Match previews

Match Preview: New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: New York City FC (5th place, 21 points, 6-5-3) vs. Philadelphia Union (9th place, 16 points, 4-5-4)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
When: Saturday, June 3 at 1 pm
Watch: 6abc, MLS Live, YES
Whistle: Hilario Grajeda; Corey Rockwell, Jeff Muschik; Mark Kadlecik

All streaks must end. Philadelphia’s six game unbeaten streak reached its conclusion last Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. Before that 1-0 loss, the Union’s next opponent was the last team to defeat Jim Curtin’s men.

On April 14, New York City FC came to Talen Energy Stadium and won 2-0. It was the visitor’s third victory in their first six matches.

Recent results haven’t been as kind. While the Union are 4-1-0 in their last five, NYCFC are 1-2-2. Wednesday evening, in a home contest against New England Revolution, City relinquished two separate leads and could only muster a 2-2 draw.

Philadelphia will be looking to even the all time series with their northeastern rivals. A win would see them improve to 3-3-1 against NYCFC. It would also be their first ever victory at Yankee Stadium.

Projected New York City FC lineup

Scouting report: New York City FC 

Tired legs

The Union will look to capitalize on City’s fatigue. This marks their third match in six days.

Squad rotation is expected in these circumstances, especially after only one change was made to the starting 11 for the match against New England after Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. Head coach Patrick Vieira, however, may choose to forego this approach.

Vieira blamed squad rotation for a loss against Real Salt Lake earlier this season in a midweek contest. Following a draw in Dallas, the coach made five changes to his side.

Expect two changes to the team that lined up against the Revolution. Alexander Ring will return after serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. Ronald Matarrita should return after missing the last eight matches with a high-ankle sprain. The 22-year-old left back was phenomenal in the early portion of the season, bombing up the flank. His last game action actually came against the Union, where he provided the assist on City’s opening goal.

Despite the time off after Saturday’s contest, Philadelphia is hoping Vieira is asking too much of his players. David Villa is 35 and played all 180 minutes of the last two matches. If the Union back line can’t slow down the Spanish star, maybe tired legs can.

The absentee Italian

Vieira could turn to another veteran to ease the burden on his midfield: Andrea Pirlo.

If he was reintroduced to the lineup, it would be contrary to the coach’s recent decisions. An injured hamstring has played its part, but City’s highest paid player has lost his spot to Ring and Mikey Lopez. It has reached the point where it is rumored the Italian may join Antonio Conte’s coaching staff at Chelsea as soon as August.

While a drop in production is expected from a 38-year-old, Pirlo’s fall from grace has more to do with the play of his replacements.

Ring is playing his first year with NYCFC following a transfer from Kaiserslautern. The Finnish midfielder’s style is reminiscent of Vieira’s own contributions as a player. He ranges box-to-box, shielding the back line while playing an integral role in connected the attack.

Lopez is the more defensive of the two. Last season, his energy was a liability as it often saw him drift away from his required position and responsibilities. This year, he has displayed more poise. He knows his role, and Vieira is getting more from his young midfielder.

  • Injury report: Out – Khiry Shelton (F, hamstring); Questionable – Ronald Matarrita (D, high ankle sprain), Andrea Pirlo (M, knee bone bruise)
  • Suspensions: None.
  • International duty: Yangel Herrera (M, Venezuela U-20)

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union 

Projected Union lineup

Heavy shoulders

While the Union aren’t blowing teams away in attack, it hasn’t been a definitive weakness, either. In fact, Philadelphia sit in a tie for the 8th most goals in MLS.

The issue has been the distribution of the scoring.

C.J. Sapong has scored 8 of the Union’s 19 goals this season. It accounts for an eye-popping 42.11%. Only two players in MLS have a higher percentage for their team:

  • Cyle Larin: 50.00% (8 of Orlando City SC’s 16 goals)
  • Nemanja Nikolic: 47.83% (11 of Chicago Fire’s 23 goals)

No other Union player has scored more than twice this season. More damning, only Haris Medunjanin, Fafa Picault, and Roland Alberg have tallied on multiple occasions.

Sapong’s teammates need to ease the forward’s burden. Chris Pontius, last season’s leading scorer for the team, has yet to find the back of the net. Without consistent contributions from others, the Union will struggle to present a multi-dimensional attacking threat.

Sapong has been streaky to say the least in his career. Asking for more production from the striker will leave Curtin searching for answers. The solution needs to be found sooner than later.

Replacing the captain

The Union are fortunate they will not need to replace both members of their midfield pivot. Despite being called up to Bosnia’s national team, Medunjanin chose to remain with the club for Saturday’s match.

“The national team of Bosnia wanted me to come on June 1, but I told them I have a game against New York, and it is important, and I want to stay with the guys,” Medunjanin told reporters.

Curtin knows he is fortunate. He could have been without his top three choices in the center of the pitch.

He will, however, have to replace his captain. Alejandro Bedoya will be with the U.S. national team. The most likely choice to fill the void is Warren Creavalle. The veteran performed serviceably for the team in a similar role last season. He is a known commodity for the coach. Creavalle will focus more on defense than Medunjanin, who is expected to contribute to the attack.

It’s a move that allows the Bosnian to drift further upfield, especially in the small confines of Yankee Stadium. It’s debatable if this will have negative or positive effect, as it may limit his influence as the Union’s deep-lying midfielder.

Surprise candidates include Adam Najem, a more offensive player who played the position with Bethlehem. Ken Tribbett also saw time at the base of the midfield with the Steel.

  • Injury Report: Out – Maurice Edu (M, left ankle/tibia), Brian Carroll (M, lumbar disc herniation), Fabian Herbers (F, right adductor partial avulsion); No designation – Joshua Yaro (D, shoulder surgery)
  • Suspensions: None.
  • International duty: Alejandro Bedoya (M, U.S. national team), Derrick Jones (M, U.S. U-20)
Key matchup: The wings

While the Union are reliant upon Sapong, NYCFC have no such issue with their attack. On their right wing, Jack Harrison has already set a career high with six goals. Playing behind him is City’s new DP, Maximiliano Morález. The Argentinian has been the playmaker he was expected to be, with 19 chances created in his last seven matches before Wednesday’s game. On the left wing, Rodney Wallace has been equally effective with four goals and three assists.

The Union fullbacks will have a lot to do. On the compact pitch, they will have to contribute to the attack while holding City’s lethal wings at bay. Because of that compact pitch, it is once again time to suggest Keegan Rosenberry’s return to the field. His spacing in comparison to his center back will not be as magnified as it normally would be. Posing an offensive threat from the back line may be the best way to counterattack City’s own wide players.

Player to watch: David Villa

He is putting together another MVP-type performance with eight goals and five assists. He can also do things like this:

Prediction: New York City FC 2-1 Philadelphia Union

The standings say the home side is the better team. The earlier match this season says the same thing. While neither is the same club they were on April 14, there isn’t much inherently different in the tactics and matchup. City are averaging over two goals a game at home. Until the Union show they are capable of beating a quality team on the road, it can’t be expected they will.



  1. Haris said no to his country? wow

  2. Hey are you sure about the TV listing? Comcast has a Phillies game listed for TCN, and “MLS Soccer” (with no teams listed) on 6ABC

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    If Yaro is deemed healthy, what about using Elliott with Haris? Then if Yaro is getting tired you have the option of moving Elliott back and bringing in Creavalle or keeping Elliott there if he looks good and bringing in Marquez/Gooch (whichever one doesn’t start).

    • So, put Elliott in a position he hasn’t played for us before? And put Yaro back in the main squad, for his first game back from a months-long injury, replacing the aforementioned well-performing starting CB, on the road, against a tough team sporting one of the best attackers in MLS? Sure, what could go wrong??

  4. I don’t think any of the options that are on the fence have any shot of happening. T Wilcox be the he sure same line up but with crevalle. I would be very impressed with Curtin if Rosenberry came in.
    This should be an important game for Harris and Ilsinho to be able to make quick decisive passes on the small pitch. It may also negate Fafas speed some.

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