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Oppo research: Questions for Brotherly Game

Here’s why the Philadelphia Union thinks it will beat NYCFC in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs

MLS: Playoffs- Semifinals-Nashville SC at Philadelphia Union
Penalty shootouts are more fun when you win.
Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Hudson River Blue asked Joe Lister of Brotherly Game to give us some friendly insight into the Philadelphia Union, New York City FC’s opponents in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday.

The last time Philadelphia striker Kacper Przybylko scored was in the 1-1 draw against NYCFC on November 7, almost four weeks ago. Since then the Union won both of its games, but the team didn’t grab either one by the scruff of the neck. Is that worrying? How will Przybyłko and the rest of the squad try to jump-start the attack?

Quite frankly, Kacper Przybylko is not that great a striker. This is debated amongst Union fans, but Kacper is very hot and cold, and he’s usually cold. When he’s hot, the Union looks solid on offense, but they’ve been able to survive without him by relying on their defense.

Without Kacper looking great, look for some wild shots from 20-25 yards out that will make every NFL kicker proud. Eventually, there will be a strong cross into the box and someone will score a tap-in from point black (most likely Daniel Gazdag right now). There won’t necessarily be a jump-start, just a slow, grueling path towards one, maybe two goals.

What do you think the lineup will be on Sunday, and how will manager Jim Curtin approach this game?

Blake; Wanger, Elliott, Glesnes, Mbaizo; Flach, Martinez, Bedoya; Montiero, Gazdag; Przybylko.

Curtin’s gonna play this game like most of his others. You won’t see many subs used, probably one or two in regulation (I’m just going to blatantly assume this going to ET). Look for some slow and consistent play out of the back, and lots of play down the side of the pitch. The Union is very comfortable with pushing up when they need to, and only leaving one or two back to defend. New York will want to capitalize on counterattacks after free kicks (the Union has had a few close calls on that front), but it will be tough to beat the Union’s defense and stay ahead of the rest of the defense as they retreat.

Curtin trusts his guys to play simple soccer. Don’t expect anything flashy. Just a good, old-fashioned slog to the finish.

Jack McGlynn’s stutter-step penalty against Nashville was a mini-masterpiece. The 18-year-old came in as a substitute—he can’t buy a White Claw but he can seal an Eastern Conference Semifinal win. What other players on the Philadelphia squad should we get to know?

One of my warmer takes is the José Martínez and Alejandro Bedoya will be huge for Philly at the end of the stretch. Both of those guys just want to win so bad, and they’re so good when they’re motivated, especially Bedoya. Martínez has a fiery spirit and will try to get some good sh*thousery in (see him starting a fight after the Union scored against Nashville.) For Bedoya, this may be the last/last two games of his career. He’s going to want to win, badly. Look at him giving it everything he’s got for the Union.

Olivier Mbaizo will most likely make his return to the lineup after missing time due to COVID protocols, watch him on the right side of the field. The Union likes to use him and Bedoya as a combo/quick hit on that side, so whether or not Mbaizo is in good form can dictate how the Union approaches that side of the field.

The oddsmakers are giving Philadelphia a slight edge over NYCFC. Do you agree that the Union is the favorite?

I’ve got the Union picked to win and advance. NYCFC coming off of shorter rest + sin Castellanos + being 4-8-5 on the road gives the Union the advantage in Chester. Not that NYC’s offense is entirely based upon Castellanos, but without him, I’m looking for Elliott and Glesnes to shut down NYCFC’s attack. I think the one thing holding back Philly is their lack of a solid #9, but I think that they’ll be able to push through for a 2-1 win in extra time.

What is Philadelphia’s X-factor, the superpower that doesn’t show up in team stats but that can change games?

The Union is made up of 120-minute men. Just about everyone went 90 minutes against Nashville, and most of the team has the stamina to go 120 without slowing down too much. If the game against New York goes to extra time or even penalty kicks, I have full faith in most of the XI to be comfortable going the stretch and taking the shot (outside of Sergio Santos, he cannot take penalties to save his life). Stamina will probably come into play on Sunday, look for that in the Union to be a deciding factor.