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NYCFC coming to town with first place on the line

The Philadelphia Union and NYCFC rivalry takes center stage in nationally-televised match on Sunday

SOCCER: DEC 05 MLS Cup Playoffs - New York City FC at Philadelphia Union Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No hyperbole, this is easily the most important match of the year so far for the Philadelphia Union, for a multitude of reasons. The stage is set on Sunday at Subaru Park for the Union to take back first place, right their shaky journey back on the right track, and really make a statement to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

It has been a bit of a rough season on the pitch by recent standards for the Union. While they are still firmly in contention for the crown in the East, they’ve struggled in recent months to simply win games. Philadelphia already has eight draws this season, more than any other team in the league, drawing seven out of their last eight contests.

Holding leads has been the biggest challenge for Philadelphia, blowing leads against Montreal, Nashville, LAFC, New York Red Bulls, and most recently against FC Cincinnati. While the defense has been relatively sturdy, tied with their upcoming opponent in goals allowed with ten, the offense has not been up to par.

Their 20 goals this season does not really show how much the team has struggled at times, the 0-0 draw against Inter Miami looking unable to get the ball past the mid-field line. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, the Union play extremely hard, but the creativity and end result just hasn’t been there in recent games.

Fans are frustrated, players are frustrated, and Jim Curtin is frustrated with the lack of end result as he expressed after the FC Cincinnati draw.

“It’s a huge match; it’s the team that won MLS Cup last year, it’s the team that’s playing the best in our league right now in terms of recent form, it’s a team that knocked us out of the playoffs the last time here,” head coach Jim Curtin said on Friday. “We can only look forward; the points that we’ve dropped we’re disappointed about but we recognize now we’re still a hard team to play against, we’re hard team to beat and we’ve success against NYC already this year.”

Despite the lack of end result, the Union still have the golden opportunity to regain their spot atop the Eastern Conference. New York City FC currently stand in their way.

NYCFC are a similar team to Philadelphia. With their strong defense and star keeper Sean Johnson in net, they have been extremely hard to score on, only allowing 11 goals. Their offense has been more potent than Philadelphia’s though, scoring six more goals this season. Last year’s Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos has been superb once again with seven goals. There’s a reason he has been linked with Premier League clubs this summer.

New York City has stumbled out of the gates fresh off the international break though. They dropped points against Colorado then lost 3-0 to “inner-state” rival New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup. They are at the weakest they’ve been this season, and the weakest they probably will be for the rest of the season. It would be a huge statement to the rest of the Eastern Conference for the Union to take both matches from NYCFC, and to reclaim their spot over all in the East.