New York City FC heads out on the road this week for a meeting with the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park. In the latest edition of the ‘The Away End’, we spoke to Soccer reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer Jonathan Tannenwald about new faces, Jim Curtin, and Champions League dreams.
Hi Jonathan, thanks so much for speaking with us. How long have you been covering the Union?
Since the team's founding in 2008, leading up to the inaugural season in 2010. And I've been covering American soccer generally, men's and women's, since 2003.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
I'm not sure I have one that stands out above all the rest, but I can pick a few that I remember well:
the team's first ever game in Seattle in 2010, the playoff win over the Red Bulls in 2019 (which I'll bet some NYCFC fans appreciated too), and getting to interview Kevin Durant when he became a part-owner of the Union last year.
Looking at the 2021 season, the club sold two very important young players in Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson. How has that impacted the team's performances on the field?
I would have said before Tuesday night that they are missed - Aaronson more than McKenzie, because the Union still have very good centerbacks in Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott. And they have a quality third man for the rotation in Stuart Findlay, whose MLS debut I think we might see Saturday. But they don't have a really elite playmaker. Jamiro Monteiro is more of an 8 than a 10, and Anthony Fontana is too inconsistent. Then the Union went out and beat a nearly full-strength Atlanta United team 3-0 on the road in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series. That was one of the biggest wins in this team's history, I think, and it showed the quality of this squad.
Jim Curtin enjoyed his first coaching success last year by winning the Supporters' Shield, and has been with the Union since 2014. How have you seen him progress as a coach during that time?
It's been great to watch. I've followed him since his playing days and known him for a long time. The players all really like him and you can't take that for granted in MLS. Some coaches will be well-liked by American players or academy products but not internationals; others will be well-liked by international players but not the Americans. Curtin has the respect of everyone in the locker room. He has also improved as a tactician over the years, especially since sporting director Ernst Tanner arrived in 2018.
The Union had a game last night in the CONCACAF Champions League against Atlanta United. For that reason, what changes do you anticipate at the weekend against NYCFC?
There could be a lot. I mentioned Findlay above. Monteiro also deserves a rest, and Alejandro Bedoya too. I also would have expected Sergio Santos to start at striker, maybe for Kacper Przybylko, but Santos took a hard hit near his eye during the Atlanta game and I don't know if that might sideline him. We'll see.
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
The Union's tactical setup is no secret to anyone, so I'm sure the NYCFC staff will be ready for it: a counter-pressing 4-4-2 with a narrow diamond midfield. Sometimes the Union shift to a 4-2-3-1 late in games to create some width and exploit opponents' fatigue, but with winger Ilsinho out injured the odds of that might go down.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
Tired players, more than anything.
If you were to identify the team’s danger-man, who would that be?
I'll say Anthony Fontana, though he's not the team's top striker (Przybylko) or best individual player (Monteiro). His ability to get into spaces between players and find shots as a No. 10 is a real asset. And I think he'll play in this game.
And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to the city in the future, are there any particular attractions you’d suggest they sample?
First of all, let me say I hope that everyone gets vaccinated. When fans do make the trip down here, the first suggestion has to be the famous city center food hall, Reading Terminal Market. It's a great destination to have lunch at, and you can walk from there to lots of the city's major tourist destinations and shopping districts. There are all kinds of foods there, so find something that's to your taste and give it a go.
Next up for New York City FC is a trip to face the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park on Saturday, May 1 with kickoff taking place at 7:30PM ET (YES Network / NYCFC.com/Radio).