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One week after Jakob Glesnes sent Subaru Park into a state of euphoria by scoring in the 123rd minute to beat the New York Red Bulls, the Philadelphia Union approach the Eastern Conference semifinals with Jamiro Monteiro back on the field.
Limiting the midfielder will be a key for No. 3 seed Nashville SC when it travels to face the No. 2 Union on Sunday (4:30 p.m., ESPN) in the MLS Cup Playoffs. It's the third matchup between the teams this season, with each winning 1-0 at home.
Monteiro was ruled out of the Union's Round One home match against RBNY because of COVID-19 protocols, decreasing the Union's intensity and dynamic play offensively and defensively. Don't let the two goals and six assists deceive you. Monteiro is to Philadelphia what Anibal Godoy and Dax McCarty are to Nashville.
Nashville beat Orlando City SC, 3-1, on Tuesday in Round One to make its second trip to the conference semifinals in two years since joining MLS.
Here are three keys for Nashville to beat Philadelphia:
The attack is back: Nashville SC's attacking resurgence in time for second round.
Monitor Jamiro Monteiro
The Union flood the midfield with the bulk of its formation, at times playing with a diamond in a 4-4-2 shape or form an arrow in a 4-3-2-1. But the key in either is Monteiro.
"It just gives them a different dimension. Monteiro is a very, very good player," Nashville coach Gary Smith said Friday. "I think he brings something to the table that not many others in that group can on both sides of the ball. He looks very athletic, very team-oriented, creative but still competitive."
Kacper Przybylko and Co.
Against Orlando, Nashville center back Walker Zimmerman was tasked with marking 6-foot-1, 220-pound center forward Daryl Dike, a bruising force who scored 11 goals this season, including three against Nashville. The Union may double that challenge Sunday.
The Union's Kacper Przybylko towers at 6-4 and could be joined by Cory Burke, matching Przybylko in height but with four goals to his name. Philadelphia could also deploy the athletic Sergio Santos. The Brazilian has six goalsthis season.
"If they play with two forwards, then I think it gives them a little bit more physicality and certainly a bigger focal point through the middle, but then they lose something in that midfield area, in terms of team construction," Smith said.
Smith confirming Friday that center back Dave Romney (calf) will be available on Sunday gives Nashville a 6-2 defender to help the 6-3 Zimmerman in matching the Union's physicality up front.
Beware of deceptive fullbacks
Kai Wagner and Alvas Powell are not the flashiest. No fullbacks are. But the two defenders, Wagner in particular, are just as much a part of Union's attack as anybody.
Those outside defenders are known for trickling late into the field's attacking third, after a team's front line has created its space to attack. And given that Philadelphia plays so narrow, what's often lacking attention are the fullbacks out wide.
Once given the ball, Wagner has open space to cross the ball into the towering Przybylko, Santos or Burke without having to beat an opponent off the dribble.
Wagner averages 1.7 key passes — or passes directly leading to a shot — per 90 minutes, according to Football Reference. That's in the 92nd percentile for fullbacks in MLS this season.
Handle that and Nashville's counter attack will be what leads to victory.
Nashville SC 2, Philadelphia Union 1 (Extra Time): Scoring chances will be few and so will Nashville's opportunities to counter attack out of a deep-lying defensive block. After a two-goal second half, Nashville will score the dagger in extra time.
For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville SC vs. Philadelphia Union in MLS Cup Playoffs: Our prediction