Ignoring how early in the season it is, the fact that both of these sides are currently residing in the playoff spots in the East is a bit of a surprise. There are quite a few similarities between these teams as they enter Saturday's competition.
Both teams are still building or rebuilding and thought to struggle this season still. Both are missing key midfield pieces in Edu who is rehabbing still and Lampard who is MIA (if you know of his whereabouts, please contact NYCFC at 212-738-5900). Both have former players in the beginning stages of the managing careers.
The Union Heading In
The Union though have had strong showings at home to start the season and will want to build on that momentum and keep pace with Montreal at the top of the Eastern Conference. Last week's loss will sting a bit and will carry with it a bit of a hangover with Roland Alberg missing due to suspension. His clumsy slip/scissor tackle led to his second caution of the day and will have him watching from the stands. Jim Curtin did not seem too worried in his press conference this week:
Tranquillo is comfortable playing the 10, Leo is in good form, have a couple options and they're good ones. It helps we have depth.— Marisa Pilla (@UnionMarisa) April 20, 2016
The injury front also seems promising with Edu the only long term hold out. Ilsinho and Tribbett both returned to training and look to be at least in contention for a spot in the game day roster. Yaro could be used again in Tribbett's place and it seemed Curtin isn't against the idea as he answered a question about Yaro defending David Villa in his press conference:
David Villa is as a good of a goal scorer as there is in the game. Josh would have to be alert on the day, but it would be a joint effort.— Marisa Pilla (@UnionMarisa) April 20, 2016
NYCFC Heading In
April hasn't started out with a bang for NYCFC. A scoreless home draw with Chicago was followed by a 3-2 loss on the road at Columbus, giving the reigning Eastern Conference champions their first win of the season. Their rookie boss Patrick Vieira has been running out a three man midfield and the fans aren't all too happy with that idea. Read more over at our SB Nation sister site, Hudson River Blue.
The injury report isn't a sight most NYCFC fans want to see right now either. Other than the "left gastrocnemius inflammation" that has forced Lampard to head back to England to recoup (yeah, I LOL at this situation all the time too, it's okay), Connor Brandt, first overall SuperDraft selection Jack Harrison, and former Union defender Ethan White are all listed as out. Four players on the mend leaves limited options to change up the roster.
Philadelphia - Blake, Rosenberry-Yaro-Marquez-Fabinho, Carroll-Nogueira, LeToux-Barnetta-Pontius, Sapong
New York City - Saunders, Iraola-Brillant-Hernandez-Mataritta, Poku-Diskerud, Shelton-Pirlo-Mendoza, Villa
Philadelphia is going to make
PPL Talen Energy a fortress this season and they aren't going to tarnish that record to an NYCFC team that is looking for answers right now. I expect Poku to be brought back into the NYCFC roster for a little more steel to handle to Union midfield while the Union bring back the veteran Brian Carroll to play a smarter, more reserved role to free up Noguiera going forward. The Union's pressure is going to cause problems with NYCFC trying to play out of the back and I think the athletic Sapong is in for a big day. Of course, it must be noted that the Union have one of the hottest players in the league on their side and I'll let a quote from Jim Curtin do the talking there:
Things you've seen from Andre so far are not a fluke. He is that good.— Marisa Pilla (@UnionMarisa) April 20, 2016
Union win 3-1 in a game that doesn't feel that close. This whole optimism thing feels weird, but I'm riding it while I can!
For anyone attending the game, please note there are new and updated security measures being implemented across the league at every stadium, so I can't repeat this enough...GET. THERE. EARLY. Please read more on what is to be expected as there are changes to how you will enter the stadium along with what you can take into it. Be safe. Be Loud. And as always, if you see something, say something!