New York City FC (1-2-3, 6 pts) will visit the City of Brotherly Love to face the Philadelphia Union (3-3-0, 9 pts) this Saturday at 4 PM.
The matchup pits the sixth-place club from the Bronx against the second-place Union in a battle between two Eastern Conference sides who currently reside in playoff position. A win would ensure the Union would be no worse than second at weekend’s end, while a win for NYCFC has the potential to vault them well up the standings while denying the Union precious points in a true six pointer. The U are attempting to bounce back from a 2-1 loss in Seattle which saw them get the better of play for long stretches but also saw a red card issued on the road once again and forced them to play with 10 men for nearly the entire second half. NYCFC is coming off of a 3-2 loss in Columbus which saw NYC man David Villa net a brace as his team suffered its first loss of the year.
The boys in blue will attempt to limit both the dangerous Villa and Andrea Pirlo and keep their feet while they do so. Both manager Jim Curtin and midfielder Warren Creavalle have recently commented on the willingness of referees to hand out red cards and the necessity of staying on their feet and not giving refs the opportunity to hand out cards for bad tackles. Two of the three Union losses (at Chicago and at Seattle) have featured a Union player sent off for a questionable tackle at midfield early in the second half in away matches where it appeared the Union could pick up a point and even possibly three. If the boys in blue hope to make the playoffs, they’ll have to limit such wasted opportunities.
Philadelphia will try to possess the ball and high press to retrieve it when they don’t have it. They had 57 percent possession in the first half in Seattle before Alberg was sent off and clearly looked the better team even when they were down to 10 men. No one’s really sure what NYCFC will attempt to do; they have a first-year manager and a team that doesn’t seem to be constructed properly with exciting young talent not seeing the field, a questionable defense, and even more questionable goalkeeping. The plan seems to be “rely on moments of magic from Villa and Pirlo” right now, and it’s not a plan that can hold up for the duration of a grueling MLS season. Adjustments will have to be made.
These teams met three times last year. On April 11th, the Union defeated NYCFC 2-1 in Chester for their first win of the season. Five days later, the two teams fought to a 1-1 draw in Yankee Stadium. The last game of the series was on June 6th and saw NYCFC take all three points at what was then PPL Park, leaving each team 1-1-1 against the other for the year. This year, the Union are perfect so far at home with two wins, while NYCFC has won one and lost one on the road.
The U are hoping to get creative midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta back in the first XI. Barnetta has been a substitution in the last three games and has been working up to match fitness, and they anticipate he’ll be good to go. On his right should be Ilsinho, who picked up a knock and did not appear in the Seattle match, but who has been working out with the team. Lone goal scorer Sebastien Le Toux started in his stead and would presumably start again if Ilsinho cannot go. Center defender Ken Tribbett rolled his ankle and did not play last week, tossing second-overall pick Josh Yaro into the starting lineup. Yaro deputized well and it appeared that Curtin will not hesitate to call on him again should Tribbett not be able to go this weekend. Roland Alberg will not be available due to his red card and automatic one match suspension.
Prediction: I don’t see how the U lose this one. They’ve been great at home this year and even in two of their three losses, they looked like a team to be reckoned with. NYCFC still has things to figure out while the Union have found their identity and are executing their plan each week. It’s early, but points in April and May count the same as points in September and October. These are three points the Union must grab, and they do.
Union 3, NYCFC 1.