3 ways the Union can get first MLS win of 2021 vs NYCFC

The Philadelphia Union has yet to kick the tires in their 2021 MLS campaign. They have just one point from their first two matches and have a -1 goal differential. That is juxtaposed with their run of form in CCL. The Union has three wins, scoring eight goals and conserving none on their current champions league run. Philly heads into week three of the MLS season hoping some of their CCL form can carry over. The Union looks for their first MLS win of 2021 vs NYCFC this coming Saturday.

first MLS win of 2021
Mandatory Credit: Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire

3 ways the Union can get their first MLS win of 2021

The Union has been one of the busier MLS teams at the start of their 2021 season. They have already played five games over three weeks, and are about to add on their sixth when they take on NYCFC. NYC has not been as busy as Philly playing only two MLS matches. It’s hard to get a clear read on how NYCFC’s season has been. They lost at DC United in week one, which was an upset to many. In week two, they followed that bad result with a 5-0 win at home vs FC Cincinnati; all five goals were off of set pieces. This NYCFC team looks to be still finding out who they are. Which will the Union face on Saturday, the one who scores buckets of goals off of set pieces, or a team that losses a lead on the road?

Philly is certainly riding a high after one of, if not the biggest win in club history at Atlanta! Now they head into an important league match against another conference rival. The Union is definitely on a high from the midweek result; however, they still will hate the way they lost last weekend at home to Miami. Because of this, the Union will come out firing against NYCFC. But how can the Union get their first MLS win of 2021? I offer three ways the Union will need to execute Saturday to get their first win of 2021!

1 Rotation & managing players minutes

Union head coach Jim Curtin is not one to rotate the players in his starting XI much. This can allow for consistency and familiarity between the eleven players on the pitch. However, when a team is heading into its sixth match in three weeks, a lack of rotation/rest could be detrimental. It’s been visible late in matches in these first three weeks that the Union players have looked gassed. A shortened preseason led into matches of great importance for Philly.

Against NYCFC, Curtin and the Union should make some lineup changes to manage players’ legs, and minutes played. With a crucial second leg of the CCL quarterfinals coming up next Tuesday, it would be good to give some players that have played in every match some rest. Allowing players like Leon Flach or Jamiro Montiero a night off, as in not starting but being available on the bench, could help the team. This would allow for the possibility of some of the homegrowns getting more minutes or even starting. Curtin has said he’s not sure if he trusts them yet, but he’ll need to if this team is going to manage all of these games early in the season.

While the Union is almost at the end of their midweek CCL, weekend MLS schedule, they will begin having midweek MLS matches after leg two of the CCL quarterfinals vs Atlanta. So this is not the only time the conversation of rotation or managing players’ minutes will be brought up. In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an almost unchanged lineup from the midweek match, because that is what the Union does…

2 Control the midfield

NYCFC plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation and looks to dominate teams when on the ball. They look to do this by controlling the midfield. Their midfield five is flooded with skilled players who can keep the ball and win it back should they lose it. The attacking three of Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez and Medina are skilled at moving the ball; while the two sitting d-mids Parks and Sands offer cover for the backline and deep-lying attacking threats moving forward. If this midfield dictates the play, then NYCFC will have a chance to spoil another night in Chester for Philadelphia.

From a Union perspective, they are fine with their opponents having the ball. Philly’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond will look to break up that possession in the midfield. The high press will be in full effect looking to spark counterattacks as it did just a few days ago against Atlanta. The key is not allowing Moralez, Sands and Parks the ability to play distributer in the middle of the field. Putting pressure on them, and not allowing balls out wide or in behind, will help stop NYCFC’s build-up and likely create counter-attacking chances going the other way for Philly.

If the Union can do this, they will control the midfield, and if they do that they should be able to find their first win in MLS play in 2021. Failing to do this will allow for NYCFC to pepper the Union’s goal with shots, and create dangerous set-piece opportunities.

3 Stop the set pieces

The Union has shown that when they get tired they can get a bit lazy conceding fouls that lead to dangerous free-kicks. These types of set-piece opportunities, and a lack of focus, are the reason Philly lost last week to Inter Miami. Losing one of the best finishers on the pitch during a set-piece and allowing an open header, and not picking up runs into the box cannot be tolerated. The Union showed organization against these opportunities against Atlanta, but now they will need to do so against an NYCFC team who are coming off of scoring FIVE set-piece goals last week.

If NYCFC has any chance to get points on the road in Subaru Park it will be from executing their well-worked set pieces. While FC Cincinnati didn’t cover themselves in glory defending set-pieces last weekend, NYCFC still converted on all their little mistakes. NYCFC has shown they will capitalize on mistakes made. The Union needs to play without any of those damning defensive lapses that were present against Miami.

Even with NYCFC scoring five from set-pieces last week, the Union will be more organized and should shut down those types of opportunities. With two center backs that are over 6’4″ and the possibility of having strikers who are also very tall, Philly should be able to win the ball in the air. Doing this will take a huge part of NYCFC’s game away and push the Union to their first MLS victory of 2021.

Prediction Time! Can Union get their first MLS win of 2021?

Philadelphia is in an interesting position coming into this weekend’s match against NYCFC. They are riding a high from their 3-0 road win at Atlanta, and also still frustrated by seeing that home L one in the loss column. This match will come down to how the Union manages their players’ minutes. If they come out with very few changes to the midweek starting XI, then the Union may get tired quickly. This may stop NYCFC’s midfield early on, but allow them to grow into the game. Tired legs also mean dumb fouls. If the Union commits those and allows for good looks on set pieces NYCFC could do exactly what Miami did.

However, I don’t see that happening. I would hope there to be two to three changes in the Union’s starting XI. This will allow for the team to give rest to some players and opportunities to others. If this doesn’t happen, then it’s all about staying fresh in the midfield. Once players start to tire a sub needs to come in. This will not allow NYCFC to get their midfield rolling. If Curtin sees this as the best option, then I trust him, if he feels it’s time to give other players a shot then that would be good as well.

No matter what, the Union cannot lose back-to-back home games to start this MLS season. Philly needs to manage fatigue, control the midfield and stop NYC set pieces. If they do this, I expect Philly to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win over NYCFC tomorrow!

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Mandatory Credit: Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire