One and done: NYCFC ends Philadelphia Union’s season
A zero will remain in the win column in two areas for the Philadelphia Union.
Philadelphia lost to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium for the second time in four days on Wednesday night in the Bronx. The Union’s 3-1 defeat to NYCFC ended their season and kept them winless in four MLS Cup Playoff matches dating back to 2011. They also remain winless on Yankee Stadium’s diminutive pitch.
After back-to-back wins against Seattle and Sporting Kansas City, the Union won only one of their next five matches. Philadelphia ends the season with three consecutive losses, which it hadn’t done all season. All three defeats were at the hands of New York teams.
NYCFC advances to face Atlanta United in a matchup of the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the conference semifinal home-and-home series.
The Union returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 when they led the Eastern Conference midway through the season before going winless in their final seven regular-season matches and losing to Toronto FC in the knockout round.
The Union set franchise records for wins with 15 and points with 50 this season, but that doesn’t mean coach Jim Curtin’s future with the team is certain. Former sporting director Earnie Stewart retained Curtin after last season, but it is yet to be seen whether his replacement, Ernst Tanner, will do the same.
“That’s not up for me,” Curtin said. “That’s up for them to decide. I know where I stand within the team. I know where I stand with the players. That’s kind of all that matters. That stuff’s out of my hands.”
Philadelphia’s starting backline — which includes 19-year-old Mark McKenzie and 20-year-old Auston Trusty — was the youngest group part of a starting 11 in an MLS Cup Playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. At times, it showed, Curtin said.
“In a big game against a team that is of the quality of NYCFC, we were a little naive and young maybe in our transition defense, and the quality of players punished us,” he said.
“I think we’re a bit naive back there, but at the same time, they’re young kids,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “They’re going to learn from this experience. They’re going to learn from these games that you have players like [Maxi] Moralez and David Villa and big guns that they’ve faced that they’ve held their own, don’t get me wrong. But these games, some of these goals when we look back on the videos and stuff, can’t get beat, sometimes, that easily.”
NYCFC’s second goal came on a counter attack after a turnover in the Union’s attacking end. Moralez threaded a pass to Villa, who put a shot past Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Moralez iced the game in the 78th minute with another goal off a turnover. Anton Tinnerholm lofted a long pass to him down the right side over Trusty’s head. Moralez corraled the pass and chipped the ball over Blake’s head, with it nestling softly into the net.
Moralez finished with one goal, two assists and three key passes. Tinnerholm added two key passes of his own.
Much like in their U.S. Open Cup Final loss to Houston, the Union got off to a slow start. New York had upwards of 75 percent of possession in the first 10 minutes, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi put NYCFC up 1-0 on a goal coming off a turnover by McKenzie.
“I have a lot to improve on and that shows in these last couple of games,” McKenzie said. “I have errors that need to be cleaner. So I’ve got to go back and look at some stuff, but I’m proud of the season I’ve had and I look forward to coming back in next year and doing better.”
Curtin made an attack-minded substitution in the 71st minute by bringing on CJ Sapong. Warren Creavalle started the match in Sapong’s place and Bedoya slid over to the right side of the formation.
Creavalle came off at halftime in favor of Ilsihnho, who assisted the Union’s lone goal — a consolation tally by Cory Burke in the 83rd minute.
Curtin said the halftime substitution was because the team needed to get back in the game while trailing by two. The Union would have trailed 3-0 at halftime if not for a diving save by Blake in stoppage time off a free kick by Villa.
“Warren was not at fault on any of the goals at all so just a matter of making the change at halftime to give us the spark and get back in the game,” Curtin said.
Curtin believes the Union have established an identity of good, young American players and experienced veterans who can contribute.
Though changes will happen over the offseason, Bedoya is optimistic for the future of the club.
“The way we play soccer, the style we play, I think is something to build on,” he said. “And the youth in this club, there’s a lot of good young players and we have a good mix of experienced players. So I’m hopeful for the future for sure for this club.”