Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin says he cannot help but be proud of his players, despite Sunday's "haunting" defeat to New York City FC.
The two sides went head-to-head in the Eastern Conference final at Subaru Park, with the winner advancing to MLS Cup for the first time.
But the Union were dealt a huge blow in the days leading up to the game with 11 first team players sidelined due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Captain Alejandro Bedoya, goalkeeper Andre Blake, and starting center-backs Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes headlined the absentees. They were joined by Kai Wagner, Corey Burke, Joe Bendik, Ilsinho, Alvas Powell, Sergio Santos, and Quinn Sullivan.
Still, Philadelphia managed to take the lead in the 63rd minute via an Alexander Callens own goal, only to be immediately pegged back by Maxi Moralez. Talles Magno finished the job for NYCFC in the 88th minute.
But considering the circumstances, the Union gave an incredible account of themselves.
“I can't get proud when we lose, but at the same time this is about as unique a set of circumstances as you can have in the game,” Curtin said after the match.
“However many starters you want to call it for us, you know, I'd say we had six, seven guys that have been consistently starting for us during the year that weren't even present. So for what we gave, for the intensity that the guys showed on the field, it still hurts that we lost. But I'm still proud of the group.”
Credit must go to the Union players who took to the pitch for running NYCFC so close. 35-year-old center-back Aurélien Collin was playing his first MLS game of any sort since the 2019 season and put in a solid defensive performance.
Goalkeeper Matt Freese was making just his 15th first team appearance and came up with some big saves. And regular starters like Jamiro Monteiro and Jose Martinez raised their level even further try and offset the absences.
Still, who knows how different things could have been had the Union been blessed with a full squad? It's a question that will haunt Curtin for some time yet.
“A night like tonight, we’ll never know right, if we're at full strength, so that's what's gonna haunt me,” he said. “It’s gonna haunt the players in the locker room right, so we'll never know what we could have done tonight with a full group. This is life. This is something we have to deal with and we have to move on.”