CHESTER, Pa. – When Stefani Miglioranzi arrived at PPL Park on Sunday for the Union’s first-ever MLS Cup playoff game, he had an inkling that he might see his name in the starting lineup.
He was right.
For the first time since Sept. 7, Miglioranzi’s name was plugged into the starting XI.
“We had been working on some things in practice during the week, so I was prepared,” Miglioranzi told philadelphiaunion.com after the match. “It had been a while since I started. I kept working hard every day. It’s always nice to be rewarded when you’re putting in the work. I support my teammates and I know they support me. It did feel good to see my name in the starting lineup. I have always tried to stay ready for anything.”
The Union fell 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The second leg will take place Thursday night at Robertson Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
The 34-year-old Miglioranzi, who had never appeared in the MLS Cup Playoffs before, was inserted as a fifth defender to help combat Houston's aerial attack and enable both Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan freedom to push up along the flanks. While the experiment didn't quite work – Houston scored on a set piece in the fifth minute and again in the 30th minute on a play that was later confirmed to be offside – Miglioranzi made several important clearances.
“It was something different from what I had been used to,” Miglioranzi said. “I got comfortable. All week, the technical staff worked on it and [manager] Peter [Nowak] explained to me how he wanted me to work within the system. We kept extra people in the back to take away some things they were trying to do.
“I think on their second goal, it was an offsides play anyway. Overall, I thought our system worked well.”
Nowak explained his reasoning for the lineup change following the match.
“We decided to go this way not only from a defensive standpoint, but also from an offensive standpoint so we could push a little higher both guys on the wings,” Nowak said. “But I think we weren’t balanced well in the first half and there was a lot of easy passes that didn’t go to the wing. It was easy to put some passes together for them.”
Nowak, who is known for frequently shuffling his lineup, always tells his players to be ready to play. On any given night, any player could find himself in the starting lineup.
Like any professional, Miglioranzi hopes to see his name in the starting lineup again on Thursday.
“I’m going to take the same approach this week that I have all season,” Miglioranzi said. “I’m a professional and I come to work every day with the mindset that I’ll be playing. You have to ready to play. The guys in this locker room support each other. I don’t know if the next match will be the same way. I’ll be ready and will support my teammates no matter what happens. We need to go down to Houston and win the match.”