Jamiro Monteiro back for Philadelphia Union vs. Nashville SC MLS playoffs game, but Olivier Mbaizo still out

Union midfielder Gameiro Monteiro will return for Sunday’s semi-final elimination match against Nashville at Subaru Park (5:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN Deportes), but right-back Olivier Mbazu is still out due to MLS health and safety protocols.

We still don’t know exactly why they were left out of last weekend’s first-round win over the New York Red Bulls after returning from their national teams – Montero with Cape Verde and Mbaizu with Cameroon – and we may not find out. MLS teams are not supposed to determine what happens to players with health issues related to the pandemic unless the players themselves do so first.

But we know Monteiro is back on the field with Al Ittihad in training on Wednesday. And while union director Jim Curtin said in mid-October, All players have been fully vaccinated, it is noteworthy that one of his most famous colleagues in Cameroon was not.

Bayern Munich announced, on Wednesday, that Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, a Bayern Munich player, had contracted the Covid-19 virus. He was already in isolation after returning from World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, having been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Multiple outlets in Germany have reported that Chubo-Moting is one of five Bayern Munich players whose salaries will be deducted from matches lost for not being vaccinated.

Mbaizu was also on that team, and helped with a pair of victories that sent the team to the final round of the African qualifiers. Another indomitable Lion in the MLS, Seattle Nohu Tolo – who was also vaccinated – missed his side’s shock loss to Real Salt Lake on Tuesday due to the same rules.

»Read more: Gameiro Monteiro and Olivier Mbazu have played in some of the biggest matches of their lives in the World Cup qualifiers.

While Kirten answered a question about Mbazu’s situation during Friday’s lunchtime news conference, he said, “We will do everything we can to make him eligible for the match.” This means that Mbaizu has not been officially ruled out yet, although the odds seem slim in terms of being cleared.

If Mbazo goes out, expect Alphas Powell to start at right-back again. The Jamaican veteran was outstanding in the Federation’s 1-0 win over the Red Bulls, his 13th career playoff. He’s also one of only two players in the Federation’s locker room with the MLS Cup winner’s ring, since 2015 with the Portland Timbers. (Aurélien Collin is another, from 2013 with Sporting Kansas City.)

“It’s unbelievable to have a player like Alvas on the bench,” said Curtin, also referring to his years of experience with the Jamaican national team. “He knows what the pressure is. … To know there was a gear and other intensity to go for, Alphas went up and it was perfect for us.”

This will be the third meeting of the year between the union and Nashville. Each team hosted one in the regular season, and the home team scored a 1-0 win: at Nashville on July 3 and at Subaru Park on October 23.

»Read more: Al-Ittihad hosts Nashville FC in the second round of the MLS playoffs

It’s as if the teams have been looking off each other’s shoulders for weeks now. They fought for the No. 2 seed in the East from late summer to fall, knowing the prize was fitting to host this game.

All eyes will be on Nashville star playmaker Hani Mokhtar, the leading nominee for the Player of the Year award. He scored two impressive goals against Orlando after accumulating 16 goals and 10 assists in the regular season.

Defending him will be a team effort, but it will of course be a special focus for José Andrés Martinez. The Etihad strong defensive midfielder was given a yellow card for opposition late in the second half of a Red Bull game, meaning that if he is booked for this game he will miss the Eastern Conference final.

Kirten wasn’t happy Martinez ran his mouth, but said he’d accept yellow in this game if it came for a good cause.

“I don’t mind if Jose makes a tactical blunder or a tough challenge that might be on the edge,” he said, “we don’t want to lose him obviously, but at the same time, you have to do everything to survive and advance.”

» READ MORE: Legendary award-winning Jakob Glesnis goal was to win at one of the federation’s ever celebrations.

The federation encourages fans to be in their seats by 5:20 pm to participate in a pre-match light show that will be shown via fans’ mobile phones. The mobile application is available through the Federation website. All fans present will also receive free towels for the gathering.

For the Red Bulls game, fans were given free jerseys and there was a pre-match card display at stadium level as teams entered the stadium. But due to the many fans arriving near kick-off, there was a reserve to get into the stadium parking lot. So there was a lot of empty seats when the show happened.

»Read more: Andre Blake reflects on a difficult year as he leads Al Ittihad to the second round of qualifying

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