Ahead of the Eastern Conference Final showdown between the Union and New York City FC presented by Independence Blue Cross on Sunday afternoon, Head Coach Jim Curtin gave an update on the squad and how the club will fully embrace the next man up mantra. These are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Different Sort of Week
Curtin began his weekly press conference in usual fashion, reflecting back on the club’s historic penalty shootout victory and the emotional atmosphere of Subaru Park.
“A special night in the club’s history. As loud as Subaru Park has ever been and I told the players that when Andre Blake makes the final save, the noise, excitement and scenes in the stadium are things I’ll never forget. What was most interesting was that as the players took a lap, it got louder and louder. We move on to the Eastern Conference Final where we look to create a similar atmosphere.”
Curtin then had a change of tone and informed the virtually gathered press on how the club’s preparation for the Eastern Conference Final hit an unforeseen turn ahead of Sunday’s match against NYCFC.
“There’s been a lot of emotion, a uniqueness in the week,” Curtin said. “The group was unable to train [Thursday] due to players going in health & safety protocols of MLS. We were able to return to practice today on the field. We will follow 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.”
Next Man Up
With so much unknown Curtin stressed that the Union will once again embrace their next man up mentality that has been displayed countless times in 2021.
“We’ve stepped up in big moments all year long. International absences, challenges of Concacaf, players losing love 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 show us anything, it’s that a group of men a group, or a group women, with absolutely nothing to lose, can often times be the most dangerous.”
The head coach did stress that despite the emotions of the changing situation, he has the full confidence in his squad and find a way to step up on the biggest stage on Sunday.
“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 is, always being ready.”
Physical Match Up ahead against NYC
NYCFC comes to Subaru Park on Sunday riding high after knocking off the 2021 Supporters’ Shield winning New England Revolution in penalty kicks. The win did come with a loss however with Golden Boot winner Valentín Castellanos sent off with a second yellow card in the final minutes of extra time.
“He’s a player you’d love to have on your team and a player you hate to play against and I say that as the ultimate compliment. He’s a tireless worker and a big part of their success this year and it is unfortunate that he gets the red card at the end when they are going on to their victory. It does make them weaker but they have an incredibly strong bench with attackers and a coach who has done a great job with his team.”
Sunday’s contest will be the fourth time the two sides have squared off in 2021 with all three of the previous matches in the regular season seeing one side with just 10 men at the final whistle. Curtin told the media that the red cards essentially remove just how much you can take from the contests since each side played with an advantage.
“When there is a red card early with Jose, you cannot take much from that game. We had the second one here at our stadium where we won, 1-0, but if you watch that game they dominated long stretches of that game and we defended well. In their building, I can remember walking with Ronny Deila and saying it’s a shame that the red card happens because it was a really good game. Both teams going after it in their building and we pressed them pretty well and made them uncomfortable. There hasn’t been a lot of 11v11 play with us this year but you can see just how tight the margins are in those games with both sides having a chance to win or lose the game.”
The Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs continue for the Union on Sunday, December 5, with the Philadelphia Union against New York City FC, presented by Independence Blue Cross. Kick off from Subaru Park is set for 3 p.m. ET with the match broadcast on 6abc and ESPN Deportes. Philadelphia Union will stream a special one-hour Union Pre-Kick Live Presented by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales on the Union's Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels.