SOCCER IS BACK BABY!
Despite all the controversy surrounding the MLS Is Back Tournament, it’s time to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. Orlando City and Inter Miami kick-off group A action tonight at 8 pm. But who cares about them, ya’ll are here to read about our beloved New York City FC and their game slated to kick off tomorrow at 9 AM (EST) against the Philadelphia Union!
For the game tomorrow morning, I decided to elicit some help in looking at the Union and how the game might shape out. I sat down with AJ McClung from Brotherly Game to get some insight on tomorrow’s foes.
Connor: A lot of controversies have been surrounding the MLS Is Back Tournament with FC Dallas dropping out and new cases popping up. What’s your opinion on the MLSIB Tournament?
AJ McClung: I obviously want the tournament to go on under the right conditions with everyone being safe. I know Philly had one case early on but since then there hasn’t been any, so I believe my team has been doing it right. I think the Union has had the right mindset going into this and selfishly I want to see my team play. But, it’s kind of just a wild situation where I’m glued to Twitter right looking for updates. It’s a fluid situation but I’m just really trying to see my domestic league play.
Connor: You guys had a positive season last year and a decent start to this season with a loss and a draw at LAFC. What is the biggest difference you’ve seen between this year’s edition of the Union and last year?
AJ: Last year we had our first full season with Ernst Tanner and he let Jim Curtin do his thing and that gave us a taste of being a good club. We saw the Union playing a good game, the way it’s meant to be played. Jim was able to flexible with formations which he wasn’t really able to do before under Earnie Stewart.
This year they’ve bought in a couple of new players and guys who were getting used to the league last year now have a full season under their belt. It seems like this team is really buying into this new culture that Ernst Tanner has bought in from Germany. During that LAFC game, they were not afraid and went toe-to-toe with the best team in the league.
Connor: Haris Mendunjanin was a big part of your team last season, how has Curtin filled or how is he planning to fill that void?
AJ: They ended up bringing in Matej Oravec and Jose Martinez to be at the base of the diamond. They started with MLS veteran Warren Creavalle at the six for the FC Dallas game and the best way to describe it was “boring”.
The second game against LAFC we had Jose Martinez play in and he played more like an Ozzie Alonso type six. He was all over the place busting up plays left and right. He was a little erratic at times but we saw a glimpse of a number six who was really going to be a ball buster. Losing Mendujanin means they are going to need how to figure out how to create without him but that’s where hopefully Jamiro Montiero and Brenden Aaronson being a year older will come into play.
Connor: We know about Kasper Przybylko, who else is that goal threat for the Union?
AJ: We hope the Kasper can remain healthy and do what he did last year. I think Santos is poised to have a breakout. We saw it against Red Bulls in the playoffs where when he was at full health he was who we expected to be. It looked like he came ready in that LAFC and played well. With a full season in North America under his belt, he looks set to have a nice season hopefully.
Connor: This series has been mostly NYCFC throughout its history, will it be any different on Thursday?
AJ: I’m confident right now. The team is saying the right things and everyone is healthy. I think the Union are going to come out strong. Our record against NYCFC is better when we’re not playing on your baseball field (his words not mine). There is a significant difference with City’s home-field advantage and with that being said I’m confident the Union will be able to begin flipping the script and get off on the right foot. I also think there will be no trouble getting out of the group for either team.
Connor: Who is the Philadelphia sports GOAT currently playing there: Bryce Harper, Carson Wentz, or Illsinho?
AJ: You got the Union guy here but I’d have to go, Carson Wentz. Illsinho has his moments, I love him to death, and nothing makes me happier then seeing him dance. But, sometimes I over Matt Doyle and all the MLS writers only talking about him when it comes to Philly sometimes. Their season previews are all blah blah blah but they have Illsinho when he’s only going to come on for 15 minutes at the end of the game. I will say though those 15 minutes are magical.
Hopefully, that answers most of your questions about the Union. Still, expect this team to come out aggressive with their high press. LAFC manager Bob Bradley said after their game against the Union that Philly was just like another Red Bulls team. Aaronson, who is only 19-years-old, will relentlessly press City and Monterio, who AJ referred to as a “jitter-bug”, will be right there with him.
Predicted Union Lineup
The Union should be coming into this game fully healthy. The biggest plus of the elongated break has been getting Kai Wagner back. The German left-back was one of the top in the league when he was healthy last year.
As for City, we all know the story. Ronny Delia has taken the reigns from Dome Torrent and this year’s edition of the team had a pretty bad start to the season. Following their win in the CONCACAF Champions League over AD San Carlos, City followed it up with three straight losses to Columbus Crew, Toronto FC, and Tigres UNAL at Red Bull Arena. In those losses, City looked lackluster.
Maxime Chanot’s red card two minutes into the season against Columbus set the tone for the struggle City has had this season. In their two MLS games, City lacked creativity and couldn’t find any real rhythm in their game. Any possession that the team had was put to no use. The Tigres game at Red Bull Arena before the shutdown showed promise. City created chances but couldn’t finish it and one defensive lapse lead to their downfall.
It’s impossible to predict what City team will step out on the field Thursday. I’m curious to see if Ronny Delia has figured some stuff out or he will still be testing out new things with his new club in preparation for whatever season comes next. The team should be fully healthy and as of right now (I’m writing this Monday night), no players are unavailable for the tournament that I’m aware of.
Predicted NYCFC Lineup
This is a complete shot in the dark too be honest. The goalkeeper and backline should be untouched. James Sands could replace Parks or Parks could replace Moralez with Sands stepping in next to Ring. Parks playing as the more advanced midfileder allows City to play more direct, which Ronny Delia opted for early in the season. Nicolas Acevedo is now also in the mix and he could play also play alongside Ring in the midfield.
Mitriță is interchangeable and so is Medina. I personally think Ismael Tajouri-Shradi or Gary Mackay-Steven should start over Medina, but I still think the club is trying to figure out what they have with the latter. Héber should start up top but he could be replaced by Valentín Castellanos, or Castellanos can occupy the left side. Again, I don’t really know how Delia will play this but he has options.
This game against the Union is honestly a coin flip. City hasn’t been good and the Union have been better. With the elongated break and all the “issues” in Orlando, this game may come down to the mentally stronger side. I’m going to go for an exciting 2-2 draw in this one with the game being wide open.
Special thanks to AJ for helping me out in this one. Go check out his work over on Brotherly Game and also check out his podcast Doopy Brothers with his brother Luke. If this gets some love I’ll do one of these for each game in the MLSIB Tournament. Kickoff from Orlando is set for 9 am on Thursday. Set your alarms and get ready to finally watch some MLS soccer. Thanks for reading.
COME ON YOU BOYS IN BLUE!