Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy!
New York City FC get back into the swing of things with a tough home fixture this Saturday against the first place Philadelphia Union. Union sit atop the league and are unbeaten in eight straight matches and will pose problems for and NYC team that is use to controlling the midfield and playing their game.
Writer and managing editor of Brotherly Game Eugene Rupinski joins us this week to discuss all things Union. Eugene discusses momentum, expectations, and Chris Pontius's excellent season with the Union.
Q: Let's start this off light following the break - Both clubs had a nice two week rest coming into this game (aside from their US Cup matches) and we're about 40% of the way through the season. What are you looking forward to as we jump back into MLS action this weekend? (Editor's note: Feel free to go wherever you want with this).
E: I'm anxious to see if the Union can get back to their winning ways or if the break stopped the momentum. The only regular who saw international duty was Andre Blake, who did well in the Copa América despite Jamaica getting bounced before their final group match was played. The Union got a bit of a run out on Wednesday against City Islanders FC (formerly known as the Harrisburg City Islanders), winning a thrilling match in overtime. The issue there was that it was a bunch of bench guys for the most part, so we haven't really seen how well the first team guys look.
I'm also really anxious to see how the Union do without Vincent Nogueira, who mutually terminated his contract with the club on Thursday. It's unknown why he's returning to his native France, other than it's a health issue that is not life threatening. We all think the world of Vincent, and wish him a speedy recovery.
Q: Last time we spoke, Union were up near the top of the East, on nine points through their first six matches. We discussed how the team was playing well, but that supporters were still being cautiously optimistic about the team's long term success. Since then the team is unbeaten, winning three and drawing five. What has been behind the unbeaten run? Has it been more about the defending, or has the midfield and attack been the story?
E: The unbeaten run was the team really coming together during a tough stretch where they played every three or four days for almost an entire month. The team was fortunate to avoid major injuries or suspensions during that streak, and fortunately for the Union other teams were missing players. Facing the Colorado Rapids in Denver on short rest is less formidable when they're missing Shkëlzen Gashi and Jermaine Jones.
I also think that this run is the result of a lot of unlikely heroes. Brian Carroll scoring his first goal since 2013 to tie the Rapids, center back Ken Tribbett scoring to equalize against Orlando City, and center back Richie Marquez scoring a game winner late against D.C. United are all examples of goals coming by committee instead of one guy getting 15-20 goals. I think the Union are far more than the sum of their parts, and that usually takes you far in this league.
Q: After some up and down time in DC, Chris Pontius has been a huge part of the Union's early season success, netting 5 goals and 26 shots while playing all 14 Union matches. What has allowed him to flourish this year in Philadelphia?
E: Mostly his ability to stay healthy. Chris has always had the talent, but in the past few seasons he's been plagued by injuries. This season the biggest thing going for him is that a couple of minor knocks aside he's been able to be on the pitch contributing instead of on the injury list.
I think something else that's helped him is being in a midfield where he isn't expected to shoulder the load. In D.C. when he had his good years, he was playing alongside Andy Najar, Perry Kitchen, Dwayne De Rosario (before he burned out) - guys who you had to account for or else they'd burn you. During the less than good years, his midfield was guys like Marcos Sánchez, Raphael Augusto, and Lewis Neal. Here he's usually with Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux, Nogueira, and either Brian Carroll or Warren Creavalle in a very formidable midfield where he's free to push out wide and overlap with the very offensive-minded left back Fabinho.
Starting XI and Prediction?
Starting XI: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Ken Tribbett, Keegan Rosenberry; Brian Carroll, Warren Creavalle; Chris Pontius, Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux; Fabian Herbers
Prediction: Union win 1-0
Thanks again to Eugene for answering our Union questions. Have your own prediction for the match? Let us hear it in the comment section!