The Union battle New York City FC Saturday evening at Talen Energy Stadium. Philadelphia is full of confidence after huge wins last week, but they know that their confidence and upward trend means nothing if they lose a crucial home match. New York City FC comes into town looking to keep pace with Red Bulls and Atlanta at the top of the east. This match is the first of five critical matches against Eastern Conference opponent’s for Philadelphia; the start to this stretch could determine the outcome of the Union’s MLS season. Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview if the Union can make a statement and beat NYCFC.
The Union have entered the final third of the 2018 schedule, and for the first time in a while, control their own destiny for the playoffs. Eleven games remain, and only six against teams currently above the red line. Out of those six quality match-ups, four are at Talen Energy Stadium. Granted, the boys in blue havent played as well at home in 2018 as they have in past seasons, but their chances are still markedly higher to get three points when they play host. With two games in hand on Montreal who is resting in 6th place, Im going to get greedy. Aim for the Columbus Crew and 4th place. Unlikely, yes, but I, like many Union supporters, want to attend a home playoff game this November. Philly trails Columbus in-goal differential by nine, so any chance of claiming the fourth spot will depend on wins, not draws, and beating the Crew on September 29th. First things first – Saturday night the business at hand is NYCFC.
David Villa is still the marquee name on the club from the Bronx. His statistics arent as glaring as in past seasons, but hes still managed nine goals and four assists. Not bad numbers for missing almost the past six weeks of competition. He trails only first year forward, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, whos knocked in ten goals this season. NYCFCs most valuable player has been the diminutive midfielder, Maximiliano Moralez. Third on the club with eight goals, and second in all of MLS with twelve assists, he is the conductor of their scoring machine.
This all sounds pretty bleak for the Union. Maybe not Looming for NYCFC on Wednesday is a critical match-up with the New York Red Bulls. Only one point separates those two clubs and Atlanta for top seed in the East. There is a good chance that one of NYCFCs big three will be rested Saturday night. Also, goalie Sean Johnson has been nursing an injury and coach, Domènec Torrent, might want to keep him under lock and key until Wednesday. This would bode well for the Union, since back-up goalie, Brad Stuver, has surrendered eleven goals in only four starts in MLS.
According to Union coach, Jim Curtin, midfielder, Ilsinho will be available for selection this weekend. He said he is going at full speed and it was great to have him back at full training. Fafa Picault will be sitting this one out with a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Hopefully this means Ilsinho on the left, C.J. Sapong on the right and Cory Burke up top. Ilsinho has flourished on the right-wing this season, but moving to the left side might be an easier transition for him than for Sapong. Curtin wasnt clear on centerback, Mark McKenzies status, so look for Jack Elliot to get the start again next to Auston Trusty. The Union have an opportunity this weekend to steal one against one of the best clubs in MLS. Anything less than a draw will be disappointing to say the least.
Prediction: Union: 2 – NYCFC: 2
Union Man of the Match: C.J. Sapong
As Jeff mentioned, the Union are solely in control of their own destiny at this point. With their next five leagues matches coming against fellow Eastern Conference foes, Philadelphia have an opportunity to solidify themselves into the playoff picture. But it won’t be easy. It never is.
Before you look too far ahead though, the club’s next two match-ups are arguably the most important of 2018. First, Saturday night against NYCFC. Then, a week later when the New England Revolution return to Chester. If Philadelphia can earn two wins and six points with those next two, they’re playoff ‘push’ becomes much less burdened.
If they fail to muster four out of a possible six points over the next two match-ups, the September 29th tilt against Columbus Crew would be merely meaningless. But that’s just one man’s opinion.
And it might not be too crazy to suggest Philadelphia could snag three points Saturday night. After all, NYCFC are hosting the New York Red Bulls next Wednesday. Which means it’s possible NYCFC could place a bit less importance on Saturday’s match against Philadelphia.
But NYCFC are scary talented and can score at will. They have 48 goals so far this season, 3rd in MLS. They’ve registered 381 shots, 2nd in MLS. Philadelphia’s back line will have their hands full.
If Mark McKenzie is 100% healthy at game time, expect him to start alongside Auston Trusty. Trusty and McKenzie’s partnership and communication have grown immensely over the year and it’s best to keep those two paired when facing elite goal scorers like David Villa. That’s not to say Jack Elliot in McKenzie’s place would be bad, I’d just rather have the normal duo on the pitch once more.
Ilsinho is expected to make his return to the starting XI after dazzling coaches in training this week. His return couldn’t be more perfect, as Fafa will be sidelined. Look for Cory Burke to earn yet another start as his incredible form continues. The wildcard in the lineup will be CJ Sapong and whether head coach Jim Curtin decides to play him with Ilsinho.
The key will be the early goal and whether Philadelphia can snag it. Philadelphia has scored three goals in each of their last two games. They need to stay hot offensively. Although that’s easier said than done.
Prediction: Union: 2 – NYCFC: 1.
Union Man of the Match: Ilsinho.
I previewed the next five matches below, so I will abstain from writing more about this upcoming match!
Prediction: Union: 1 – NYCFC: 2
Union Man of the Match: Alejandro Bedoya
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Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports