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NYCFC trying not to change much for MLS Eastern Conference final vs. Union

NYCFC defender Alexander Callens, left, and teammates after

NYCFC defender Alexander Callens, left, and teammates after scoring against Atlanta United in second half at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 21, 2021. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila seemingly learned a valuable lesson during his schooling — avoid those late-night cram sessions.

"It’s like going into an exam, I’m sure many of you have done it before, what you haven’t learned until the last day, you can’t do anything with," Deila said. "You have to trust the process through the year."

NYCFC won’t be rewriting its game plan for the club’s first MLS Eastern Conference final. City faces the Philadelphia Union with an MLS Cup berth on the line at 3 p.m. on Sunday at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. The winner will face Portland, which defeated Real Salt Lake, 2-0, in Saturday night’s Western Conference final.

New York City is having its best MLS Cup playoff run in its seven-year history this season, first beating Atlanta United at home before eliminating the top-seeded New England Revolution on the road Tuesday, the club’s first conference semifinal victory.


With no experience at this stage, keeping things normal has been a focus for the squad in its final preparations.

"The biggest mistake we could do is if we change something," defender Maxime Chanot said. "To be honest, you would be surprised but nothing has changed, we [trained] the same way we did before the Atlanta and New England games."

There will be one key, involuntary change for NYCFC from those first two wins.

MLS Golden Boot winner and MVP finalist Valentín Castellanos won’t take part after the striker was suspended for his red card in extra time at New England. Deila expects Brazilians Héber and Talles Magno to carry the load in his absence as the club’s "proper strikers" on the bench, although neither has seen much action this postseason. Thiago Andrade and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi also will be available to contribute up top.

Philadelphia will be undermanned itself. The Union paused training this week after multiple players entered COVID-19 protocols. 11 Philadelphia players were ruled out as of Saturday pending further test results, including starters Andre Blake, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Kai Wagner and Alejandro Bedoya.

Aside from Castellanos, Deila said NYCFC will have its entire remaining playoff squad ready to go. That includes homegrown defenders James Sands and Tayvon Gray, both of whom suffered late leg injuries against the Revs. Having his full group just adds to the normality Deila wants to foster.

"It’s not about inventing something now or finding out new things," Deila said. "It’s about believing in what you have done and doing the same things as we always have done."