Commentary / For Pete's Sake

Rematch with NYCFC a chance to salve an old wound

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

“You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.”

That is how the supervillain Thanos greeted Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor at the end of Avengers: Endgame. After defeating the scattered Avengers at the end of the prior installment and erasing half the people in the universe, the big purple guy seemed to have won an ultimate victory.

But, thanks to some incomprehensible time-travel shenanigans, the Avengers got their rematch with Thanos. And, despite Thanos’s gravel-voiced attempts to intimidate our noble heroes, the result was much better the second time. (As Endgame is one of the most-watched movies of all time, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that the good guys — shocker! — win in the end.)

This is basically the story of Philadelphia Union and New York City FC.

Shorthanded and outmatched

Last year’s Union playoff run seemed touched by destiny.

A scrappy first-round clash with New York Red Bulls ended with the goal of a lifetime from Jakob Glesnes, while the second-round matchup with Nashville SC finished with a nervy penalty shootout.

Things seemed lined up for Philly to advance to MLS Cup, as NYCFC had knocked off the Supporters’ Shield winners (New England) and lost Valentin Castellanos, their best player, to a red card in the process.

But grim news started to trickle out of Chester in the days leading up to the match. Due to an outbreak of COVID-19 within the club, eleven players ended up in health and safety protocols and missed the match. Those players included the club captain (Alejandro Bedoya) and the entire starting defense (goalkeeper Andre Blake and defenders Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Alvas Powell).

The shorthanded Union scraped together a starting lineup and went toe-to-toe with City in the conference final, even taking the lead through an Alexander Callens own goal in the 63rd minute. But that lead was short-lived, with Maxi Moralez equalizing not two minutes later.

And, in the 88th minute, City took advantage of an Olivier Mbaizo error, and Talles Magno scored the goal that would send the visitors on to MLS Cup.

Light blue shirts celebrated on the Subaru Park turf. The Union faithful lamented what might have been.

By scattering the Avengers and fighting a shorthanded side, Thanos had won.

Rebuilding the team

That defeat could have totally destabilized and demoralized the Union.

Instead, Ernst Tanner spent the offseason retooling.

Out went Kacper Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro in return for buckets of MLS funny money. In came Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, one club-record signing and one typically shrewd bit of pilfering.

Behind them, things mostly stayed the same. For a defensive unit that had been together for the better part of three years, more time was all it needed. Same for midfielder Daniel Gazdag, ready for his first full season in MLS after his first real break in a year and a half.

After a scratchy, draw-filled start, the Union went supernova in midseason, setting club records in goals and points as they blew away sides all summer at Subaru Park. Jim Curtin engineered a backline responsible for the best defensive record over a 34-game season in MLS history. Things couldn’t have gone much better.

Along the way, the Union got some small measures of revenge against NYC. There was an early-season win at Yankee Stadium in March, where first-half goals by Bedoya and Gazdag gave the Union a 2-0 win. And, when City returned to Subaru Park in midsummer, the two sides played a tense, tightly-fought match that ended with a Cory Burke winner deep into second-half stoppage time.

And now, after a long season and a grinding playoff win over FC Cincinnati, the Union are right back where they were last year.

At home, against City, with a trip to MLS Cup on the line.

Back to Thanos.

A second chance

Of course, this City side isn’t quite the same team as last year’s MLS Cup winners.

The departures of Castellanos and manager Ronny Deila destabilized the Cityzens. Issues with the club’s defense have persisted, including a stretch where they conceded three goals in consecutive matches to Columbus, Miami, and Charlotte. It has not been pretty.

But there’s real talent on the other side. Maxi Moralez is always a pain. Talles Magno has taken another step. Sean Johnson is an extremely capable veteran keeper. And City enters the match on a five-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 12-3 over the process, including a road victory over higher-seeded CF Montreal in the playoffs last weekend.

They will be a formidable test for the Union.

This is what everyone wanted, though. “We’ll never know what we could have done with a full group,” Curtin lamented after last year’s match.

Now, he and the Union faithful have that chance, the chance to rewrite history and to salve — if not cure entirely — a wound that has festered for nearly a year.

In the movie, the Avengers win the second time.

We’ll see how the Union’s movie ends on Sunday night.


  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    Great article. Love the Avengers analogy. Revenge Tour 2022… almost complete.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Good stuff Peter. I’m in the clinical portion of grad school hell lately and have been a bit too busy to visit PSP- but today I’ve come to post and your article is my landing spot.
    I’ve really struggled with the length of time this is taking.
    Two weeks off followed by 10 days off has me…. a bit concerned if truth be told.
    The team was clearly out of rhythm against FC Cincinnati. Gotta play games to be in rhythm. I hope they come out and are able to be likeminded….
    This fucking waiting around has been unbearable. Hell the Phillies… went through St Louis, Atlanta and San Diego in nearly the same amount of time its taken for this playoff season to have Union play a grand total of one game.
    I am officially 100% certain playoff byes are bullshit and only really help in the NFL where the physical toll is so great the rest is welcome. Every other sport needs rhythm first. Union did not have rhythm and damn… they better find it quickly against a very good NYCFC team with no compunction but to come back here and be the Dude-Wipe Ass-Licks they are.
    Let’s fucking go already. Aright…. got all that of off the chest.

  3. Chris Gibbons says:

    Still haven’t seen any of these movies. Thank you for saving me from worrying about the ending of this one. Go good guys.

    • Yah, hoping to see more quality from our side in this match than is apparent in most Marvel movies. Maybe this one will be the Black Panther of MLS matches.

  4. Main difference between Sunday’s match and the Avengers is that the stakes Sunday are far greater than just saving half the population of the universe. Need to win this one for Jim, Ale and the fans. Can’t lose to this bullshit team. It’s not an option.

  5. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Referee crew for Sunday.
    REF: Allen Chapman
    AR1: Kyle Atkins
    AR2: Cameron Blanchard
    4TH: Victor Rivas
    VAR: Edvin Jurisevic
    AVAR: Tom Supple

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