The Philadelphia Union have finally done it. The Philadelphia Union have made their first MLS Cup Final in club history!
It certainly wasn’t an easy victory as the 3-1 scoreline suggests, nor was it always pretty. But, as Jim Curtin says, it is not easy to win in the MLS, especially on a stage like this against a team the caliber of New York City.
To say this was the biggest game in club history to date would be an understatement. The Union faithful have been waiting for tonight almost an entire year. It is not often that you have a chance at redemption, at revenge. Yet somehow, everything just perfectly aligned. Same venue, same opponent and the same stakes. The only difference this time? A fair fighting chance for the Union. No players missing due to Covid protocols, nothing wacky like that.
Finally, a true king in the East would be crowned, with LAFC waiting for them in the wings.
It was a slow first half for the Union. Besides a Daniel Gazdag header in the 17th minute that was called back for offside, much of the first half was a feeling out process for both sides. The Union pressed a lot and made the game ugly early, as they are ones to do. They made a bit more mistakes in the attacking third than you’d like, but there were some encouraging signs from both sides heading into half.
In the 57th minute though, disaster struck for the Union. In a fantastic sequence that started at the goalkeeper’s feet, Maxi Moralez put the defending champions up. The perfect strike to the right hand-corner from outside of the box seemingly came out of nowhere and it was a shock to nearly everyone in the stands, even those in light blue.
You can try and deny it now, but that goal in the 57th minute felt like an absolute gut punch. The past two years, we’ve all seen this club fall short after entering the postseason with massive expectations. Two seasons ago the Union rolled into the MLS Cup Playoffs as the Supporters’ Shield winners, only to lose to New England in the first round 2-0. We all know what happened last year too. It just felt like more of the same. Same old Union.
Then it happened. This Union team was not just going to lay down and fight, not going to just accept second best in the East to their rivals for a second year in a row. That spark came from Andre Blake. He made an improbable save, as he tends to do, in the 60th minute. This save was special, even by Andre Blake standards. Had that shot gone into the back of the net, we would most likely have to watch New York City face LAFC in the final on Saturday.
Just minutes later in the 65th, the Union finally found their goal. They caught New York City napping after making their substitution, the Union electing to take their free kick quickly. Julian Carranza buried his chance from the right hand side to draw the Union level. Just two minutes later, he headed a pass on to an unmarked Daniel Gazdag in the box who would give the Union the 2-1 lead! Super-sub Cory Burke, who’s added presence definitely gave the team a jolt before those two goals, would find the back of the net himself in the 77th minute, pretty much taking on the entire New York City defense.
All season you felt something special about this Philadelphia Union squad. Tonight was just another bit of magic from Curtin’s boys. In the span of ten minutes, the Union went from being down and out of the match, to leading. They flipped the game upside down on its head, and it’s something they’ve done all season. They are just able to flip a switch and pounce on their opponent, especially with the raucous crowd at Subaru Park willing them on. All throughout the second half the players urged on the crowd, and the Union faithful happily obliged.
For a fanbase that has been there even before the beginnings of the club, this moment just means everything. Take away the revenge game aspect against New York City, this club has seen some very down days. Fans of the club had to watch a lot of bad football in those early years, and I mean a lot. They just couldn’t break out of mediocrity it seemed, and many thought it would continue under Jim Curtin.
Here Philadelphia stands though, Eastern Conference Champions with a date set with LAFC for the MLS Cup. Philadelphia will surely enjoy this win over the next few days, but there is one more game to win. The job is not done yet!