Injury troubles: NYCFC likely shorthanded for Eastern Conference Final at Philadelphia

Maxi Moralez NYCFC

When the 2021 Eastern Conference Final was played last December, the defining storyline was who the Philadelphia Union were without during an eventual 2-1 defeat to eventual champions New York City FC.

Now, in the 2022 version of that exact Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matchup, the shoe may be on the other foot. The Cityzens enter Subaru Park with injury concerns lingering around forward Talles Magno, midfielders Maxi Moralez and Alfredo Morales, and defenders Maxime Chanot and Tayvon Gray.

To put it lightly, NYCFC’s depth will be tested on Sunday evening (8 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes) when an MLS Cup berth is on the line.

“We haven't ruled them out, but it's going to be so difficult to roll those guys out in a game like this when they haven't seen the training field all week,” interim head coach Nick Cushing said Friday. “It's unfortunate for us in this game, but one more day. We have a terrific medical team here and until they tell me they're out, I'm still considering them.”

Cushing expects updates to go down to the wire, with Magno, Chanot and Moralez all seeing limited minutes in their 3-1 Eastern Conference Semifinal win at CF Montréal last weekend. As for Morales and Gray, they’re yet to play in this postseason run that also includes a 3-0 Round One win over Inter Miami CF on home turf.

“It’s just really disappointing for us,” Cushing said. “It’s unfortunate that we go to Philadelphia with this situation. But at the same time, we’ve worked hard to get here and we’ll continue to work hard to make sure that we get to the final.”

Last fall, the Union were without 11 players for this playoff matchup due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Arguably six starters were among them, hindering head coach Jim Curtin’s team when so much was on the line.

Now, Philadelphia appear at almost full strength as midfielder Alejandro Bedoya works his way back from injury. The narrative has changed.

“I have huge respect for [Philadelphia],” Cushing said. “Like I said, they're the best team in the league and probably the favorites to go on and win MLS Cup. We know there's going to be a really, really difficult game.”

Should NYCFC win, they’re unable to host MLS Cup on Nov. 5 as the lowest-remaining seed among the four Conference Finalists. And while a chance at revenge may be on Philadelphia’s mind, Cushing isn’t so bought into that narrative.

“I don't quite understand revenge because I don't think we did anything other than win a football game,” Cushing said of 2021’s result. “We know they're going to be hugely motivated. They've been the best team this year in the conference, if not across two conferences.

“They'll feel that they've missed an opportunity to get to MLS Cup last year and losing in front of their home fans. This year they'll want to put that right.”