New York City Football Club take on Philadelphia Union on Saturday night at Subaru Park.
How long have you been covering the Union?
I’ve been writing for Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2020. We used to be Brotherly Game but made a change early this year.
How would you evaluate their 2023 season so far?
The Union’s 2023 season has been very good, especially coming off last season’s MLS Cup Final heartbreak. I expected an early-season dip, but the team successfully managed the league schedule congestion with the Concacaf Champions League, which ended in the semifinals against LAFC. Though the Union came up short, they beat a solid opponent in Atlas in the quarterfinals and played LAFC even for a game and a half until going down a man in the second leg. Against the best teams in the league, their quality shows, but it’s against the next tier and on the road where they tend to take their foot off the pedal.
Despite that, the Union are in a similar position as last year. Their home record has been excellent (7-1-2) and they’re still among the league leaders in goals against (25, tied for 6th) though not at the same level as last season’s record-breaking 26. The Union are 8-3-3 since the CCL loss, with two of those losses coming on the road within the past two weeks against Atlanta and LA Galaxy where they never looked comfortable. A big win Wednesday at Nashville hopefully is a sign the team is back on track.
What are your hopes for the team for the rest of the season?
I still believe the Union are a top-three team in the league. Their success in previous seasons came from outstanding defense and consistent performances, and I expect that to continue. They should finish high in the Eastern Conference and host at least one playoff round, maybe two. Their post-season will come down to the matchups and their road form, which hasn’t been great. I’d like to say this could be their year, but they still don’t have an attacking option off the bench to influence games and haven’t won the midfield battles as in previous seasons. They are a team of veterans and winners, so one player addition and some tactical adjustments can put them back in the MLS Cup Final.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in the game?
The return of Andre Blake is a major boost. Though I would have liked to see him play in another Gold Cup Final, he is the team’s X factor. His stability allows the Union to play their style. Losing Julian Carranza to a red card Wednesday night will hurt the Union’s attack, but Quinn Sullivan smashed the post early and played well in the build-up, so he may be the team’s missing attacking piece off the bench.
The Union have matched up well against NYCFC lately, but Santiago Rodríguez is a special player, and creative players disrupt the Union’s rigidity in the back. The way to beat the Union is to jump on them early, which NYCFC did last game with a tremendous set up by Rodríguez. If he and Gabriel Pereira have the freedom, they can find spaces between Union center backs Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott, who’ve logged more minutes than any center back pairing the past three seasons. Having James Sands back in the lineup will be a big help, too.
For any fans that might be in the area for the game on Saturday are there any locations you suggest they check out?
There are so many good places to eat in the city. Fans should head to Lorenzo’s on 9th and Christian for pizza or a cheesesteak or Amada in Old City if they’re in the mood for Spanish tapas. Liberty Point has a great outside atmosphere along the riverfront and some spectacular views. Active fans can roller skate at Dilworth Park, and anyone staying over should visit the Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square. The city is full of cool museums and historical sites if fans are looking for that route, but the Mütter Museum is by far the weirdest and most interesting. Just don’t eat first.
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