Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin has welcomed the prospect of once again going up against NYCFC in the Eastern Conference Final.

The two sides met at the same stage of the Playoffs last year, with NYCFC coming out 2-1 winners at Subaru Park thanks to Talles Magno’s 88th-minute strike. The Cityzens then went all the way to lift MLS Cup, beating the Portland Timbers on penalties in the final.

However, the Union had no fewer than 11 players missing due to health and safety protocols this time last year, with key figures like Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake, Jack Elliott, and Kai Wagner all unavailable.

For that very reason alone – notwithstanding the Union’s MLS Cup hopes – having the chance to exact revenge on NYCFC is a tantalizing prospect.

“They were a deserving champion last year, for sure, but I also think that they didn’t get our best punch with 11 guys out and six starters. I think everybody can agree with that, so we get to rematch,” Curtin told ESPN’s Taylor Twellman during half-time of Austin FC’s 2-1 Western Conference Semi-Final win over FC Dallas on Sunday.

“They’re an incredible team, incredible opponent. We’ve had two really tough games against them so far [this year], so we expect an incredible match, high-intensity match as always with a big rival like New York.”

To reach this stage, the Union had to see off a tough test against FC Cincinnati – coached by former Philadelphia assistant Pat Noonan, who is working under ex-Union technical director Chris Albright – only coming out 1-0 winners thanks to Leon Flach’s second-half goal.

The Union went unbeaten at home during the regular season, winning 12 games and drawing five with a 49-9 aggregate scoreline. Being worked so hard by Cincinnati was a welcome wake-up call for Curtin ahead of facing the defending champions.

“I think it’s good that Cincinnati pushed us as hard as they did,” Curtin said. “Chris Albright and Pat Noonan have done an incredible job there.

“We needed to grind out a 1-0 win because if you look at our last 10 games at home, I think we outscored our opponents 42-6 which doesn’t happen in the playoffs. So this was a great test for us. It sets us up well for a really tough opponent in New York City.”

The Union welcome NYCFC to Subaru Park on Sunday evening at 7pm, hours after LAFC and Austin FC go head-to-head in the Western Conference Final.

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