After being deprived of a first participation in the MLS Cup last year due to COVID-19, the Philadelphia Union is certainly not lacking in motivation to take top honors this year.
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Just before the Eastern Finals last year, an outbreak of COVID-19 affected 11 players on the team, including several starters. Captain Alejandro Bedoya and goalkeeper Andre Blake notably missed the game against New York City FC, which the Pennsylvania club eventually escaped 2-1.
Almost 11 months later, they got their revenge against NYCFC – 3-1, again in the East final – and will face Los Angeles FC in the final. Both teams finished the season with 67 points, but the California team won the Supporter’s Shield by virtue of the tiebreaker.
This revenge certainly had a beneficial effect within the troops, to say the least. Especially since the victory was obtained by virtue of a comeback.
« I have this confidence, you know, that we are here for a reason, » Blake said Sunday after the game, according to the daily « Philadelphia Inquirer ». We were here last year and a lot of us couldn’t play. »
« I was just relaxed, I was free, I wasn’t worried, » Blake said of his state of mind as his rivals led. So I had no doubt – even if it was me who was going to get up there and score a goal –; I knew that somehow we would find a way to come out on top.”
Things have changed a lot in the Union over the last few years. Head coach Jim Curtin certainly had something to do with it. Arrived in 2014, he managed to lead his team close to the top, one small step at a time.
Bedoya, who joined the team in 2016, is well placed to talk about it.
« When I came here, there were a lot of things that weren’t really good enough, » he said. And you see how much we have changed, in terms of the type of players we bring in now, our academy is improving and just the mentality. It’s a culture change. »
“Credit goes to Jim and his staff of instructors,” added the captain.
The MLS Cup will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. at Banc of California Stadium.