Alejandro Bedoya will be ready to come off the bench or start for the Union. (Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports)
The Philadelphia Union defeated New York City FC in both encounters this MLS season.
Yet, last year’s Eastern Conference final still looms as a major narrative when both teams tussle in this year’s conference championship game at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa. Sunday at 8 p.m.
In 2011, 11 Union players, including six starters, were forced out of the confrontation due to COVID-19 issues, decimating the squad. NYCFC won, 2-1, reached the MLS Cup final and won its first league title.
Union head coach Jim Curtin won’t forget what transpired on his home field last year, but he is ready to move on and concern himself about this year’s contest.
“This is a new opportunity for us,” he said during a Thursday Zoom media press conference.
“I’ll never move on from it, because it still happened and it’s still a part of our history, and it’s part of the Philadelphia lore, but I’m a big believer that if you work hard, good things will happen to you,” Curtin added.
“We’re back in the same spot now, and it’ll make it a little bit sweeter if we’re able to go on and reach our first MLS Cup. Sports are like that. They have a funny way of ‘you take one step forward, then you take two steps back,’ but then you got to keep going and get back up. That’s an example of that. I think this group has done incredible things this year and has played with a chip on their shoulder for 35 games, and have worked real hard to get back to this position.”
The Union finished atop the conference with a 19-5-10 record, outscoring its opponents, 72-26 with the best defense in the league.
NYCFC (16-11-7, 55), which finished in third place, lost at home to Philly, 2-0, on March 19, and again in Chester, Pa., 2-1, on June 26.
That was prior to the team’s late-season resurgence, including five consecutive wins against MLS competition and six across all competitions.
If you think Curtin left any quotes or material for NYCFC to share on the social media or put up its locker room wall, think again. He had only praise for his foes.
“I think Nick Cushing has done a very good job, coming in and stabilizing things there and keeping them going,” he said. “They’re a tough opponent. They’ve done a very good job and had a great season. It’s two really good teams that I think are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. We get to play in our home stadium, which is something that we worked very hard to get, but we expect a difficult match, and we look forward to the challenge.”
Curtin was encouraged by the fact that Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who missed three of the team’s last four matches, training with the team on Thursday.
“We’ll see how his body responds to that,” he said. “We have two more sessions going in, so a little bit of a longer week, and we were able to ease him into the week. He’s pushed himself very hard, and worked very hard.
“He doesn’t have a ton of discomfort as of right now. We’ll see how he responds to today’s full session, which was a transition day. A high intensity session and he’s had no issues reported so far. I think it’s pretty safe to say, whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench, he’ll play a role, and a big one in this game, because he’s our captain and our leader, and we need him.”