New York City FC (1-7-5, 8 points) at Philadelphia Union (4-8-3, 15 points)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match; When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa. Tickets: here
TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff and color analyst Peter Pappas
Radio: None; Online: MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday
Parking: $20 at all approved PPL lots; Mass Transit: Shuttle service to and from Chester Transportation Center
Hardly out of the woods yet, the Philadelphia Union have begun to erase a difficult start to the 2015 MLS Regular Season. The club had just one win in their first 11 games and it seemed as though anything that could possibly wrong for the club, frankly, did.
But it’s fair to say the team’s fortune has slowly started to turn and club has put together four strong games in a row, earning a win in three of them. Their opponent Saturday is still waiting for that moment.
New York City FC will enter PPL Park with just 8 points in 13 games and as the only club in MLS averaging less than 1 point per game. They’ve also missed key players due to injuries and international call-ups, but Union head coach Jim Curtin knows Saturday will hardly be easy, regardless of the direction the two clubs are going.
“Any time you feel good about yourself in this league, there’s a way of getting punched in the face and brought back down to earth very quickly,” Curtin said. “We’ve had a busy week, but at the same time, it could be a very good week in terms of moving up the standings.”
Curtin was also quick to point out the talent NYCFC has, namely David Villa and Khiry Shelton.
“They’re a good team, that’s first and foremost. The table doesn’t really tell the full story on them,” he said. “We have to have the same mentality, mindset and focus as we did against Columbus.”
Fortunately for Curtin that’s a possibility with the team’s recent run of health and form. For the first time this year on Wednesday against Columbus, Philadelphia started the exact same lineup in consecutive games. While they likely won’t be able to do that with Fernando Aristeguieta (ankle contusion) hurt, figure C.J. Sapong – who subbed on for Aristeguieta – will step in his place.
“They’re similar, so it’s a pretty seamless one if we have to make that change,” Curtin said regarding the two forwards. “Both guys can contribute whether it’s one 60, the other 30 or the other 60 and one 30. It’s a pretty seamless transition.”
Elsewhere, though, it would appear to be the same lineup. After all, the Union won’t play another MLS game for two weeks after Saturday’s contest and, yes, this current lineup is playing quite well.
Part of that success has come from veterans Brian Carroll, Fabinho and Sheanon Williams. Carroll, 33, has battled injuries on-and-off this season, but has been in excellent form since returning to full health four weeks ago. He's arguably been the key to the central midfield success, allowing Cristian Maidana and Vince Nogueira to get forward.
“He’s a winner,” Curtin said following Wednesday’s match against Columbus. “He’s a guy that does so many little things that won’t show up in the stat sheet. He’s not going to get the accolades. All the guys who score will get the credit, but BC does his job quietly… He’s consistent and that makes you sleep easier at night as a coach.”
Meanwhile, Fabinho and Williams have noticeably turned their play up over the last four games. The two fullbacks have combined for three assists, and more importantly, three clean sheets.
While it’s hard to call the 25-year-old Williams a veteran, he is the longest-tenured player on the team and has been in some of his best form for the club over the last few weeks. His dashing overlap on Wednesday created the team’s third goal to finally put away Crew SC.
“Part of it is form, too,” Curtin said regarding the team’s recent turnaround. “Guys are playing better. They’re sharper on the ball. Plays that we weren’t making earlier in the season even though we were getting into good spots, now we’re making good, hard runs in the box, and the ones that were going just wide are going in the goal. It’s a run of good form.”
Of course, some of the credit has to go to the young guys, too. Two of them are players Curtin probably didn’t envision making much of an impact this year – especially in the first half of the season.
That’s Richie Marquez and Brian Sylvestre. Marquez, the No. 44 pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, has really blossomed over the past year, spending virtually all of last season at Harrisburg. He’s averaging five clearances and four interceptions per game since making his MLS debut against Toronto a month ago.
Sylvestre joined the club on loan last month and has produced three clean sheets in his first five starts in MLS and already leads the team in saves (14) and saves inside the box (10).
Saturday’s match will conclude a three-game stretch in eight days. But they will have plenty of time to recover. Next Tuesday the club is at Reading for a friendly before having an entire week off before their next game against Rochester Rhinos in the Fourth Round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Still the recent stretch could play a role in Curtin’s plans.
“The one good thing is that we didn’t have a lot of travel in the eight days,” he said. “As a pro team, you’ve got to be up to play the three games in eight days, and we’re a team that all the guys are honest with me. They let me know where they stand, and we’ll pick a lineup tomorrow that we think gives us the best chance to win."
What do you think is a gameplan for success against NYCFC? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.