How to beat New York City FC
by Peter Axtman
There's no recipe for beating New York City FC. That's not to say they can't be beaten — they most certainly can, say Sporting Kansas City fans. I mean that they haven't been beaten enough for opponents to establish a pattern of vulnerabilities.
In the first four games, we haven't seen a major stinker from the Gotham Blues. They've had some suboptimal performances, but each can be dismissed by some quirky circumstance. They allowed a late game equalizer against Orlando City SC, but that was the first ever game, on the road and off a tough luck deflection. The inept Colorado Rapids pounded Josh Saunders with shots, but it was the first road game in a different time zone and NYCFC clearly struggled with the altitude. Sporting Kansas City used NYCFC's shrunken pitch against them, but they needed the nearly singular throw-in skills of Matt Besler.
The best way we know to beat NYCFC is to cut off the head off the starting XI formation. In both the Colorado and SKC games, the midfielders struggled to get the ball to David Villa & friends up top. Sporting KC executed this strategy best; they consistently thwarted the millions of long balls that NYCFC sent forward by stepping into the balls and turning possession. If I'm Jim Curtin, I tell my midfielders to sag back in front of Villa and, likely, Adam Nemec when NYCFC has the ball in an attempt to freeze them out.
On offense, the Union need to pressure the NYCFC backline by getting the ball into Fernando Aristeguieta and pushing Sebastian Le Toux forward. The New York defense is a work in progress; original starter Josh Williams missed two games due to viral pericarditis and Shay Facey missed one because of a red card. SKC exploited the backline on the lone goal, beating Kwame Watson-Siriboe on a set piece. We still don't know what the NYCFC defense is other than unsettled. It's simple to say "get the ball to the goal scorers to win," but that doesn't make it any less true, especially given a backline that hasn't played together a ton.
If the Union are looking to replicate how NYCFC opponents have scored, the club would be wise not to read too much into the fact that NYCFC has surrendered scores on two set pieces. The Orlando City SC goal was fluky due to the deflection, and the Sporting KC goal was an anomaly thanks to the funhouse mirror like proportions of the Yankee Stadium pitch. The bad news for NYCFC fans? The only player with more throw-ins into the box than the bedeviling Besler? Philadelphia's Sheanon Williams. The good news? The PPL Park pitch is five meters wider than Yankee Stadium's, ahem, 70 yard field width.
If all else fails, play desperate. The Union is winless this year and the season isn't getting younger.
How to beat the Philadelphia Union
You might think all that New York City FC has to do in order to beat the Philadelphia Union is to send eleven warm bodies out onto the pitch. Judging by their play lately, I wouldn't blame you for thinking that way. Just remember that these are all professional players, and that underestimating an opponent is often a fatal flaw.
The first thing is to not allow Fernando Aristeguieta to score. He's the Union's leading scorer, and the Venezuelan Designated Player has been playing some great soccer since his arrival. While not very fast (as evidenced by his slow-speed chase last week against Sporting Kansas City's Roger Espinoza), he's crafty and has the work rate to rival anyone in MLS.
If you shut down Aristeguieta, look out for the second leading scorer - own goal. Yes, the Union have had the benefit of two own goals this season. As poor as the Union have played, there's no need for NYCFC to help them beat NYCFC.
Test the goalkeeper early and often. This is John McCarthy's first MLS start, so there's bound to be nerves. If they can get a couple of good shots on him early, it could test his confidence and focus on the big stage. That being said, it could backfire. If McCarthy is able to make a couple of easy saves early, it will most certainly increase his confidence level. NYCFC's best bet is to get a couple of real quality chances and try and throw McCarthy off of his game.
Try and pick on the injured players. The Union roster is full of walking wounded. Sheanon Williams is probable, although he's still nursing an injury. Running at him down the NYCFC left flank might not be a bad idea. Vincent Nogueira is also dealing with a foot injury, however he was held out of the match against SKC. Aristeguieta is dealing with hand surgery, so that might be another possible wekaness to exploit.
Other than that, don't allow Philadelphia to counterattack. NYCFC has enough skill on offense to be selective with their chances and make them count. The Union are opportunists, always looking to hit on the counter. Keep the defense honest and let your offense worry about putting the ball into the net, and it should be a fun bus ride back up the New Jersey Turnpike Saturday night.