The Philadelphia Union hope to get back to their winning ways when they take on New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The boys in blue saw their six-game unbeaten streak and their four-game winning streak come to an end on the road last Saturday when they lost on to Real Salt Lake 1-0. Before that, however, the Union had been impressive as they posted their longest winning streak in franchise history. Jim Curtin and his club hope to regain that form in this intra-conference match against Patrick Vieira’s Blues.
Even though RSL had been struggling and were missing one their top players in midfielder Kyle Beckerman, the Union can almost be forgiven for their lackluster performance in that previous match. They were playing in a high-altitude city, two time zones away, and the team was due for a let-down. The travel will be simpler this time with the 2-hour bus ride to The Bronx.
Curtin had been employing the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach during the unbeaten streak, but he’s going to be forced to at least make one change at the number 8 position, since Alejandro Bedoya will be missing due to US Men’s National Team duty. Normally, it would make sense to replace him with Derrick Jones, but he’ll also missing because of national team duty (in his case, being with the U-20s for their World Cup tournament). Brian Carroll will also be out, due to injury, so look for Warren Creavalle to get the start.
The Union have another player who has been called up to his national team, Haris Medunjanin. The Bosnia and Herzegovina national team has called him to participate in their upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, but the match is scheduled for June 9, and Medunjanin talked them into letting him wait until after Saturday’s Union match before reporting for duty. Medunjanin has been playing in the number 6 role, but Creavalle is a more defensive-minded player than Bedoya, so it’s possible we’ll see Haris get more involved the offense in this match, and Curtin stated as much in his midweek press conference. Curtin also said that the ridiculously narrow field in Yankee Stadium may prove to be a benefit for Creavalle “because there is less room for NYCFC to hide.”
Fabian Herbers will also be missing due to his hip flexor injury, so Marcus Epps may get a chance to see some more Major League Soccer action after his debut at RSL last week.
On defense, centerback Joshua Yaro has returned to training with the U. Yaro will be available for selection, though it’s hard to imagine he would start. Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott have been working well together in the back, and Yaro probably needs to get back to match fitness.
This week, the Union’s opponents will be playing on short rest: NYCFC played to a 2-2 draw at home against New England Wednesday night, after they’d suffered a 3-1 loss in Atlanta on Sunday. Vieira played almost identical starting lineups in both matches (the only change was Tommy McNamara in the place of the suspended Alex Ring), so some squad rotation may be in order for the Blues. There is a question on whether Rodney Wallace will be available as he was called into national team duty with Costa Rica (along with Ronald Matarrita), so City may have to find a replacement for their starting left winger. Ancient midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who has been nursing a knee injury, could be another change to the lineup if he’s healthy enough to play, even though he has looked very much his age of 38 years when he played earlier in the season. Still, at the very least, there will be some players who will be dealing with their third match in 6 days, so the Union should take advantage of City’s tired legs.
One NYCFC player who will probably not get a rest is 2016 MLS Most Valuable Player David Villa. It’s hard to imagine Vieira would leave a goal machine like him on the bench, and the Union will have to make sure they keep an eye on him the entire match. His incredible shot from just outside the midfield circle sealed the 2-0 win for City last time they played the Union in Chester on April 14. That was back in the bad old days when the Union didn’t seem capable of winning a match.
Prediction: The Union seem to be a different team now than they were back then. They might even be a good team. NYCFC is better though, and the hope here is that the U can get a road point from a tired team. Union 2 NYCFC 2.
Mike is a South Jersey native and resident who has been a Philadelphia Union fan ever since the team was just a twinkle in the eyes of the Sons Of Ben. He is also a lifelong fan of the Phillies and an Eagles season ticket holder since 1985.