CHESTER, Pennsylvania — The Philadelphia Union went into Sunday’s Eastern Conference final wearing the label of underdog with to the team missing 11 players due to COVID protocols, so when Alex Callens scored an own goal to give the Union a 1-0 lead on visiting New York City FC, it felt for a moment like the Cinderella story of a patchwork Union squad winning a conference vinal just might happen.
One minute later, that dream was put on hold and NYCFC went on to snuff it out for good with a pair of second-half goals to post a 2-1 victory over the Union at Subaru Park on Sunday.
Talles Magno’s 88th-minute winner propelled NYCFC to a 2-1 comeback win and to a first Eastern Conference title in club history.
Magno came off the bench in the second half and took advantage of a defensive breakdown from the Union to score the winning goal. Gudmundur Thorarinsson beat Olivier Mbaizo on the left wing before sending a low cross into the box, allowing Magno the chance to one-time a shot past Matt Freese.
Magno’s winner followed a Maxi Moralez equalizer that came just a minute after an Alex Callens own-goal gave the Union a brief lead that energized the crowd at Subaru Park.
The visitors picked up their play after halftime and equalized in the 64th minute through Maxi Moralez’s first goal of the playoffs. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi’s deflected cross in the box found its way to Moralez at the back post, who slammed home a right-footed shot past a diving Freese.
It was a quick response from NYCFC, who conceded the opening goal of the game not long after tying it up. A dangerous cross from Daniel Gazdag from midfield deflected past Sean Johnson off of the foot of Alex Callens.
Leon Flach forced Johnson into his first save of the afternoon in the 46th minute, sending a low shot across goal. The U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper repelled the midfielder’s chance, which at the time kept the teams scoreless.
Nathan Harriel had the best chance to swing the Union in front before Magno’s eventual winner in the 86th minute. Harriel was left unmarked at the back post, but sent his header just over the crossbar, one minute before Magno’s go-ahead goal.
NYCFC grinded out the victory and set up an MLS Cup showdown with the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. As for the Union, their strong season comes to an end, after reaching both the East Final and the Concacaf Champions League semifinals in the same season.