New York City Football Club face Philadelphia Union on Sunday in the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 MLS Playoffs.
Here are the Keys to the Match, presented by Ford...
No Walk In The Park
Needless to say, as the playoff competition heats up with four teams within touching distance of the ultimate prize, our trip to Subaru Park will prove our toughest test of the season.
It's an intriguing clash with City in fantastic form and the Union having enjoyed an impressive campaign, finishing top of the Eastern Conference standings - level on points with LAFC. Despite missing out on the Supporters' Shield by virtue of having recorded two fewer wins, their performance earned Head Coach Jim Curtin the 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year award.
Philly are unbeaten at home so far this year with a record of 12-0-5 and will be looking to make home advantage count. In the first two rounds of this term's playoffs, home teams have triumphed in eight of the ten fixtures - New York of course standing as one of the two exceptions, thanks to our superb 3-1 victory at CF Montréal last weekend.
Favoring a 4-3-1-2 formation with Dániel Gazdag leading the line upfront, the Pennsylvania outfit netted the most goals (72) and conceded the fewest (26) of any team in MLS regular season action. However, New York may see more of the ball as Philly tend to be edged out in the possession stats, having completed the Conference campaign with the second-lowest number of passes and passing accuracy.
Given NYCFC's eagerness to control of the ball and the tempo, it should make for an enthralling tactical battle.
Take Your Chances
When facing a team that boasts the league's sternest defence it's understandable to think chances may be at a premium.
Interim Head Coach Nick Cushing has praised his side's ability to show two distinctly different sides to their game during the playoffs. Against Inter Miami CF they controlled proceedings and dictated the game for large sections. Against Montréal, NYCFC dug deep, defended valiantly, and fought their way through to the next round. Those traits will be crucial if we are to reach our second consecutive MLS Cup Final.
The trip to Philadelphia will provide another stern test for this group, alongside a boisterous home crowd. If they can navigate that, they will be worthy participants in MLS Cup.
Just Another Game
With a place in the MLS Cup Final on the line, the stakes of course could not be higher in this contest. The pressure has cranked up more than a few notches.
Cushing and co. need no added incentive to win this encounter, and are fully focused on the task at hand: simply, playing the game. Speaking ahead of the Semifinal at Stade Saputo, the squad had highlighted the importance of not getting carried away, of sticking to the process, and of standing by each other - small but significant steps on the road to success.
Of course, the positive memories of the 2021 path to glory will inspire, and the squad will take heart from the fact we were the last team to triumph in Chester 11 months ago - but ultimately, the result of that game will have no bearing on the outcome of this one. This fixture poses a fresh challenge.
It will take another team effort from every single person connected to the Club to drive the team through, and with another incredible traveling support set for City in Philadelphia, here's hoping for more special post-match celebrations.