In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue caught up with Joe Lister of Philadelphia Soccer Now, the excellent successor to Brotherly Game, to get the dirt on Philadelphia Union, New York City FC’s suddenly dangerous-looking opponent in Matchday 14. Lister is good people even though he supports the Union: Read on to learn more in this NYCFC vs Philadelphia game preview.
Hudson River Blue: Philadelphia Union are on a tear after stumbling through the start of the season — advancing in the CONCACAF Champions League can be a poison chalice. What’s the feeling in the #DOOP kingdom these days?
Joe Lister: If you asked that question two weeks ago, I would’ve had a very different answer. However, after Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution, it looks like the Union finally turned the corner. The first half of the match wasn’t pretty. But those three goals in the second half showed fans exactly what they want to see.
The Union shot from ninth to fifth in the Eastern Conference in just a few games, and it feels like their back in the hunt, right on schedule. Philadelphia snagged 10 points from a possible 12 in the month of May, and they’re certainly a team to look out for. Fans are seeing those changes very tangibly. After questioning the value of Jim Curtin a few weeks ago, they’re all aboard the Curtin wagon.
HRB: It felt like NYCFC recently overtook New Jersey Red Bulls to become Philadelphia’s #1 rival. Does that honor now belong to LAFC after they beat the Union in last year’s MLS Cup on penalty shots, and knocked them out of the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this month? Or Is New York City still the club Philadelphia fans hate the most?
JL: That’s a tough one. Philadelphia doesn’t have any true rivals, or at least at rivals on the level of El Trafico or Hell is Real. This idea was actually bouncing around Twitter in the past week, and it seems like each fan has a different rival. I think LAFC and NYCFC are both near the top of everyone’s lists though. LAFC has some recency bias, as well as the history of thrilling matches (and losses). Simply put, for NYCFC, fans just don’t like those guys. Memories of Eastern Conference finals aren’t that far in the past. The players’ attitudes in those games had some of the highest intensities in Union history.
That being said, NYCFC and LAFC are both one of many for Philly fans. New England, Atlanta, and NYRB definitely all make a few lists.
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HRB: Philadelphia’s attack looks like it’s firing on all cylinders once again after scoring three against New England last week. But they were held scoreless at home the week before by DC United. What’s going on with the front line?
JL: There were a few factors that went into the DC performance, which was very underwhelming, to say the least. One was the absence of Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn to the USYNT. Sullivan isn’t the biggest concern, but he is a good attacking option off the bench. However, McGlynn has been really solid as of late. He has been instrumental in creating progressive movement in the attack. Star defensive midfielder Jose Martinez and forward Mikael Uhre also came off the bench instead of starting due to injury.
However, the big difference between the first and second game was the play of Daniel Gazdag. The Union’s No 10 had been lacking solid play all year, including a non-penalty kick goal, but he produced that on Saturday. Gazdag’s goal early in the second half was a kickstart to the Union’s play in the rest of the match, and he played his best soccer of the 2023 campaign.
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide this game?
JL: I think it’ll be Gazdag again. The midfielder was very much the deciding factor against the Revolution, and he’ll have to play that way all year long for the Union to replicate last season’s success. In the bigger picture, the entire offense will have to click. My favorite stat from Saturday night against New England was that every player who spent time at the No 9 registered a goal or an assist. It was a good, all-around performance that will have to find its way to Citi Field.
HRB: Prediciton time: Starting XI? Final score?
JL: The Union should be putting forth its first-option group. Outside of McGlynn, who’s still at the U-20 WC.
The Union are pretty hot right now, so I give them a 2-0 win on the road.