New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union were teams heading in different directions before the playoffs began, but NYCFC’s 3-1 beating of the Union on Sunday has suddenly changed the momentum for both teams.
The Union are back at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, just three days after suffering a frustrating loss to NYCFC. Dom Torrent’s men outplayed a usually solid Union bunch, scoring a trio of first-half goals in the lopsided win to conclude regular season play.
The Union had an impressive regular season, earning the most points in club history, but also fell in the U.S. Open Cup Final for the third time. Jim Curtin’s side will seek an upset over NYCFC and win the season series over their East Coast rivals.
Here’s a complete look at Wednesday’s elimination match at Yankee Stadium:
This will be the third meeting between the two teams after they each have grabbed a win in 2018. The Union defeated NYCFC 2-0 at Talen Energy Stadium back in Aug. 18th before NYCFC struck back with back with a 3-1 win on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Players to Watch
NYCFC: David Villa – The 36-year-old had 14 goals in the regular season and will play an important role if NYCFC makes a deep run in the playoffs. He is coming into this match on good form, scoring three goals in his last three appearances. Villa has always found a way to make an impact offensively, while also doing the dirty work for the team. The veteran will be going up against two young but impressive centerbacks in Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie.
Union: Borek Dockal – Not many players have made an impact as quickly in Major League Soccer as Borek Dockal has with Philadelphia. The 30-year-old finished the regular season as the league leader in assists with 18 and has been huge in helping numerous players have standout campaigns. Dockal runs the show offensively for the Union and will need to get in on the action if Philly wants a place in the next round.
Matchup to Watch
Borek Dockal vs. Alex Ring – Dockal and Ring two of the best at their respective positions in 2018 and will have an entertaining battle on Wednesday. Dockal has been hard to stop this season, while Ring has silenced numerous playmaking midfielders this season.
It won’t come down just to this matchup, but whoever gets the edge should be in good position to see their side advance.
NYCFC: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi – The 24-year-old may not start for NYCFC but he is a valuable option off the bench, contributing 11 goals and one assist in 27 matches. He has the ability to spark NYCFC’s offense while also adding a new dynamic to their attacking front. The Union has to be weary of Tajouri-Shradi when he is on the field.
Union: Fafa Picault – 2018 has been a strong season for Picault, as the winger has scored 10 goals while adding four assists. His raw pace is a plus as he is able to take defenders on at will. Although he sometimes second guesses when to shoot or not to, Picault has the ability to change the match if NYCFC isn’t careful.
This will be a lot closer than Sunday’s meeting with the team willing to put it all on the table advancing.
NYCFC are favorites due to their place in the table and the fact they have been here before while the Union are back in postseason action for the first time since 2016.
Philadelphia will need their young centerbacks to play mistake free if they want a chance in the next round, while also providing chances offensively. Goalkeeper Andre Blake has been known to win games by himself and that could occur again if things get tough for the visitors.
Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong have rotated at striker but look for the Jamaican to edge the veteran up top while Sapong heads onto the wing. It may be frustrating but the Union cannot lose their cool like they did numerous times on Sunday which saw arguments and finger pointing by several players.
NYCFC has yet to suffer a defeat to the Union in the Bronx and will look to pressure Philly just like they did on Sunday. Sean Johnson came up big with a PK save and has been a top performer this season.
Ben Sweat will have a physical battle with Sapong while Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring will need to deal with Dockal’s creativity. Having a consistent scorer like Villa helps NYCFC, and the Union must try to limit his service, which means keeping tabs on playmaker Maxi Moralez and elusive winger Jesus Medina.