A lineup lacking many of the stars of the 2021 playoff run showed no fear as they looked to execute a game plan that took away NYCFC’s creators. Long balls to Kacper Przybylko were knocked down and surrounded by navy jerseys as the visitors felt the full force of Philly’s aggressive style.
The opening exchanges went from physical to verbal when Jose Martinez took exception to Santiago Rodriguez and let him know. Both teams jawed at each other until Ted Unkel restarted play.
Jack McGlynn had the first real threat on either goal when he spun a long free kick toward Sean Johnson’s right corner but the NYCFC goalie moved across to gather.
NYCFC was determined to advance up the Union right side before flipping play across the pitch and looking for Maxi Moralez.
Philadelphia’s defense, missing three of its regular starters and goalkeeper Andre Blake, put out fires before they developed. Although NYCFC had plenty of possession, a dedicated press far up the pitch prevented the visitors from developing their intricate movements in the final third.
Kacper Przybylko worked tirelessly at the tip of the spear to ensure NYC could not quickly transition out of the back, and he didn’t get his first look at goal until the 38th minute. Running onto a throughball with a man at his side, Przybylko had to stretch to get a shot away and could only direct it toward Johnson’s body.
Although the Union were missing half of their normal starters, it was NYCFC that resorted to tough tactics as they looked to get physical with Jack McGlynn and Jamiro Monteiro at every opportunity. Both Union players, though slight in stature, rose from the mat undaunted each time they were knocked down.
In the 43rd minute, high pressing nearly resulted in a stunning goal after Flach slid at a defender at the top of the box and the tackle sent the ball looping toward the goal. Johnson spotted it and backpedaled to collect.
Directly out of halftime, the Union galloped into NYC’s box and let Gazdag find an opening in traffic. The Hungarian spotted Flach’s late run but the young midfielder’s shot was pushed wide of the far post by an aware Johnson.
NYC wanted a slower match. Instead, Philly’s playmakers activated their energetic midfield support as McGlynn and Flach dictated the match with high pressure after turnovers and overlapping runs past Gazdag and Monteiro.
The game finally broke open in the 63rd minute when Gazdag and Monteiro combined on the left to create enough space for the Hungarian to zip a curling cross into the six yard box where it was deflected into the net by Alexander Callens with Przybylko lurking behind him.
Two minutes later, Maxi Moralez evened the scoreline from the center of the box.
If NYC thought that would finally break the young Union side, they were soon disappointed. Again and again, Philly flew forward to initiate high pressure and make the first passes out of the back difficult.
The visitors resorted to using size over skill as the match wore on and served a ball in from the right to a mass of bodies. The deflection that resulted was wide of Matt Freese’s position at close range. The Homegrown goalie was on springs and floated to his right to push the ball clear.
As the final five minutes of regulation time began, Jose Martinez collected a half-clearance and served it to the back post for Nate Harriel but the Homegrown defender powered his header just over the bar.
In the final moments of regulation, substitute Gudmundur Thórarinsson found Talles Magno in the middle for a tap-in that would prove to be the winner.
While the loss concludes Philadelphia Union’s 2021 season, the club once again rose to new heights under the leadership of Sporting Direct Ernst Tanner and Head Coach Jim Curtin. The Union went the furthest of any MLS club in Concacaf Champions League, getting past Deportivo Saprissa and Atlanta United FC along the way. In MLS play, the club saw its latest class of homegrowns combine for five goals and three assists in nearly 2,000 minutes, and saw them step up, unafraid, in a Eastern Conference Final.