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PREVIEW: New York City at Philadelphia, "Road Warrior Edition"

Beginning tomorrow, the Bronx Blues take on the Union twice in six days. Let's head to the Wasteland for our first match preview, part of our ongoing mega-series with the folks at the Brotherly Game!

Jason Kreis's men are off to the heart of darkness: Chester, PA
Jason Kreis's men are off to the heart of darkness: Chester, PA
New York City FC

Even if it's sunny in Philadelphia, it's cloudy in David Villa Land.

Will he or won't he?

As good as Ned Grabavoy looks with that captain's armband hugging his upper-arm like a clingy little brother, we saw first-hand against Sporting Kansas City how difficult it is for NYC to get forward and create chances without their Spanish master-blaster, whose groin injury concerns continue to hang low over the proceedings.

Fortunately for the road warriors from the Five Boroughs, this weekend's opponent enters the match still searching for its first win of the season.

Unfortunately, so was Sporting KC two weekends ago. They left Yankee Stadium with all three points, their single thirteenth-minute goal standing unanswered.

During his tenure at Real Salt Lake, NYC manager Jason Kreis played six matches against the Union, winning two and drawing four. Those teams did not, however, include tricky striker Fernando Aristeguieta.

The sky-blue defense -- which has had more than a few shaky moments this year, only to be bailed out by goalkeeper Josh Saunders -- will have its hands full with 'Nando, who has already found the net three times this season.

At the very back of the Philadelphia formation, we see a far different story: goalkeeper Rais Mbohli has been benched following such a disastrous start to the year. The Union have allowed nine goals on the year, the worst mark in MLS.

"We win and lose games as a team... but there seemed to be indecision with Rais," Philadelphia manager Jim Curtin said this week. "I just think... that he doesn't seem like himself. I think the confidence is gone in him."

Sliding into the number-one spot between the sticks is 22-year-old Philadelphia native John McCarthy. While he won the 2014 USL PRO Goalkeeper of the Year award with the Rochester Rhinos, Saturday would be his first-ever start in MLS.

That will have the sky-blue visitors' mouths watering.

Despite the absence of David Villa, New York City proved two weeks ago against Sporting KC that, if willing to commit to pressing numbers forward on the attack, they can create a few looks at goal. That push came too late against the stout Kansas City side, but the struggling Union may find themselves victimized by the press earlier on.

With Adam Nemec and super-sub Khiry Shelton back from international duty, Jason Kreis will have two more attackers up his sleeve. Nemec's physicality and work rate demand attention-- if Villa sits out again, Nemec may be the key to freeing up space for Ned Grabavoy, "Mad Mix" Diskerud, and (perhaps) Javier Calle to run. Shelton, ever the spark plug, may be edging closer to his first-ever professional start.

Amid the ongoing injury concerns, New York City's youth movement may be on display once again. Tony Taylor, Kwadwo Poku, and Tom McNamara all made their team debuts against Sporting KC, and their infusion of energy and intent nearly turned the tide of the match.

"[A]ll three players made positive contributions and assisted in the effort to try and get that equalizing goal," Jason Kreis said following the 1-0 defeat.

But the effort has to be consistent for the full ninety minutes, a benchmark that has proven elusive for New York's newest team.

NYC's linking play between the midfield and the front line has been maddeningly inconsistent this year, but Saturday's opponent presents the best opportunity yet to overcome those challenges and turn PPL Park into an attackers' Thunderdome.

The matchup couldn't come at a better time for the Bronx Blues, who haven't scored a goal in 186 minutes of play.

After a much-needed week off, the engines are revving up again. As they hit the road for the second time, New York City has but one question to ponder:

Who shall become the Warrior of Chester, PA the Wasteland?