The Philadelphia Union has been building for just this moment: hosting an Eastern Conference final with a ticket to its first MLS Cup final on the line. But the No. 2 seed in the East will instead take on No. 4-seeded NYCFC with a decimated roster after 11 players have been forced to miss out due to MLS health and safety protocols.
There are six starters in that group, including the starting goalkeeper (Andre Blake), the defensive back four and the club’s captain (Alejandro Bedoya). Details of their medical status have not been shared publicly, but their absence could stem from a number of reasons, according to the league’s protocol: a positive COVID-19 test, an inconclusive or pending test, or a mandated quarantine for being a close contact or engaging in activity deemed high-risk.
Although reports are that the Union inquired with the league about rescheduling the match, the East final will move forward as planned. The language at the bottom of the league’s competition guidelines make that much clear. The Portland Timbers will host the winner in Saturday’s final.
The Union has needed a last-minute goal against the Red Bulls and a penalty-kick shootout against Nashville SC to make it this far. NYCFC ousted Atlanta and also survived a penalty shootout against New England Revolution after outplaying the No. 1-seed for most of the match. MLS leading scorer Taty Castellanos was sent off late in that match and the automatic red-card suspension will force him to sit out against Philly.
It’s the first Eastern Conference final in the brief history of both clubs (the Philadelphia Union kicked off play in 2010, while NYCFC came along five years later in 2015). NYCFC won the only postseason meeting (3-1 in 2018), and the teams split their three 2021 regular-season matches (1W-1L-1D record for each). But those matches won’t matter much given the state of the Union.
How to watch Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC
- Date: Sunday, Dec. 5
- Time: 3 p.m. ET
- TV channel: ABC
- Spanish-language TV: ESPN Deportes
- Streaming: fuboTV
The MLS Eastern Conference final between the Philadelphia Union and NYCFC will air nationally on ABC (English) and ESPN Deportes (Spanish) with both channels available to stream on fuboTV. New users can try fuboTV on a free 7-day trial.
Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC lineups
The Union’s back four is the area of the field hardest hit by the absences due to the COVID-19 protocol. The center backs are likely to be Aurelien Collin and Stuart Findlay, whiel Nathan Harriel or Olivier Mbaizo will be in line for the start at right back.
To replace captain Alejandro Bedoya in midfield, either teenager Jack McGlynn comes in as a straight swap, or talented veteran Jamiro Monteiro moves deeper into midfield with another 18-year-old, Paxten Aaronson, starting in attack.
Philly also signed two players to a short-term contracts per the league’s extreme hardship rules: Defenders Brandan Craig and Anton Sorenson will both be on the squad as cover. MLS pool goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, who’s available to teams in emergency situations, will serve as backup.
Union projected starting lineup (4-3-2-1, left to right): 1-Matt Freese-GK — 2-Matt Real, 78-Aurelien Collin, 4-Stuart Findlay, 15-Olivier Mbaizo — 16-Jack McGlynn, 8-Jose Martinez, 31-Leon Flach — 10-Jamiro Monteiro, 6-Daniel Gazdag — 23-Kacper Przybylko
Union subs (9): 22-Greg Ranjitsingh-GK, 34-Brandan Craig, 26-Nathan Harriel, Anton Sorenson, 13-Cole Turner, 20-Jesus Bueno, 21-Anthony Fontana, 30-Paxten Aaronson, 7-Matheus Davo
Union player OUT due to MLS healthy & safety protocol (11): 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 12-Joe Bendik, 18-Andre Blake-GK, 19-Cory Burke, 3-Jack Elliott, 5-Jakob Glesnes, 25-Ilsinho, 29-Alvas Powell, 17-Sergio Santos, 33-Quinn Sullivan, 27-Kai Wagner
It will be interesting to see how NYCFC opts to replace the league’s top scorer (Castellanos) who is out due to a red-card suspension. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi seems to be the most obvious choice, assuming Heber is still not ready to play extended minutes after his long road back from knee surgery. Thiago Andrade and Talles Magno typically play as wingers, but both can be deployed at center forward, if necessary.
Right back Tayvon Gray suffered from cramps and midfielder James Sands was forced to exit Tuesday’s match, but manager Ronny Deila made it clear all players from the win against the Revolution will be ready to play except for Castellanos.
NYCFC starting lineup (4-2-3-1, right to left): 1-Sean Johnson-GK — 12-Malte Amundsen, 6-Alexander Callens, 4-Maxime Chanot, 24-Tayvon Gray — 16-James Sands, 7-Alfredo Morales — 42-Santiago Rodriguez, 10-Maxi Moralez, 19-Jesus Medina — 17-Ismael Tajouri-Shradi
NYCFC subs (9): 13-Luis Barraza-GK, 20-Gudmundur Thorarinsson, 15-Tony Rocha, 23-Gedion Zelalem, 26-Nicolas Acevedo, 8-Thiago Andrade, 43-Talles Magno, 9-Heber, 21-Andres Jasson
Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC: Betting odds & prediction
(Odds courtesy of DraftKings)
It would be one of the most remarkable stories in MLS history if the Philadelphia Union can somehow manage to overcome the absence of this many starters to beat an NYCFC team which is recognized for the exceptional quality and depth of its roster. But it’s so unlikely that DraftKings doesn’t even have a “to advance” line available for the game.
MORE: MLS Cup date, time & TV
If there is an upset, it would likely have to be on the back of a defensive blockade set up by Philly to keep NYCFC at bay. The more time elapses that NYCFC fails to score, the pressure on the visitors would only build and the belief in the Union would grow, as would the support from the partisan crowd. It’d be an incredible story, but not one to put your money on.
Pick: NYCFC -0.5 spread (-105)
Prediction: Philadelphia 1, NYCFC 2
- Moneyline (90 minutes): Philadelphia +310 / Draw +255 / NYCFC -110
- Spread: Philadelphia +0.5 (-105) / NYCFC -0.5 (-105)
- O/U 2.5 total goals: Over -105 / Under -115
- Both Teams To Score: Yes -135 / No +105