You know this enemy. The Union know this enemy.
And the enemy knows Philly, too.
NYCFC are an incredibly difficult team to read. Talent-wise, they are undoubtedly the third best team in the Eastern Conference. David Villa is a singular attacking talent, Jesus Medina has shown his brilliance this season, Alex Ring is one of the best box-to-box players in Major League Soccer, and Maxi Moralez was the team’s MVP and spent a good portion of 2018 in the league-wide MVP discussion.
But since the start of August, Dome Torrent’s side has been listless on the pitch, lacking sharpness, and losing games with regularity. Thanks to a quirk of the MLS schedule, NYC was granted a three week staycation before their final two matches of the season (seriously… three weeks!). They came out of it with a sad showing on the road against DC United, but there was a sparkling silver lining: holding midfielder Yangel Herrera returned to the pitch for 18 minutes following a layoff stretching back to late May. The Venezuelan youngster is a complete player, and his quality showed through immediately.
Herrera’s abilities were on full display against the Union last weekend. His mobility added an extra body in the left half-space, where he and Ring rotated. For much of the first half, NYC created man-more situations up the left, with Herrera providing the link from the left half-space to the wing. By the time the Union figured out how to defend the hosts’ overloads, the score was 3-1.
But now Herrera has gone 90 minutes for the first time in many months and has to turn around and be special again on Wednesday. Maybe he does it, but if he doesn’t, NYC could lose their midfield balance and regress quickly. In the second half of Sunday’s match, the Union had the better chances and they will believe they can continue to create in the playoffs.
Moralez will also be turning things around quickly coming off an injury that saw him miss two matches, and Philly will feel very good about their chances if they make it to the final half-hour tied or in the lead.
NYC is likely to play a very fluid 4-3-3 shape that hastily becomes a 2-3-2-2-1 in possession. The way that looks is: Two center backs deep, Herrera and Ring in the second line with Maxi Moralez flitting in between the second and third lines, the two very advanced fullbacks, the wingers — with the wide man on the far side staying close to the touchline to stretch out Philly’s defensive line — and David Villa. One thing to keep an eye on is what spaces Villa takes up within the Union back four. Last Sunday, he immediately looked to either check in or move between the far fullback and center back when it looked like a NYC player would be able to pick his head up.
NYC’s aim against the Union will likely once again focus on clearing out the center by dominating the wings. They will push the fullbacks high and use Moralez to pull Philly’s midfielders out of the center. If the Union don’t bite, NYC will use their numerical advantage on the wing to lure Rosenberry and Gaddis out of position and looking to play over the top.
One question for NYC on Wednesday is the makeup of their bench. Torrent has a glut of wingers to call on and recently he has preferred Eloi Amagat. Jo Inge Berget may return from injury to feature on the pine, but even if he doesn’t, Torrent will have either Ronald Matarrita or Ismael Tajouri-Shradi as an option (the other will start on the left). Ebenezer Ofori, who largely held down the fort in Herrera’s absence, will be available to help clog things up if the home team has a lead.
Some final notes on NYC:
They, like the Union, have only two wins after giving up the first goal this year. NYC scored first in 17 matches in 2018; the Union did so in 15.
NYC and the Union have each lost only once when leading at halftime.
Torrent’s team scored 35 of their 56 goals this year in the second half.
David Villa took 94 shots this season. The most any Union player took was Picault’s 68.