Keaton Parks: “We know exactly what we need to do to get it done.” (USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Regardless of who walks away with an opportunity to win MLS Cup on Sunday, New York City FC interim head coach Nick Cushing knows his MLS Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Union will be one close encounter.
“The margins are going to be really small,” he said during a Zoom press conference on Friday. “I think we can draw on the experience of last year because we went one goal down and we managed to turn it around.”
In the 2021 conference final, City went down by a goal, but rallied for a 2-1 victory over a COVID-19-ravaged squad. The Cityzens went on to capture its first MLS Cup a week later.
This year’s conference championship game is set for the same venue – Subaru Park in Chester, Pa. on Sunday at 8 p.m. (FS1, 8 p.m. ET).
“We don’t know how this game is going to go,” Cushing said. “Maybe we go one go down in this game. I think we can draw off the experience of the away game on the 26th of June because we weren’t good enough in the first half and we addressed that at halftime and we came out better.”
Philadelphia won both regular season matches- at Yankee Stadium, 2-0, on March 19 and again at home, 2-1, on June 26.
Midfielder Keaton Parks expected the clash to be a classic confrontation.
“It’s two great football teams and it’s going to be a good one,” he said.
“It’s going be a really good game to be involved in, a really intense game,” he said. “But as coaches and players, this is what we want. This is why we want to be involved. If we didn’t want to be here, we’d never win. We have a huge desire to win again.”
Parks said City won’t enter the game thinking it is the reigning MLS champions.
“We’re not going into it acting like we need to defend something, or protect something,” he said. “We’re going there to win another title.
“Of course, there’s a little bit of pressure but it’s the pressure that we put on ourselves and at least for me, I put it on myself every game. I always want to win.”
Getting past the Union certainly won’t be an easy task. Philly finished atop the conference with a 19-5-10 record and 67 points, outscoring its opponents, 72-26 with the best defense in the league. NYCFC (16-11-7, 55) finished third.
“They’re a good team,” Parks said. “We’ve been looking at film this week, studying their formation, and what certain players like to do. … We’re prepared and we know exactly what we need to do to get it done.
“We just have to play our game. Focus a lot on offensive marking when we’re attacking – make sure that no guys are free just in case we lose the ball or something like that.”