Though New York City FC are riding a franchise-record 12-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, gaining ground in the Eastern Conference has been a challenge. They have a prime opportunity to do just that Saturday when they host the East-leading Philadelphia Union.
The Pigeons (5-8-1) have not lost since a 4-0 defeat at Toronto on March 29 and also advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup by beating North Carolina FC and D.C. United during the Gold Cup recess. This will be the first match for NYCFC since rallying past United 2-1 after on June 19 on goals by Alexandru Mitrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shadri three minutes apart late in the first half.
Getting three points instead of one will be crucial to their hopes of erasing the nine-point gap between themselves and the Union (9-5-4), though it also helps NYCFC currently have four matches in hand. The Boys in Blue are currently sixth in the East but closer to eighth-place Toronto and out of a playoff spot than they are first.
“It’s important for the players because when the players know that in the moment, they know exactly how difficult it is to beat this team,” Dome Torrent said about his side being up for the challenge of facing the Union. “Right now the league is not balanced because some teams have four games more than some teams… we have to play the same way, focusing on every single game. I am happy with the team but we can play much better and we have to improve.”
Torrent, though, will be without his first-choice striker in Heber as the Brazilian – who has six goals and three assists — is expected to miss at least two weeks with an injury. The NYCFC boss also confirmed James Sands and Tony Rocha will miss out due to injuries.
Philadelphia maintained its grip on the Eastern Conference lead with a 1-1 draw at New England on Wednesday night, with Kacper Przybylko scoring from close range in the 84th minute after Fafa Picault did most of the work to create the scoring opportunity. The Union, who lost to D.C. United in extra time in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, are unbeaten in their last four league matches (2-0-2).
“I think our guys showed in the second half that we were the more fit team, were able to push things and I think a draw is probably a fair result,” Union boss Jim Curtin told the team’s official website. “Probably could have stole a goal at the end.”
Curtin still has not settled on a keeper while No. 1 and All-Star Andre Blake plays for Jamaica at the Gold Cup. Matt Freese finished with three saves, but it remains possible Carlos Miguel Coronel could be between the sticks for this contest.
Curtin also hinted playmaker Marco Fabian could have a role in this match, though he did not specify if the Mexico international would start or come off the bench. Fabian was not able to represent El Tri at the Gold Cup due to an ankle injury which has limited him to eight matches and 442 minutes this season.
NYCFC is 4-1-0 all-time at Yankee Stadium versus Philadelphia and recorded a pair of 3-1 wins there three days apart last year, with the latter coming in the knockout round of the playoffs.
(Kacper Przybylko photo courtesy Philadelphia Union official Twitter account)