This Sunday, NYCFC will face off against the Philadelphia Union for the fourth time this season. In the regular season, the two teams each won once, with the regular-season finale ending in a draw. With so much game time already between these two teams, a couple of trends have emerged that will be imperative for the Night Owls to learn from, with a chance to advance to the MLS Cup Final as the prize.
Away at Subaru Park on May 1st
In their first matchup with the Union, the Night Owls won the game by a score of 2-0. The first goal came in the 5th minute and was the product of a counter-attack scored by Jesus Medina and assisted by Anton Tinnerholm. The game changed drastically in the 16th minute when a foul on Taty Castellanos resulted in a red card for Philadelphia’s Jose Martinez. After the red card, the Night Owls produced plenty of chances but were only able to score once more throughout the game.
The first big chance after the red card came in the 20th minute when Castellanos skied a shot right in front of the net from a Gudmundur Thorarinsson cross. The second goal would come in the 65th minute after a poor clearance gifted Castellanos the ball right in front of the goal. Although the Night Owls won by two, the number of chances missed was disappointing. Failing to execute on big chances has been a trend all season that has cost them a few games
Away at Subaru Park on August 18
In their second game against Philadelphia, the Night Owls displayed similar play but lost 1-0. Despite the final scoreline, New York controlled the majority of the game finishing with 59% possession and registering 15 shots compared to the Union who only produced seven.
The Philadelphia goal came from an Alejandro Bedoya header in the 67th minute. New York’s best chance came in the 22nd minute when Anton Tinnerhold picked out Santiago Rodriguez who had a shot in front of the goal but sent it wide. The Night Owls’ failure to execute their big chances cost them the loss. Without Castellanos for the playoff game this Sunday the chances may be less plentiful which will increase the value of every opportunity.
Home at Yankee Stadium on November 7th
The final game of the regular season ended in a 1-1 draw. The first crucial moment of the game was when Gedion Zelalem picked up a red card in the 22nd minute after an extremely poor challenge. Three minutes later, Kacper Przybylko would score for the Union from a Leon Flach assist. Despite being down a man, the Night Owls held their own registering 10 shots to Philadelphia’s 11. The persistence paid off as in the 53rd minute Maxi Moralez found Castellanos in the box for a beautiful redirecting header into the bottom right corner.
Due to the red card, Philadelphia led in possession with 55%. Although it was a draw, being able to score a goal while playing man down was a major confidence boost for the Night Owls.
This season, New York led the MLS in shots on target per game with 5.5 but ranked second in the MLS in big chances missed. Finishing goal-scoring opportunities was a common trend throughout all three of these games that need to be understood going into Sunday’s game without their golden boot winner Castellanos. In addition, Andre Blake has proven himself as one of the best keepers this season registering twelve clean sheets which are second-best in the MLS. New York will need to make the most of their scoring opportunities if they are to have success against a defensively sound Union squad.