FINAL WHISTLE: Fullbacks set the tone

Way back on May 5th, New York Red Bulls scored two goals in under five minutes to run New York City FC off the pitch. Philadelphia Union did not score until the second half, but they were similarly dominant over the course of 90 minutes in knocking off NYCFC 2-0 Saturday evening.

Strength in midfield

New York City’s surprising 4-4-2 formation was designed to isolate Philly’s central defenders and prey on their aggression. David Villa and Jo Inge Berget took turns dropping off and trying to play quick passes to Ismael Tajouri-Shradi running behind Keegan Rosenberry. On the surface, the plan made sense: The Union have had issues against two-striker sets and Rosenberry’s defensive positioning has been inconsistent in the past.

But it didn’t work. Rosenberry was excellent all evening and after some initial scares early, Philly’s center backs stuck with their men and did not let NYC connect passes to get in behind.

Strong like Sapong

In his second match out wide, CJ Sapong may have been the Union’s most important player. New York City FC creates a lot of offense on the road by generating turnovers in the opponent’s half. To get around the visitors’ pressure, the Union looked to play long to Sapong, and the winger consistently won his aerial battles throughout a bruising first half that featured nine fouls called on each side.

Once Philly got into NYC’s half, the visitors dropped off and gave Haris Medunjanin space to spread the ball around. With an extra man in midfield, the Union were able to control the match and did not allow a shot on target between the 20th and 94th minutes.

Fullbacks set the tone

Jim Curtin likes his team to play with courage, and that started from the fullbacks on Saturday evening. Ray Gaddis and Keegan Rosenberry combined for one block, one tackle, and one interception in their defensive third.

However, they had 11 recoveries and three interceptions in the middle third of the pitch. That aggression and willingness to stay high reflects a confidence in the Union’s style of play, and it was facilitated by good pressure from Philly’s midfield. NYCFC came out intent on challenging Rosenberry and the fullback was up to the task. Gaddis’ defensive awareness — tracking back into the goalmouth when Andre Blake was caught out chasing Jo Inge Berget — prevented NYC’s best opportunity of the game from becoming a goal.

The Union are back in action next Saturday when they welcome New England Revolution to Talen Energy Stadium.  

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