Philadelphia Union will take on fellow Eastern Conference rival NYCFC Thursday 7/9 at 9:00 a.m. in what will be the first early morning contest of the MLS is Back Tournament at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
For the better part of two weeks now, Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin has repeatedly explained that there simply is no blueprint on how to game-plan for a professional match at 9:00 a.m.
There is no prior experience to draw on either. Which makes Thursday’s early morning affair that much more interesting.
The 9:00 a.m. kickoff will mark the first of several early morning matches in group play of the MLS is Back Tournament. Other clubs will pay special attention to how each team manages the time change.
And considering the question marks surrounding how each individual player will respond to a professional match that early, it’s a particularly tough to game to preview. Check out the five things to watch for on this match below!
Philadelphia and NYCFC know each other fairly well. Each side suffered very little roster turnover from last season until now. Which Curtin mentioned helps his side prepare due to knowing certain players’ tendencies.
NYCFC has a new manager though in Ronny Diela and while tactically not much is expected to change from the Pigeons in terms of tactics, they’ll bring more intensity and pressure to the pitch than in years passed.
Curtin acknowledged NYCFC’s extra efforts when counter-pressing when studying the small amount of game film available to him and his staff. That’s one aspect of Thursday’s match that could be very impactful.
For Curtin, his side will be wise to severely limit their turnovers – especially those in their own end when trying to build possession. Since it’s the first match for both sides in four months, those turnovers may be more common than usual, creating a potentially wide-open match.
NYCFC thrives in transition moments. And they can create a move forward out of virtually nothing. Whether it’s a throw-in in their own half followed by two quick flicks forward or a turnover in the run of play, it only takes one lapse in focus and judgment for NYCFC to punish opponents.
But Philadelphia can rely on the veteran midfielder and team captain Ale Bedoya to create some stability on and off the ball. A hearty and experienced back-line along with the welcomed return of left-back Kai Wagner should also be of great use Thursday AM for Curtin.
Since NYCFC thrives in both transition moments and in the ‘half-spaces’ just above the box in the attacking third, communication and positioning will be crucial for Philadelphia’s back-line. A misstep or two can create just enough space for a creative play-maker like Maxi Morales to wiggle through and create some offensive chances.
Projected Starting XI, with extended bench
I’d expect a similar formation to the one Curtin deployed out west at LAFC four months ago for that 3-3 late-night thriller. A 4-4-2 but with a lot of freedom for Bedoya and Monteiro on the edges of the midfield with Martinez at the 8 and Aaronson at the 10.
GK: Andre Blake
Defenders: Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott, Mark McKenzie, Ray Gaddis
Midfielders: Jose ‘El Brujo’ Martinez, Ale Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Brenden Aaronson
Forwards: Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos
Bench: Joe Bendik, Matt Real, Jakob Glesnes, Ilsinho, Jack de Vries, Anthony Fontana, Warren Creavalle, Andrew Wooten, Michee Ngalina, Matej Oravec, Cole Turner
Union all-time record against
3–8-1 (both regular season and post-season) with a -6 goal differential
Betting: Moneyline odds
Currently, NYCFC is slightly favored to win at +130 compared to Philadelphia at +170. If you favor a draw those odds are at +260.
The over/under sits at 3 goals.
As of now, I’d take the over with a late Philadelphia winner. But considering the early game time, we could easily be in for a 90+ minute scoreless draw as players shake off four months of rust in the early morning hours.
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Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports