For the second consecutive year, Philadelphia Union hosts New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Final that will take place Sunday night at Subaru Park. The Union look to avenge themselves and dethrone the defending MLS Cup Champions to book a trip to the club’s first MLS Cup. 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year, Jim Curtin talked today about the upcoming matchup and how much fun it is to be a part of the dominant Philly sports wave that has taken over the city these past few weeks. These are our Founders Brewing Co. Pressing Points.
Last Year is Last Year
After a hard fought 1-0 victory last week against FC Cincinnati, the Union look to keep their season alive against NYCFC and be crowned Eastern Conference Champions for the first time ever. The rivals once again meet each other in the Conference Final for the second straight year, which lines up to be an electric matchup. With two wins over NYCFC already in 2022, the Union aim to stay perfect against the defending champs, in what Coach Curtin predicts will be a very difficult matchup.
“This sets us up now for a big match against New York City, an opponent that we know very well, again, one that we played twice this year, and both games were very highly contested and very tough. I think Nick Cushing has done a very good job, coming in and stabilizing things there and keeping them going,” Curtin said. They’re a tough opponent, they’ve done a very good job and had a great season. It’s two really good teams that I think are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference this season, and we get to play in our home stadium, which is something that we worked very hard to get, but we expect a difficult match and we look forward to the challenge.
With the taste of the outcome of last year’s Eastern Conference Final still in the mouths of the team and fans, Coach Curtin has full confidence in his guys to get a different result in this year’s matchup
“There’s a lot of different narratives that people like to talk about, but we know they’re a good opponent, last year is last year, and this is a new opportunity for us… I’ll never move on from it, because it still happened and it’s still a part of our history, and it’s part of the Philadelphia lore, but I’m a big believer that if you work hard, good things will happen to you, and we’re back in the same spot now, and it’ll make it a little bit sweeter if we’re able to go on and reach our first MLS Cup. Sports are like that, they have a funny way of ‘you take one step forward, then you take two steps back,’ but then you gotta keep going and get back up, so that’s an example of that. I think this group has done incredible things this year, and has played with a chip on their shoulder for 35 games, and have worked real hard to get back to this position, so the guys are certainly excited and thrilled that they’re going to be a part of the game this year.”
The Captain Returns
After missing three of the last four games with an injury, captain Alejandro Bedoya has a good chance to suit up and play a role in this Sunday night’s conference final. Curtin has felt it’s best to play it slow with the 35-year old midfielder, but said today that he’s feeling better and was able to get in a full practice session for the first time.
“He trained full today, which was great, so we’ll see how his body responds to that. Obviously we have two more sessions going in, so a little bit of a longer week, and we were able to ease him into the week. He’s pushed himself very hard, and worked very hard, and he doesn’t have a ton of discomfort as of right now, so again, we’ll see how he responds to today’s full session, which was a transition day, so a high intensity session and he’s had no issues reported so far. I think it’s pretty safe to say, whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench, he’ll play a role, and a big one in this game, because he’s our captain and our leader, and we need him.”
For the second time in three years, Jim Curtin has been named as the 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year, making him just the fourth coach in MLS history to win the prestigious award multiple times. Coach Curtin has led his team to an amazing run in the 2022 campaign, coaching his team to scoring the most goals in a season in club history, while also setting the MLS record for least amount of goals allowed in a 34 game season.
“It always starts at the top, in Jay Sugarman, I’m grateful for everything that he’s done for the club, Ernst Tanner for providing me with incredible players, Garrison Draper for keeping this team so healthy and fit and on the field playing together, and my assistant coaches that have done an incredible job,” Curtin said on behalf of his award. “It’s been a real team effort, but obviously having great players helps. Everybody in that locker room shares in the individual accolades that we get, the same way that Jack Elliott, and Mbaizo, and Kai, share in Jakob getting defender of the year. I do believe that when the team has success, and everybody is on the same page, that the individual accolades usually follow.
Obviously the award means a lot to the Pennsylvania native, but Coach Curtin has preached all year that nothing else matters to them other than an MLS Cup. The head coach has said countless times throughout the year that winning is the priority, and by doing so, all of the individual accolades will come with it.
“It’s a real tremendous honor, and something that I’m very grateful for. Thank you to everyone that voted for me, it means a lot, but at the same time, I want this team to have success, and I want this team to win, and ultimately our goal is MLS Cup, which would be an amazing way to cap off the year.”
The city of Philadelphia has been on another level these past few weeks with the way their sports teams have been playing. There is a completely different vibe and energy that has been going around due to the success the teams have had. With the Phillies now in the World Series, the Eagles sitting undefeated at 6-0, the Flyers and Sixers starting off their 2022-23 campaigns, and the Union now in the Eastern Conference Finals, this city has a buzz that hasn’t been felt since the 80s. Coach Curtin talked today about what it feels like to play during a time like this.
“The biggest thing I can say is that there’s a great energy right now and the city is buzzing for sure. When you walk around, it’s all Phillies, Eagles, and Union talk, and it’s really cool to be a part of, and it’s really cool that our players, and the Phillies, and Eagles, and Sixers, and the Flyers all share the spotlight,” Curtin said. “Our guys are going to their games, their guys are coming to our games, that camaraderie is real, and I think it’s something that speaks to the growth of soccer, because we’re the new team in town, let’s be honest, and to see us almost as equals now is something that we have worked very hard for in this city, and something that I’m very proud of as the leader of the team.
This upcoming week will be a very historic one with the way the schedules are set. All five major sports teams in the city will all be playing meaningful games throughout the week, an occurrence that very rarely ever happens in one city. The Eastern Conference Final on Sunday is just hours after the Eagles face their Pennsylvania rival in the Steelers, which splits Games 2 and 3 of the World Series between the Phillies and Astros. If the stars align correctly, Game 7 of the World Series would be played on the same day as the MLS Cup, which could cause absolute mayhem in Philadelphia. The fans in Philly are on another level and have really brought their energy to give their teams a true home-field advantage
“A big thank you to our fans, they’ve made Subaru Park the best atmosphere and the toughest place for the opponent to come play in all of the MLS,” Curtin said.