Match previews / Union

MLS Playoffs Match Preview: New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo Credit: 215pix

Who: Philadelphia Union (6th in the East, 50 points, 15-5-14) vs. New York City FC (3rd in the East, 56 points, 16-8-10)
What: 2018 MLS Playoffs, Knockout Round match
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
When: Wednesday, October 31 at 7:00 pm
Watch: FS1, UniMas, ESPN+, DAZN

No you’re not reading an old article. Three days after their Decision Day match, NYCFC will host Philadelphia Union once more, this time for the first knockout round match of the MLS Playoffs.

Sunday’s match was not a pretty one for the Union. After giving up an early goal and an ugly own goal, the Union managed to string some good passes together to respond quickly with a goal of their own. David Villa did David Villa things though and scored NYC’s third goal before the first half was over. It was enough to squash any hope of momentum for the Union and secure NYCFC a 3-1 victory. A Union side being touted as the club’s best ever, with hopes of finishing in third place, dropped to sixth place.

That brings us here. Philadelphia Union still have hopes of a home playoff match. If they can reverse Sunday’s result and get a win, they’ll move on to a two-leg matchup against New York Red Bulls. Lose, and their offseason starts Thursday morning. The teams faced off twice this season, with both sides winning at home. Neither side has a particularly rich playoff history, as Philadelphia Union have never won a playoff match. NYCFC have won one.

Scouting report: New York City FC

Projected NYCFC lineup

To scout New York City FC at home, you first have to scout Yankee Stadium. It really does make a difference, especially given NYCFC’s dominance playing on the pitch there. The field sits at under 8,000 square yards, and differences in sod make the ball unpredictable. That works to NYC’s advantage. The combination of David Villa and Jesus Medina up top with Maxi Moralez at the no. 10 provide for really quick breaks when transitioning to offense. The ball takes one weird bounce, and any one of those three can be off, practically at the Union’s penalty box by the time Philadelphia has turned around.

On defense, look for NYCFC’s front three to occasionally drop back to retrieve the ball so that they can help on the counter. On offense, NYC like to get outside backs Anton Tinnenholm and Ben Sweat up the wings when possible. If that can stretch the Union’s defense even a small amount, that’s enough for David Villa.

NYC have switched their squad up all year, especially since Dome Torrent took over as manager. That being said, Wednesday’s lineup will probably look a lot like Sunday’s. Yangel Herrera has returned from his injury, and their 4-2-3-1 clearly worked out. Right now, that’s their best lineup or close to it.

  • Injury report: None.
  • Suspended: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Projected Philadelphia lineup

If the odd pitch works to NYC’s advantage, it most certainly works to the Union’s disadvantage. In fact, it works to the Union’s disadvantage in practically every facet of their game. First, the Union like to keep a high back line, but given NYC’s speed and the compactness of the pitch, that provides for some serious danger on the counterattack. Second, the Union like to maintain possession on offense, hitting diagonal balls to move the ball up the pitch, and dropping it back when necessary. The inconsistencies of the turf and the tight quarters make that really difficult. If the Union want to score early — and they will — they won’t be able to wait for the perfect opportunity to push forward with the ball. Third, the Union like to isolate defenders on the wings, which isn’t an easy task when other players are likely close by. Union head coach Jim Curtin will have to account for all of these.

The solution may likely be Ilsinho, who has the ability to take one or two men on and create some space for either himself or his teammates. Curtin put Ilsinho on at halftime on Sunday, which is earlier than usual. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start ahead of C.J. Sapong this time around. He’s clearly earned it, and it may help the Union keep up a high intensity early.

And of course, how the Union’s defense bounces back from Sunday will be paramount. Auston Trusty had a poor game in particular. The 20-year-old has been solid for the Union all year, but own goals like Trusty’s on Sunday can get in a young player’s head. Curtin and Trusty will need to make sure that he comes out with enough confidence to not only mark world class players like Villa, but to lead his back line in their biggest match yet.


  • Injury report: OUT: M – David Accam (sports hernia surgery)
  • Suspended: None.
Key matchup

Haris Medunjanin vs. David Villa and Maxi Moralez. When playing at home, it’s not uncommon for Villa or Moralez to gather the ball deep in their own when transitioning to offense. The field is small enough that they can use their speed and skill to get the ball to the other half themselves. Medunjanin struggled to keep up with this transition, and the Union suffered. How and where Medunjanin plays to make up for the speed disparity will be a key element of this one.

Player to watch

David Villa. PSP’s Jim O’Leary wrote in the last match preview that Villa “is a known Union buster.” Well, Jim, you called it. Villa kept the Union’s defense in shambles all night, scoring a goal of his own to essentially close out the match before halftime. It’s pretty simple: If Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty can shut Villa down, the Union have a chance to win. If not, the Union’s offseason will start on Thursday.


Philadelphia Union advance on PKs – Call it a hot take, but Philadelphia have a few things going for them here — a very few. One, it’s difficult in any sport to beat the same team twice in a row when those teams are evenly matched. Two, Yangel Herrera played 90 minutes on Wednesday, and he just returned to match fitness. He’ll either play less or lose steam later in the game. Third, this is not a poor Union team. They’ve played some great soccer throughout the year. They did not play remotely good soccer in the first half on Sunday, however. Expect them to come out with some serious intensity – -enough, I dare say, to bring them through to the next round.


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    NYCFC score ‘early.’ Union wilt.
    Seen it before. Prove me wrong.
    The burden of proof lies at your feet- not mine. I am totally accepting of a loss —played well…then its growth–and reason to be optimistic.
    One way or another, I will not bite the lead two days after a potential loss (which will be the narrative on the season both here and nationally) about how blah blah blah much of a success the season was because Union garnered 50 points blah blah blah in a league where 50 points now gets you 6th place… blah blah blah. Words Words Words. YadaYadaYada.
    Just Play Well… if playing well means you also win…. Great!
    Nothing else matters.

    • John O'Donnell Jr says:

      I’d settle for playing bad and winning. Playing the Red Bulls wouldn’t scare me that much as they play them well and Red Bull has a playoff monkey on their back. Just saying.

    • I’d settle for the coach making the right changes and losing. If Curtin sits Sapong, Haris and if needs be for some, Gaddis, I will be ok if they still lose. If Curtin comes out with the same lineup as Sunday I’m half tempted to turn it off right there and call for his head immediately.

    • Sadly we’ve been here before…too many times. Late season collapse and an uninspired immediate exit from the playoffs.

    • Dead on.

  2. Creavalle for Medunjanin and Ilsinho for Sapong and they cant go wrong. That’s the way I see it…

  3. Start ilshonio. Press up front and play a Smart physical game.contain Villa anyway you can. Win every 50 50 ball.Don’t hold anything back. Blake must direct from the back and keep the. 2 CBS focused . Play 3 in the back with Crevalle in back of Harris. Let him the defense and mark Villa.

  4. Bench Haris, man-mark Villa with Creavalle. Start Ilsinho over Sapong.
    Don’t give up an own goal. Make your PKs.
    Think small, play small.

  5. This match is a chance for Curtin to show his tactical chops. It’s a delicate balance for a manager to not only stay true to his principles and beliefs when his back is against the wall, but also be pragmatic and ruthless enough to make the changes needed for us to get a result.

    I hope that he and the team are up for this challenge tonight.

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