The Philadelphia Union is riding high after a gritty road win at 2nd place Nashville SC on the midweek. Now they are looking to create a winning streak as they take on a team they haven’t lost to since the 2021 playoffs, NYCFC. Can this Union team get hot again and climb up the table, ahead of a brand new mid-season Cup competition?
Union vs NYCFC Preview
Philly has had a bit of a rough go of it for most of this month so far. They started it with a two-game losing streak falling at Atlanta United and at LA Galaxy. The thought road trip continued as Philadelphia went to Nashville, but they found a way to get a huge 2-0 win. This could be the catalyst for a huge turnaround now as Philly returns home to play their hated foes NYCFC!
MLS season so far
When looking at NYCFC this season it seems like they are a shell of what they once were. It was this time last year that they lost their coach, Ronny Deila, and talisman, Taty Castellanos, and since then they really have not been able to move forward. New York did make the Eastern Conference Final last season but fell to Philly. Coming into 2023, this team was feeling the hangover of losing.
NYCFC has won just five of their 23 games this season, and has only won once in their last 15 matches! They currently sit in 13th place in the eastern conference. This is not the NYCFC that was competing for the east and winning MLS Cup. The Union saw New York earlier this season in Queens, where Philly dealt NYCFC their biggest loss of the season. Things are not looking good for New York.
These are two teams heading in different directions. Philly is in fourth and is still in the running for the top of the east and surprisingly for the Supporters’ Shield. NYCFC is looking to find a way to get to ninth place to squeak into the playoffs. With that being said, matches between these two sides are always chippy and close affairs.
NYCFC is a mess, but they still have some good players. The obvious choice for their X-factor is Gabriel Pereira. He’s their leading scorer with six on the year and is near the top in assists as well. While he is very important, he is not the player that could dictate the game for NYCFC. For me, that will be someone coming back from the Gold Cup, midfielder/defender James Sands.
Sands gives NYCFC a stable foundation. He’s played 17 of their 23 matches primarily at centerback but can also play as a defensive midfielder as he did for the USMNT at the Gold Cup. James Sands may not be a flashy player, but he’s going to do the dirty work that his team needs to win. He did play the Union back in May and had a bit of a rough time as Carranza tore NYC apart.
This time around Sand’s reintegration could bring more stability which NYCFC need as they continue to get draws at a historic rate, they already have 11 on the year. If he can come in and stabilize NYCFC’s defensive shape, then they may make things hard for Philly. Speaking of Philly, they’ll be getting some players back as well!
Andre Blake is back from the Gold Cup; barring something crazy, he will be in net for the Union against NYCFC. Jose Martinez who was sick on Wednesday is back and ready to go as well. Add those MVP candidates from last season to a Philly side that is riding high after a huge road win and things could get scary out there.
For this game, I’d expect to see the Union roll out this starting XI:
Blake; Wagner, Elliot, Glesnes, Mbiazo; Martinez, Flach, Bedoya, Gazdag; Uhre, Sullivan.
Obviously, Philly is missing leading scorer Julian Carranza after his red card against Nashville, but this Union side is strong, and when they’re at home they don’t lose often. Philly has lost just once this year at home, drawn twice, and won seven times. I expect that win column to tick up on Saturday night.
With the way these teams are trending, I see the Union getting a 2-1 home win and take a huge two-game winning streak into the Leagues Cup break!
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union