The Union are back above the playoff line, and their first test is one of the three top-tier teams in Major League Soccer. David Villa, Maxi Moralez, Jesus Medina, and the rest of New York City's well-built, suffocatingly organized team are coming to Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday looking to take down the Union and take over the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Here's why you should watch.
David Villa is back, y'all
Bradley Wright-Phillips recently notched his 100th MLS goal. It took him about five seasons, from ages 28 to 33.
David Villa entered the league at age 33, missed a big chunk of this campaign, and could still pass the 100 goal mark if he returns for a fifth season in 2019. He's clearly a Highlander.
Villa scored in his return from injury last weekend, juking in the box and lacing a lefty finish past Toronto FC's Alex Bono. NYC had been fine without him, but integrating the Spanish legend into new head coach Dome Torrent's tweaked positional play system is the subplot for the rest of the season. Villa played under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona so he knows the deal, but now he needs to figure out how to interact with a team that is moving the ball forward at a far quicker pace than they were under Patrick Viera. Villa is also the guy that scored from about half-field against the Union, so you can bet Andre Blake will be out to show he's a shot stopper extraordinaire when the Sky Blues return to town Saturday.
Possession and pressure from both sides
It's hard to be an Argentinian playmaker in MLS because you have to live up to the absurd bar that Diego Valeri has set in recent years. Nacho Piatti has done it, though. Mauro Diaz has come close.
Don't look now, but Maxi Moralez is having a Valeri-esque year up in NYC. Eight goals and 12 assists out of midfield while doing all the things that make life easy on guys like Alex Ring and Ebenezer Ofori sitting in behind him: Pressing from behind, becoming available early in transition, covering for runs forward. It's a pattern the Union know well because they ask Borek Dockal to perform a similar set of duties. With Ale Bedoya's freedom to roam, Dockal needs to respond to his captain's dynamic play, retaining spacing in midfield and covering when necessary to prevent dangerous transitions.
Both Philly and NYC require such intelligent playmakers because they place a heavy emphasis on possessing the ball and moving it with purpose. Under their new head coach, NYC is less interested in slow builds out of the back and instead wants the ball up in midfield quickly -- the further the ball is from your goal, the safer you feel is the basic logic here.
The two sides also employ immediate pressure after turnovers, looking to win the ball back quickly so they can attack before the opponent is set. Philly's wings are often the main threat on the counter, though they have become better at using Cory Burke's hold-up play to quickly get forward, with Bedoya and Dockal galloping up in support.
Winning and losing are the only options
If you are one of those people who don't like to watch 90 minutes of soccer only to see neither team come away a winner, the Union are the team for you. Since a late May scoreless draw with New York Red Bulls, Philly has either won or lost every match, the longest current streak without a tie in Major League Soccer.
Additionally, NYC has not played any scoreless games this season. Of their five draws, four have been 2-2 games and the last was a 1-1 match against Atlanta United. So one way or another, there will be goals in this match, and it's unlikely that both teams have the same number of them.
The Union and NYC FC face off at 7 p.m. EST on Saturday, August 18 at Talen Energy Stadium.