NYCFC has been incredibly tough to score against in 2022. In fact, the only teams to notch more than one goal on the defending MLS Cup champions are Toronto FC — which lost a wild 5-4 match in Yankee Stadium — and Philadelphia Union, which shut out NYC 2-0 on their home infield.
Since that thriller against TFC, New York City FC went over 6.5 games without giving up a goal, while the Union have been nearly unbeatable but struggled to close out opponents.
Now, in their final meeting of the 2022 regular season, these two MLS Cup hopefuls will put on a defensive show at Subaru Park. The only question is whether Philly can generate enough offense to fend off their neighbors to the north.
For the second consecutive weekend, Union fans will be treated to a matchup of two of the top five attacking players in MLS. According to AmericanSoccerAnalysis’ data, Cincinnati’s Lucho Acosta, Philadelphia’s Daniel Gazdag, and NYC’s Valentin Castellanos are all in the top five in the league in combined Expected Goals + Expected Assists.
But while Acosta is more of a creator, Castellanos and Gazdag are finishers. Both have incredible awareness and movement in the box and have created an expectation in their teammates that they will always be in the right place at the right time. Castellanos’ strength is matched by Gazdag’s elusiveness, and both show off impressive mobility as they pop up across the pitch to facilitate play.
As talented as these offensive leaders are, the difference-maker for both teams is their defensive solidity. NYC has allowed 10 goals all season, and four in that messy Toronto game. The Union have allowed more than one goal in a match just twice, including a 2-2 draw at MLS leaders LAFC. Nathan Harriel has become one of the league’s most difficult-to-escape 1v1 defenders, and his ability to make up ground in the open field allows the center backs to remain in the most dangerous areas of the pitch during defensive recoveries. On the left, Kai Wagner’s attacking prowess forces the opposition to be conservative in attack, and Leon Flach’s tireless help means Jose Martinez can sit in the central third of the pitch rather than sprinting out to the flanks. The result is a team that gives up space on counterattacks but is quickly in shape in the final third and ready to burst out into an attack of their own.
Philadelphia Union celebrate Soccer For All and inclusivity with Pride Night presented by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, as the Union welcome defending MLS Cup Champs New York City FC.
But defending NYC is a special kind of difficult. Four players have over 20 key passes, led by Santiago Rodriguez’s 35. Talles Magno is nearly impossible for fullbacks and midfielders to match up with because of his size and strength, and his gravity makes Castellanos difficult to control. If Phily can weaken the link between Rodriguez and the strikers, they could frustrate NYC and cause them to lose their defensive shape.
Going forward, the key for Philly will be ensuring Gazdag can escape Keaton Parks and Alfredo Morales in transition. Both midfielders will be tracking Gazdag closely, and that means Philly must create space in counters by pushing the defensive line deep with early, vertical runs and supporting Gazdag with Flach and Bedoya.
This will be one of the most physically intense matches of the entire MLS season, and Union fans will see two teams that truly believe beating the other shows they can knock off anyone in the league.
Philly and NYCFC meet at 6:00 p.m. ET at Subaru Park on Sunday, June 26. Get your tickets now or tune in on FS1 live on TV and Fox Sports the Gambler on the iHeartRadio app.