Talles Magno sends NYCFC to MLS Cup Final in frantic comeback over Philly Union

Dec 5, 2021; Chester, PA, USA; New York City FC celebrate after beating the Philadelphia Union to win the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2021 MLS Playoffs at Subaru Park. New York City FC won 2-1.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in franchise history, New York City FC is headed to the MLS Cup Final after a frantic second-half comeback to defeat the woefully shorthanded Philadelphia Union, 2-1 on Sunday evening from Subaru Park. 

NYCFC reeled off two goals in the final 25 minutes of play after shockingly falling behind due to an own-goal from defender Alexander Callens in the 63rd minute. 

Maxi Moralez scored just 90 seconds later before Brazilian wonder-teen Talles Magno — one of three second-half substitutions worked to perfection by manager Ronny Deila and who had played just five minutes in the MLS playoffs — scored the winner in the 88th minute. 

They’ll play the Portland Timbers on Saturday (3 p.m. ET) for the MLS Cup.

Philadelphia, ravaged by COVID-19, was forced to trot out an unrecognizable lineup as notable contributors ranging from Jack Elliott to Jakob Glesnes, to Kai Wagner, to Andre Blake, to Alejandro Bedoya, to Sergio Santos, we’re unable to partake in the conference final.

Instead, the Union relied on the likes of veteran Aurelien Collin, who had played zero MLS minutes since the 2019 season, and third-string goalkeeper Matthew Freese.

Regardless of the advantage on paper, NYCFC — who was only missing MLS’ golden boot winner in Taty Castellanos due to a red card picked up in the conference semifinal victory over New England — were largely tentative; especially in the first half. 

On the road and with the odds in their favor, New York was stymied and frustrated by a Union side that – despite allowing the lion’s share of possession — kept the suddenly-favored visitors well at bay.

The Union had the match’s best chance up to that point just 30 seconds into the second half when Leon Flach’s low shot from inside the box on the left side headed toward the opposite post was pushed away by a diving Sean Johnson.

NYCFC countered with a big chance of their nearly 10 minutes later when Santiago Rodriguez’s low cross found Jesús Medina at the top of the box. But his one-time shot was scuffed, rolling harmlessly to Freese. 

Seven minutes later, in the 63rd minute, Philadelphia took its improbable lead when a cross from the team’s leading scorer, Przybylko, was deflected by the outstretched foot of NYCFC’s Callens pas Johnson.

It lasted all of 90 seconds for New York to equalize after a long-distance effort straightaway from defender Maxime Chanot was saved by Freese, but the rebound deflected off a scrum in the middle came to Morález at the left of the box. After one touch to settle it, the star midfielder sent the half volley searing off the arm of Freese and into the back of the goal. 

The Union’s No. 3 keeper came up big in the 76th minute with a sprawling save on a Callens header that seemed destined for the bottom left corner from the cross by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.

While the sky-blue wave of NYCFC kept coming at the depleted Union, Philadelphia had a golden chance out of nothing in the 86th minute when Nathan Harriel skied for a header right in front of Johnson’s goal. The New York keeper was rooted to his spot, but the chance soared just high above the crossbar.

Just a minute later, Magno fired NYCFC into the MLS Cup Final by slotting Gudmundur Thórarinsson’s cross with his left foot just a mere feet in front of Freese.