Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC

Photo Credit: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (4th in the East, 50 points, 15-5-13) vs. New York City FC (3rd in the East, 53 points, 15-8-10)
What: The last 2018 regular season game
Where: Yankee Stadium Bronx, NY
When: Sunday, October 28 at 4:30 pm
Watch: PHL17, YES, ESPN+, DAZN
Whistle: Alan Kelly; Corey Rockwell, Corey Parker; Fotis Bazakos; Dave Gantar

It’s a fine October tradition, playing ball at Yankee Stadium in October. However since the Yankees got outclassed in the ALDS the game won’t involve pinstripes or “America’s pastime”, but instead the Philadelphia Union hoping to leapfrog the home team and earn a postseason game at Talen Energy Stadium. To do that the Union need all three points, which would bring them even with NYCFC (and DC United should they beat Chicago), but ahead in total number of wins (the first tiebreaker according to MLS’s competition rules).

So while this isn’t a playoff game (the Union are guaranteed to play at least one more time this year no matter what) it’s clearly more than “just” the final regular season game for these two teams.

Scouting report: New York City FC
New York City FC NYCFC Soccer Football Lineup Starting XI

Possible New York Lineup

First, let’s take care of what we know for sure. Sean Johnson may no longer be the heir apparent for the USMNT but he’s still a very good keeper and will be in goal. Matarrita and Tinnerholm will be starting at outside back, where the former’s formidable speed is sure to challenge the Union midfield. And up top David Villa will be playing next to Valentin Castellanos.

What we don’t know for sure is who or where anyone else wearing City blue will be at the start of the game. Over the last three games NYCFC head coach Domenec Torrent has started three different lineups with three different formations. Granted, the shift between 4-1-3-2, 4-3-1-2, and 4-3-3 isn’t night and day, but it’s one of the most dynamic strategies in MLS and way more difficult to predict than the Union’s.

With that said it seems likely they’ll use a similar lineup to the one that faced DC United on Sunday. DC plays a 4-2-3-1 similar to the Union’s (though their attack is more centrally focused with Rooney up top and Acosta behind him) so New York will probably try a similar lineup to keep the Union on the defensive.

  • Injury report: Maxi Moralez (M, lower leg); Cedric Houtondiji (D, hamstring); Jo Inge Berget (F, left adductor)
  • Suspended: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia Philly Union Soccer Football Lineup Starting XI

Probable Philadelphia Lineup

There should be no surprises on the Union side of the field come Sunday, with the only uncertainty being Mark McKenzie or Jack Elliott starting next to Auston Trusty. And for the start of the game, that’s fine. These are the best players the Union have this season, and at several positions they’re the best players the Union have ever had.

But what the Union need to look out for is letting the game get away from them tactically. As has been said, a loss here doesn’t “end” anything. The Union are guaranteed a playoff spot no matter what, so there’s no reason to play it safe. A win gives this team a historic home playoff game, anything else leaves them exactly where they are right now- in the playoffs. If a player isn’t getting it done, head coach Jim Curtin should feel no hesitation to get them off the field and try something new. If it doesn’t work nothing of value is lost because it wasn’t working before the change.

  • Injury report: David Accam (M, sports hernia surgery) Questionable: Fabian Herbers (M, left hip)
  • Suspended: None. Note that Alejandro Bedoya is currently sitting on four yellow cards but will not miss a playoff game due to accumulation should he receive one in this game.
Key matchup

Union attack vs. Sean Johnson. Don’t let his fall from USMNT grace fool you, he’s still a very good MLS keeper. But the thing with all keepers is if you test them enough they will make mistakes. So the challenge for the Union attack is to test the keeper a lot, which is something they haven’t been exactly spectacular at this season.

Player to watch

David Villa. He’s a known Union buster. Any team can struggle to keep him off the scoresheet, but the young Union defense will have to keep him quiet if the Union are to have any chance in this game.


New York 3 – 2 Philadelphia. To be honest, this is a complete shot in the dark. The Union could very easily win this game, capping off a record-breaking season with the first ever MLS Cup Playoffs game in Pennsylvania. But they’ll have to challenge an above-average defense while shutting down a goalscorer who’s always been a boogeyman for this team. Hope for the Union to win, but don’t be surprised if they don’t.


  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    The Union will avenge Roland Alberg and the uncalled penalty he earned two seasons ago that would have tied the match (the game in which Pirlo scored his only MLS goal, and Lamps and Villa scored too). Avenge him!!!

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    So long as David Villa doesn’t score from half field… I’m good.
    also…In my opinion- this game screams for Warren Creavalle and Ilsinho with Haris and Sapong on the bench.
    The field is so small what Haris will bring is redundancy whereas Crevalle can shore up the defense and Lord knows CJ is unable to maintain possessional flow in tight spaces- which allows Bedoya & Dockal to control possession with Ilsinho isolating and combining on the outside. What do I know.
    Also II…. Union played Houston in 2016 in Philly — home and home.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      2012 I believe actually. Someone correct me if needed.

      • Wikipedia says 2011.
        Given my penchant for memory lapses, this is most certainly NOT a criticism!

    • This is the kind of tactical adjustment that makes perfect sense, but Curtin would never do because he never does. He trusts his players too much, to a fault sometimes.

      • I have to admit I LOL whenever someone mentions ‘tactical shift’ and ‘Curtin’ in the same sentence.

    • Totally agree with this game screaming for Ilsinho but at the same time, recovering recently from injury and fitness considerations, it may still be best to bring him off the bench.
      CJ is having a rough year, but he can at least wear down NYCFC’s leftback and left centerback with his physicality for the first 50-60mins for Ilsinho.
      Would be really “out-of-the-box” for this team but move Bedoya to RM (better playing 1-2s and in tight spaces) and bring in Creavalle (or Jones; extra defensive cover as you said) to pair with Haris to start.

    • I’m not sure I agree on Ilsinho. The narrow field takes away his room to maneuver and limits his ability to be Ilsinho.

  3. Did the U not have a home game in the 2011 playoffs? Am I making that up?

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Home against Houston, trotted out a 5-3-2 for the first time all year, and lost.

      • Was gonna say, I know my memory is starting to go at this young age but I vividly remember my then girlfriend now wife and I freezing our butts off and deciding to get season tickets after that game.

  4. I want my money back for 2019 tix. 2-0 in the 12th minute.

    They look horrible. I’m done hoping for this team to not suck someday.

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