This week’s MLS One to Watch is the Philadelphia Union hosting NYCFC on Sunday at 6:00 PM ET. The game will be available nationally on FS1. Here are three reasons why you should tune in:
A showcase of MLS Elites
The league has entered a point in the season where rematches are plentiful. The Union handed NYCFC its 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 at stake.
NYCFC currently sits first on 27 points, with Philadelphia just one point behind in third. The New York Red Bulls occupy second, edging Philly out on the total wins tiebreaker. The winner of Sunday’s match is guaranteed to at least be even on points for first place and could likely have sole possession of the top spot as the Red Bulls have to visit West-leading LAFC.
Beating another club near you in the table is the easiest way to secure a better playoff seed, and as these teams will not meet again in the regular season, one can seize the pole position and have the opportunity to not look back. Plus, games are more exciting when two top sides are squaring off, which a one versus three match-up will certainly provide.
Can NYCFC rebound in interim manager Nick Cushing’s second game?
Last week’s game against the Colorado Rapids was NYCFC’s first game after head coach Ronny Deila resigned to take the reins of Standard Liege in Belgium. Assistant coach Nick Cushing moved one seat up the bench to interim manager for the rest of the season, with the club hoping an in-house promotion would provide a sense of stability. However, the team struggled to keep its composure, tying the Rapids 1-1 in New York.
While the draw extended the club’s unbeaten run to nine games, it was just their second tie during the stretch and broke a four-game winning streak. More importantly, NYCFC struggled to get its high-powered offense going against a Colorado side that has been poor all year and currently sits below the playoff line. The attack finally woke up after Michael Barrios gave Colorado the lead in the 68th minute, with Talles Magno equalizing just four minutes later.
The road back to the win column gets substantially harder this week in Philadelphia. While teams often benefit from a new coach bump, NYCFC may be too stunned by their coach abandoning them. The naysayers can be silenced with a result this weekend, which would also allow Cushing’s side to reaffirm its place at the top of the East — both literally and metaphorically.
Philadelphia looks to maintain its home fortress
The Union is just one of two sides undefeated at home this year, although the club has just three wins in eight games. Regardless, the positive results have gone a long way toward Philadelphia’s current spot in the table, and they would surely love to extend the mark with a win against a conference rival. NYCFC has played just five road games thus far, the lowest amount in the Eastern Conference, so the Union should like its chances to come away with another result.
Jim Curtain’s side 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 on the season, second only to NYCFC’s eight.
Honorable mention: Austin FC vs FC Dallas
Choosing one match this week was difficult, as the Copa Tejas match between two surprising teams immediately stood out. Austin and Dallas are in third and fourth respectively, less than a year removed from a season that saw both clubs miss the playoffs. Austin has seen patience pay off in its second year as a club, all under manager Josh Wolff, while Dallas is relying on a combination of increased spending and new head coach Nico Estevez. In addition to these storylines, the Copa Tejas — and the entire fight for the best club in Texas — is always thrilling. Austin hosts this edition on Saturday at 9:00 PM ET. The game will be available nationally on ESPN+, with various local viewing options in Texas.
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