MLS One to Watch – Week 16 Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC

This week’s MLS One to Watch is the Philadelphia Union hosting NYCFC on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET. The game will be available nationwide on FS1. Here are three reasons why you should log in:

A showcase of MLS elites

The league has entered a point in the season where there are many rematches. The Union handed NYCFC their only home loss of the season on March 19, with two first-half goals paving the way for a 2-0 result. While NYCFC certainly wants to return the favor, the game is more important than pride — the top of the Eastern Conference is on the line.

NYCFC are currently first with 27 points, with Philadelphia just one point behind in third. The New York Red Bulls are in second place, edging out Philly in the total win tiebreaker. The winner of Sunday’s game is guaranteed to be at least level on points for first place and could possibly have sole possession of first place as the Red Bulls are due to visit West leaders LAFC.

Beating another club near you in the table is the easiest way to get a higher seed in the playoffs, and since those teams won’t end up in the regular season, one can grab pole position and have the possibility of not looking back. Also, matches are more exciting when two top teams face off, which a one-on-three match will certainly provide.

Can NYCFC bounce back in interim manager Nick Cushing’s second game?

Last week’s game against the Colorado Rapids was the NYCFC’s first game after head coach Ronny Deila resigned to take charge of Standard Liege in Belgium. Assistant coach Nick Cushing moved a seat on the bench to caretaker manager for the rest of the season, with the club hoping internal promotion would bring a sense of stability. However, the team struggled to keep their composure, tying the Rapids 1-1 in New York.

HARRISON, NJ – JUNE 22: New York City FC midfielder Gabriel Pereira (38) controls the ball during the first half of the US Open Cup quarter-final match between the New York Red Bulls and the New York City FC on June 22, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While the draw extended the club’s unbeaten streak to nine games, it was only their second draw during the streak and snapped a four-game winning streak. More importantly, NYCFC struggled to advance their high-powered offense against a Colorado team that has been poor all year and is currently below the playoff line. The attack finally came to life after Michael Barrios put Colorado ahead in the 68th minute, with Talles Magno equalizing just four minutes later.

The road back to the win column gets a lot tougher this week in Philadelphia. While teams often benefit from a new coaching bump, NYCFC may be too stunned by their coach abandoning them. Opponents can be silenced with a result this weekend, which would also allow Cushing’s side to reassert their place at the top of the East – both literally and metaphorically.

Philadelphia seeks to retain its native stronghold

Union are just one of two teams unbeaten at home this year, despite having just three wins from eight games. Either way, the positive results have gone a long way towards Philadelphia’s current spot in the table, and they would surely love to extend the mark with a win over a conference rival. NYCFC has only played five road games so far, the lowest amount in the Eastern Conference, so the Union should like their chances of coming away with another result.

CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 18: Philadelphia Union’s Mikael Uhre #7 and FC Cincinnati’s Nick Hagglund #4 challenge for the ball during the first half at Subaru Park on June 18, 2022 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Jim Curtain’s team is led by Daniel Gazdag (seven goals, three assists) and Julian Carranza (four goals, four assists). The team is anchored in defense by Jamaican international Andre Blake, whose 80.7 save percentage is the best in the league. Philadelphia also has six clean sheets this season, just behind NYCFC’s eight.

Honorable Mention: Austin FC vs. FC Dallas

Picking a game this week was tough as the Copa Tejas game between two surprising teams immediately stood out. Austin and Dallas are third and fourth, respectively, less than a year into a season that saw both clubs miss the playoffs. Austin has seen patience pay off in his second year as a club, all under Josh Wolff, while Dallas relies on a combination of increased spending and new head coach Nico Estevez. In addition to these scenarios, the Copa Tejas – and the whole fight for the best club in Texas – is always exciting. Austin hosts this edition on Saturday at 9:00 p.m. ET. The game will be available nationally on ESPN+, with various local viewing options in Texas.

Main image credits: Embed from Getty Images

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