Photo: Frank Fimmano

Photo: Frank Fimmano

Match Preview: Union vs NYCFC, Saturday August 18th at 7 PM

Are the Philadelphia Union actually a good team? We’ll find out this weekend as they take on New York City FC at home.

With the big road win against the New England Revolution last weekend, the Union find themselves back above the playoff red line in fifth place. People are starting to think that maybe the Union don’t suck as bad as we thought they did a couple of months ago . The boys in blue have looked dangerous recently, and they have won 3 of their last 4 road matches.

But the recent road success hasn’t been reflected in their home record, with only 3 points in their last 4 MLS matches at Talen Energy Stadium. And it won’t be easy with NYCFC coming into town. NYCFC is in the top tier of teams in the East, along with Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls. They have 47 points in 24 matches. They’ve stayed up top even with superstar striker David Villa missing 7 of the last 8 games due to a knee injury. Unless they fall apart in the last 10 matches, they should have no problem making the playoffs. But its not just about the playoffs for them. NYCFC is right in the thick of the race for the Supporters’ Shield, just one point behind the current leaders, Atlanta United. With a CONCACAF Champions League berth on the line, NYCFC is going to be hungry to take home at least one point on the road.

The Union have already faced them twice this season, home and away, with NYCFC winning both. A good thing is that the Union will be home for the rubber match, as NYCFC is unstoppable at home with a stunning 10-0-2 record. But on the road, they are beatable, with five losses in 12 matches.

Union coach Jim Curtin has been mixing things up a bit lately. In their 3-2 win against the Revs on Saturday, Curtin started both Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong starting, with Sapong playing on the wing. Jack Elliott has gotten a chance to play in the last two matches thanks to a Mark McKenzie injury, and he has taken full advantage of it, with solid defense, and even scoring a brace against New England. I expect Curtin to continue with Burke at striker, with Sapong, Borek Dockal and Fafa Picault backing him up. NYCFC right back Anton Timmerholm will have his hands full trying to keep up with the speedy Picault, who has just been running rings against defenders lately (and that is fun to watch).

The Union’s defenders will have their own challenges, with Villa, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and Jesus Medina on the attack. Having Maxi Morales and Alex Ring backing them up in the midfield makes them even more dangerous. Mark McKenzie is still injured, so it will be Elliott pairing up with Auston Trusty again. Andre Blake will probably be relied on to make more saves against the NYCFC attack.

I have been down on the Union lately, but their recent performances in both MLS and U.S. Open Cup action has made me more optimistic. Combining that with the fact that Villa may not be 100% recovered yet, I am going to go on a limb here and say that they will return to their winning ways at home. Prediction: Union 2, NYCFC 1