Substitute Talles Magno scored in the 88th minute and visiting New York City FC rallied to reach their first-ever MLS Cup final with a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday afternoon.
Magno – who scored only twice in the regular season – helped NYC FC defeat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference final on a day they were without MLS Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos due to suspension. Castellanos will be able to return for the final in Portland, who defeated Salt Lake in Saturday’s Western Conference title game.
Maxi Moralez also scored for City, who had beaten top-seeded New England on penalties in the semifinals.
Union leading scorer Kacper Przybylko helped pressure NYC FC into an own goal to give Philadelphia a lead that lasted less than two minutes.
Covid-19 protocols ruled 11 players out for the hosts, who were forced to make six changes from the starting lineup of their semi-final triumph on penalties over No 3 seed Nashville City SC.
Only seconds after the restart following Philadelphia’s 63rd-minute goal, New York’s Maxime Chanot drove a speculative effort from distance that wrong-footed Matt Freese into an awkward save. Magno got a piece of the rebound before it eventually fell to Moralez at the back post, who hammered a powerful finish past Freese.
Freese redeemed himself with an excellent save of Alexander Callens’ deflected header, and the Union could have gone ahead again in the 87th when Nathan Harriel flashed a header over the bar.
Anziché, minutes later Gudmundur Thorarinsson seized upon a mistake from defender Olivier Mbaizo to get free inside the penalty area. From there, he drove a firm cross to the sprinting Magno, who hammered a first-time finish past Freese.
Philadelphia took the lead when Flach drove an inswinging cross toward Przybylko near the center of the penalty area. Callens reached out his leg to try to keep Przybylko from reaching the ball. He succeeded, but at the expense of turning it into his own goal beyond the dive of goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
The Union were rocked days before the biggest game in their 11-year history when 11 players were ruled out of the game because of Covid-19 health and safety protocols. Philadelphia were also seeking to reach their first MLS Cup final.
The Union were unable to practice on Thursday because of the league’s protocols. They resumed training on Friday. Coach Jim Curtin said during the regular season that all Union players had been vaccinated. The individual players may not have tested positive for the coronavirus, but may have come into contact with someone with a suspected case.
The list included Alejandro Bedoya and defender Jack Elliott. The loss of goalie Andre Blake was particularly crushing. The two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year had 12 shutouts this season (11 wins, one draw), making 76 saves and posting a 0.96 goals-against average in the regular season. He stopped two penalty kicks against Nashville to lift the Union into the conference final.