Preview: New York City FC at Philadelphia Union

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Philadelphia vs. New York City: it is a rivalry that has permeated each and every professional level of sporting competition throughout the United States. Ask Mets fans what they think of the Phillies. Or Giants fans and their conference rival, Eagles. Or the Rangers and Flyers.

Here in Major League Soccer, New York vs. Philadelphia hasn’t quite had the same juice. Sure, Thierry Henry took great joy in trolling the Philadelphia Union every chance he could when he was with the New York Red Bulls. The fans, however, snubbed their noses at their neighborhood rivals, unwilling to give the Union a chance to unseat DC United as the club’s primary foe.

Now, the Union will likely struggle in their attempt to be public enemy number one in the eyes of New York City FC, but that doesn’t mean either side is unwilling to engage in the hate.

One fast and easy way to get a rivalry started is a quick home-and-home series.  NYCFC will travel this weekend to Philadelphia to take on a struggling Union side at PPL Park.

NYCFC is coming off their first loss in team history; a disappointing result against Sporting KC at home. Likewise, the Union, still searching for their first win of the 2015 campaign, were also done in by Sporting, dropping a lead in extra time, and ultimately succumbing to a pair of goals — and an eventual loss.

What can we expect from this matchup?  Here is your preview:


Projected Starting XI:

NYCFC (4-4-2): Saunders; Williams, Hernandez, Wingert, Brovsky; Mix, Jacobson, Grabavoy, Velasquez; Villa, Nemec

Union (4-2-3-1): McCarthy; Gaddis, Edu, Vittoria, Fabinho; Carroll, Lahoud; Wenger, Ayuk, Le Toux; Aristeguieta

History: This is the first encounter between Philadelphia and NYCFC.

Last Encounter: N/A

Battle To Watch: NYCFC Offense vs. McCarthy. Union keeper Rais M’Bohli’s falling out with the club has led the Union to rely on little-known John McCarthy to carry the load between the sticks.  The Philadelphia son is coming off of a career year with the Rochester Rhinos, earning both rookie and goalkeeper of the year honors. However, he has never faced the kind of class that David Villa, Mix Diskerud and Adam Nemec bring to the competition.

X-Factor: Bye-Week. After an impressive start to the 2015 campaign, NYCFC is coming off of their first bye-week in team history. How they will react after the break may determine the outcome of this match. NYC are on the road at PPL Park. Kreis is an experienced MLS hand who will undoubtedly have his club prepared. But will NYC respond? Or will the break serve as a setback from an otherwise successful first month?


Analysis:

While Philadelphia goes through their usual turmoil and tumult, New York City FC have quietly begun gathering their international players and nursing themselves back to health.

The absence of several first team players forced NYCFC to dig deep into their roster for starting solutions against Sporting KC. That won’t be the case against Philadelphia. Josh Williams and Sebastian Velasquez could be in contention for NYCFC this weekend, along with returning internationals Khiry Shelton and Adam Nemec. Shay Facey returns from suspension as well, giving New York another solid defensive option.

Kreis proved to prefer a certain core of players, and that will likely reflect in his starting XI. Yes, most would like to see what veteran Pablo Alvarez can bring to the table, or the young Andres Mendoza. However, NYCFC will likely value continuity over experimentation in the first leg of this home-and-home series.

Philadelphia will also look for stability after another shaky week.  Winless to start the season, the Union plummeted further into despair with M’Bolhi’s apparent exile. Jim Curtin, who has proven capable of managing the tumultuous side, has a gargantuan task ahead of him, both trying to settle his club back into the 2015 campaign while calling upon the inexperienced McCarthy to man the sticks.

Home cooking will be on the Union’s side, and victory — particularly following the Sporting KC debacle and the ensuing drama therein — is at a premium for the entire Philadelphia organization. That desperation alone should drive the Union towards their first victory of the season.

Prediction: Union 2-1 NYCFC