New York FC outlast Union to reach first MLS Cup final

December 06, 2021
Andre Blake
Andre Blake

CHESTER, Pa. (AP):

Sean Johnson high-stepped his way up the stairs at the back of a makeshift stage as his New York City FC teammates parted to let the stand out goalie slide through the gap.

He crouched and then burst straight up with the MLS Eastern Conference championship trophy as New York danced and shook the floor with good reason -- a shot at their first championship is on deck.

Talles Magno scored in the 88th minute to send New York into the MLS Cup final with a 2-1 win over the COVID-19-restriction-ravaged Philadelphia Union yesterday.

New York will play at the Portland Timbers on Saturday for the MLS Cup.

"This team, they don't stop," coach Ronny Deila said. "They keep on going. Now we are in the final, so we're going to be ready."

Gudi Thorarinsson stripped the ball from Union defender Olivier Mbaizo and fed it to Magno for the decisive goal. Magno cupped his ear as he ran off the field after putting the ball past Matt Freese. New York players mobbed each other and saluted a couple hundred fans that made the trip as Union players sat stunned on the field.

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.

"You have 11 players that I feel awful for that had to sit at home completely healthy and watch this game," coach Jim Curtin said.

The Union were unable to practise on Thursday because of the league's protocols. They resumed training on Friday. 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.

Curtin questioned if MLS' protocols should be "adjusted and updated for common sense" to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Curtin said most of the 11 players sat out because "they had some version of the sniffles."

The list included Alejandro Bedoya and defender Jack Elliott, who scored on a penalty kick in the East semi-final. The loss of goalie Andre Blake was particularly crushing. The two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and had 12 shut outs 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 and was carried off the pitch by his teammates..

Kacper Przybylko got credit for the Union's goal when New York defender Alex Callens tried to break up a pass and sent the ball past Johnson for an own goal late in the second half. The celebration was muted less than 90 seconds later. Max Moralez kicked it past Freese to make it 1-1.

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