Five days removed from a thrilling win over New York City FC, the Union travel to the Yankee Stadium to face the newest addition to the MLS for the second game in the home-and-home series. The Union’s 2-1 win over New York marked the Union’s first of the season whilst simultaneously handing City their second consecutive defeat. A stoppage time goal separated the two on Sunday, but we’re expecting a very different contest tonight.
What’s the key to the Union taking maximum points from the two game series? Defence. The Union have the worst defensive record in MLS after six weeks, which on paper is as you’d expect..poor. But here’s the twist. David VIlla’s 55th minute equaliser on Sunday broke a 241 minute goal drought for NYCFC. The team have struggled to score and with Union’s defence now running on confidence following a first team win..it could prove to be even harder.
For the past two matches, Jim Curtin has somehow, despite being on scarce resources..compiled a pressing defense that can stifle some of the biggest names in the league. The first half against New York on Sunday was extremely impressive. They knew the quality of player they were coming up against and got the gameplan absolutely spot on. Michael Lahoud took control in the trenches, sitting in smartly behind Zach Pfeffer and Vincent Nogueira. For the first time all season, the back four and indeed midfield was orchestrated perfectly. Philly’s defense consistently pressed as a consistent unit rather than acting as individuals. Which in my opinion, is the reason they left big holes open in the opening games.
Curtin has come under extensive criticism lately, but without his main target man and several other big names..he has crafted a unit as opposed to eleven individuals who lack chemistry. Chemistry will often outperform individual quality, we’re seeing that now.
Philly should be able to control the midfield as they did on Sunday. The energetic Zach Pfeffer opened his scoring account against NYCFC and gave the New York Midfielders a tonne of work to do. Even if Maidana gets the start, knowing that the sheer speed and work rate of Pfeffer is sat on the bench waiting to pounce is enough to keep the biggest teams on their toes. The more important issue is whether the Union can find a way to implement Andrew Wenger into the game. Wenger is lethal on the counter and despite the centre counter attacking proving to be effective, shaking things up and giving the winger some room to be creative wouldn’t go amiss.
New Striker Aristeguieta is expected to be sidelined which means further woes for the Union…or does it? If Edu starts alongside Vitoria at the back then Lahoud and Nogueira can control the defensive midfield, allowing Pfeffer to play more of a false nine role, supporting presumably Le Toux. 18 Year Old backflip enthusiast Ayuk will partner Wenger on the wings to give New York problems. Strangely, having no designated goalscorer may give the Union room to stretch their lineup and play a more possession based game, creating even more opportunities.
The Union will travel to the Yankee stadium in extremely high spirits. The team right now has a perfect balance of youth and experience. Pfeffer has once again proven his elusiveness and Erik Ayuk has already made it clear that he’s looking to capitalise on the amount of injuries Philly have by outperforming everyones expectations! The only issue the Union found last game was containing David Villa. The trickster’s flicks and spins caught out just about every Union player on the field, eventually leading to a goal. The rest of the team however struggled to create opportunity. If Edu can adapt to a defensive role and man mark the Spanish international then the home side will struggle to get many shots through against hometown hero McCarthy. The pacing and creativity worked on in training is becoming more and more apparent as the jigsaw finally fits together for the Union. Expect both teams to score here with possession being the crucial statistic. I think the Union can edge this rivalry game and sweep the series providing the back four can contain Villa.
NYCFC 2-3 Union