ideal outcome, clinching second place was the ultimate goal, and it was achieved. The Union now have a home playoff game (against the New York Red Bulls, no less!) and can go into the playoffs motivated by a series of exemplary performances. Now, it’s all eyes on the MLS Cup.

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