We chatted with Brotherly Game’s Joe Lister in advance of Sunday’s grudge rematch between New York City FC and Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, and got some intel about the No 1 seed. We think Lister is a good dude, and look forward to sitting down for a drink with him some day — and sharing a laugh about how wrong his scoreline prediction proved to be.
Hudson River Blue: Does last year’s loss in the Eastern Conference Finals loom large in the collective minds of DOOP fans? Or is that ancient history, last year’s drama?
Joe Lister: Last year’s ECF is the entire storyline of this season. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that with a healthy team the Union beats NYCFC in last year’s ECF, and then likely beats Portland. For a team that has been so good for four to five years now, it’s past due for an MLS Cup. Every fan and player feels snubbed, and it’s what the whole group has been wanting a second chance at. That the ECF is between NYC and Philly again is just too poetic, and I think that everyone is anticipating redemption.
HRB: Philadelphia made two key upgrades by bringing on Designated Players Julián Carranza (14 goals, 9 assists) and Mikael Uhre (13 goals, 6 assists) to join Dániel Gazdag (22 goals, 10 assists). That’s a lot of swagger from three players. How have they changed the team?
JL: Jim Curtin has said it repeatedly, he’d rather have a shutout than six or seven goals. Somewhat because of this, he’s had a really strong defense in the past, but never the final pieces in the attack. Frankly, Kacper Przybylko isn’t an MLS Cup-winning forward. Having two dominant forwards with different styles of play has been huge, and Gazdag made a huge jump from last year to the present day.
Statistically, those three are MLS’s best-attacking trio. Curtin finally has an attack to add to a lockdown defense, and they’ve just slaughtered teams all year because of it.
HRB: The Union were without Alejandro Bedoya against FC Cincinnati, and it showed: Philadelphia won the game behind the goalkeeping heroics of André Blake, but it was tense for the full 90 minutes, and a more coherent Cincinnati attack could have come away with the win. What does he mean to the cub? Do you expect him to play on Sunday?
JL: As a “vibes” guy, there’s no one more important to this group than Bedoya. There’s a reason he’s the captain, there’s a reason that everyone in and around the club loves him. He’s absolutely someone you want to follow into battle.
With Bedoya out, the Union didn’t really have anyone who could play that right side of the pitch. Jack McGlynn and Matt Real, quite simply, are left-field players. With no real backup, the Union suffered on that side of the attack/defense. It is worth noting, however, that even with Bedoya in the lineup the Union may have struggled. Cincinnati knew how to pressure the Union all year, and last Thursday was really just a continuation of this.
HB: Honesty time: What do you think of the DOOP song?
JL: It’s great. My roommates hate me because I’m going to blow out the speakers playing “Maria (I Like It Loud).” It’s just pure, frantic energy. No words needed, just vibes.
On a side note, since the Union adopted “DOOP,” it’s everywhere. The Flyers played it as their goal song for a while, Penn State men’s hockey plays it as their goal song now. It follows me. I love it.
HRB: What are your lineup and scoreline predictions?
JL: Bedoya is *supposed* to make his return on Sunday, so Philly should have a full XI on the field. Likely, Jim goes with his usual starters but pulls his captain a little early.
Blake; Wagner, Elliott, Glesnes, Mbaizo; Martinez; Flach, Bedoya; Gazdag; Carranza, Uhre
Here’s my honest-to-god score prediction: 4-0. The Union will be in a packed Subaru Park, with what will mostly be their own fans. Outside of Carranza and Uhre, everyone in that starting XI remembers last year’s ECF, and wants revenge.
There is no team in MLS as hungry as Philadelphia. There is no team in MLS that Philadelphia wants to beat as much as New York City. With the talent they’ve displayed this year and the revenge motivation they’ve talked about this year, I can’t imagine a scenario where the Union loses. And I’m a massive cynic.