Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC Conference Final Preview
I wish this was not the reality, but unfortunately the real story of this game is how COVID is effecting it.
Things were looking absolutely great for the Union. They had advanced to their first conference final in team history after a penalty shootout win over Nashville. NYCFC had beat New England, which meant the Union would be hosting the game. Real Salt Lake's miracle run opened the door for the Union to host the MLS Cup. But, like all things in Philadelphia, something had to go wrong.
The Union have multiple players in health and safety protocols heading into this game. If you want to read specifically about that, you can skip to the "injury report" section, which will now be more like the health and safety protocols section.
How To Watch?
Kickoff is officially set for 3:00 PM EST on Sunday at Subaru Park, but on the MLS website it says that it will start at 3:18. Obviously I get it, the Eagles game is at 1, but hopefully the Eagles will have the New York Jets figured out by the second half. If not, the game is on ABC, so I'm sure everyone can get some split screen action going. Reminder that if you will be in Chester for the match, the Union have said to be in your seats by 2:50 for the pre match presentation. It is said to be a sellout, so if you will be joining me at the game, bring the noise. The Union are gonna need it.
How Does The Bracket Work?
The MLS Playoffs are similar to pretty much any tournament system you would see in the major sports. 7 teams make it from each conference, the #1 seed in each conference gets a bye. See the attached photo, but the Union are the #2 seed and NYCFC are the #4 seed. The winner of this game will face the winner of RSL/Portland in the MLS Cup final, and the Union would host the final if RSL win today. That game kicks off at 6:30 on FS1. The bracket is single elimination.
Who is Favored?
Before everything that has come out this week, the Union would definitely been favored. At home, riding momentum and New York being without striker Taty Castellanos. But now that the Union have an entire squad out for health and safety protocols, NYCFC will be heavy favorites heading into the game. It'll be interesting to see New York's game plan for this game, but we'll get into that shortly.
So, here we go. This morning, the Union released their player availability report, where 11 players were listed "out" due to the MLS health and safety protocols. Here it is:
If you are keeping track, that is the Union's captain, starting goalie, rotating striker, starting centerbacks, super sub, backup right back and starting leftback all listed on the report. That isn't even mentioning Quinn Sullivan who has produced some good moments this year. Now, I have to mention, that there is a bit of confusion to this "OUT" status. Although there is a very good chance that these players are out tomorrow, Matthew De George(trusted Union reporter) said on twitter that "players on this list are not practicing today. They are not necessarily out officially. They are also not necessarily confirmed positives." I think what Matthew is saying is that hope is not completely lost, but we should all go into tomorrow expecting to not have all these guys. It just sucks so much that this incredible season and playoff run are most likely going to be decided by something that they cannot control.
NYCFC have top striker Taty Castellanos out for this game due to a red card in the game against New England.
Instead of talking about matchups this week, I thought it would probably be more valuable to list what players the Union DO have. This is going to be a lot of words, so just bear with me. After maybe the best game of his career, Andre Blake is out and Matt Freese will hop into the sticks. We are most likely looking at a backline, from left to right, of Leon Flach, Aurelein Collin, Stuart Findlay and Olivier Mbaizo. Yes, you are reading that right, I believe that Flach will be the starting leftback. The Union legitimately dont have any other backs besides from Nathan Harriel, which I guess is an option on the left as well. Collin and Findlay basically have not played all season, and the only chemistry they'll have is off a couple days of training. If Jim Curtin is going to keep his famed diamond formation, then Jose Martinez will still be available to be the defensive mid. Bedoya is out and Flach will be in defense, so I'm assuming we'll see a pairing of Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn. Jesus Bueno could fit in there as well because of his experience. The one positive is that the Union have all of their attacking players who started last game. Daniel Gazdag and Jamiro Monteiro will start at the attacking mids, and Kacper Przybylko will start alone up top. I'm not sure what the deal is with Matheus Davo, but he'd be an option up front as well. Here is a more broad look:
GK: Freese, Greg Ranjitsingh
CB: Findlay, Collin, Brandan Craig(listed as unavailable on website), Cole Turner
FB: Mbaizo, Harriel, Flach?
MID: Martinez, Monteiro, Flach?, Aaronson, Bueno, McGlynn, Fontana, Gazdag
I mean, oh man. I'm not even sure if some of these guys like Turner and Craig are allowed to play. Fontana has been hurt all year and hasn't even been listed on bench for the two playoff games. I'd say Gazdag could play striker in an emergency situation but they don't exactly have a lot of depth at midfield when he leaves. At this point, there becomes a question wether or not the Union will even have enough players in the squad to play. From what I've read on that, the Union would have to fortfeit in that scenario. I don't mean to scare anyone, because I think this game will be played, but it's just sad to read things like this.
I hate that this has turned into a mostly negative article, since the Union are in the conference finals for the first time in their history. But this is the reality, the Union are absolutely devastated by the world we are living in right now. If they had a few players out, then I think the Union might be able to find a result at home, but this is just an excessive amount. The crowd will still be rocking, and these guys will try their absolute hardest to keep it going for the guys that are out. Unfortunately, this team just has no chemistry together. They are all on the roster for a reason, but New York is a team who can pick you apart even when you are at full strength with their skill and speed. I think New York win this one 3-0. I'd expect them to go at the Union defense early, since they are the especially weak group of the bunch. New York are just too good for this short handed Union team to have a real chance. Anything can happen, and I'm going to watch this game with as much confidence as possible, but I just don't see it.