1. First, the elephant in the room. What does Ronny Deila’s departure mean for NYC, and what does Nick Cushing bring to the table?
Ronny decamping for Léige is sad but understandable: The top five teams in Belgium play in European competitions, and after winning the leagues in Scotland, Norway, and MLS I think he has ambitions to lift a trophy in one of those tournaments. Cushing is a more than capable replacement, a former highly successful head coach who took an assistant position to work with Ronny. It’s a seamless transition: NYCFC will continue to play like NYCFC. Remember, Ronny was pushed because of bad performances, he was poached because of the club’s success. The aim is to stay the course.
2. City had a tough loss against NYRB Wednesday night. What kind of lineup did they put on the field, and will this impact their fitness on Sunday?
It was a strong Starting XI, but I think Talles Magno will start on Sunday and bring an element of danger that was sometimes missing against the Red Bulls. I don’t think fitness is an issue. Philadelphia will be a priority, and the players are looking strong after the international break - one of the upshots of having such a young team is they recover quickly.
3. Disregarding Wednesday’s result, NYC looks unstoppable. Is there anything that can slow them down (outside of a Taty Castellanos departure)?
I’m not sure I agree that they look unstoppable. While NYCFC might be getting points, they’ve been squeezing by teams they should have crushed. New York City beat a dysfunctional Chicago on a penalty, and let a thoroughly mediocre Colorado that was missing their top scorer draw them at Yankee Stadium. Those aren’t exactly emphatic scorelines.
It’s hard to disregard Wednesday’s result when it fits into a pattern: Opponents cede the ball, clog up the box, hope to score in transition. Colorado almost made it work, and a much stronger New Jersey used that formula to dominate NYCFC. The Union are better than New Jersey. They’re tougher in defense, more opportunistic in front of the goal. Just look at what happened earlier this season in the Bronx.
One of three things could happen. One, NYCFC play their free-flowing attacking football and it clicks into gear: That would be unstoppable. Two, NYCFC play their free-flowing attacking football and Philadelphia weathers the attack, do what they do best, win the game with 13% possession. Three, and this is what I secretly hope happens, NYCFC cede the ball and force the Union to hold the ball and create chances - I’m not sure Philadelphia would know what to do.
4. Will NYC have any notable absences? What are your score and lineup predictions?
Center-back Thiago Martins looks to be out for some time - his foot or leg was injured against Colorado, and while the club haven’t disclosed the nature of the injury it doesn’t look good. Maxime Chanot will step into his place and all will be OK - NYCFC’s backup center-back would be a starter on any other team. Other players are returning to fitness, and most of the squad is available.
You’ll likely see Taty Castellanos and Tales Magno in the attack. The two are developing a chemistry, and the goal Talles Magno scored against Colorado was a thing of beauty. If Keaton Parks starts in midfield then we’ll see an attack-minded lineup; if it’s Nicolás Acevedo then it’ll be more cagey.
I predict it will be another 2-0 scoreline, but I can’t say which team will net the goals and which one will be shut out. I could see the Union following their game plan and unnerving NYCFC, finding a way to score. I could also see New York City take out their revenge for Wednesday’s game on Philadelphia, and slice open the defense. I’ll say this: Whoever wins will deserve it.