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A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union

From Last Word on Soccer, by Martin Bihl

After the pain of the loss in Washington DC, New York fans were happy – and rightly so – when NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union on Good Friday in Chester, Pennsylvania. But how much of the victory at Talen Energy Stadium had to do with what NYCFC were doing right, and how much had to do with what the Union were doing wrong?

A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union

A Little Bit Me

Despite posting the lowest possession of any of their matches thus far in the season (55.4%), and a passing accuracy that was average at best for them (82%), they still dominated Philadelphia in shots (16 to 11), shots on target (7 to 2), and, of course, final score.

But Disraeli famously said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, and those statistics don’t tell the real story of how NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union. Because they don’t really tell you what what fans saw in Chester; an inspired side that came out firing on all cylinders. A side that had that ineffable quality that makes champions – that played like a team.

The communication that we’ve seen in bits and pieces between Ethan White and Jack Harrison was even better against the Union. There were smart overlapping runs and a consistent anticipation of each other’s moves that will be hard to defend against. The teamwork among Alex Ring, Andrea Pirlo and Maxi Moralez has improved too, clearing the ball out smartly when there are defensive crises, and creating attacking opportunities for other City players.

And speaking of teamwork, the way Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot have been working together has not only shown the kind of intuition and connection one usually only finds between players who have spent more than a few months together, but came in for particular praise from coach Patrick Vieira after the match.

And that last point is particularly important not only because of NYCFC’s famous defensive shortcomings, but because it is a truism – at least for City – that the attack starts from the backline. When the team is confident in its backline, confident that opposing attackers will be marked, that defenders will be in the right position, that the line will hold its shape, it takes chances on the attack. And when it does not? That’s when you see the whole team drifting backwards, and you wind up with players like David Villa haunting the midfield and Jack Harrison shoulder to shoulder with Maxime Chanot. The fact that we didn’t see that in Philadelphia speaks to the great strides the team is making defensively.

A Little Bit You

After NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union, every member of City that I spoke to insisted that their hosts were very good team. And that’s the kind of good sportsmanship you like to see from the players. But let’s be serious for just a second.

Philadelphia hasn’t won a match since way back on August 27 of last year when they beat Sporting KC in Chester. For those of you playing along at home, that’s 13 straight matches. And during those 13 matches they’ve drawn only FOUR times (twice in 2016 and twice this season). Which means four points in 230 days. Fun Fact: the MLS regular season is only 231 days long. Aren’t statistics fun?

But there’s more. The only team that has allowed more goals than Philadelphia is Minnesota United FC (well, of course…). And no team in the Eastern conference has allowed as many. On the attacking side, they’ve scored precisely the same number of goals as the Colorado Rapids – who have played one fewer match, and only D.C. United have scored fewer, but then, you know, that’s D.C.

Then there are the injuries – specifically to Josh Yaro, and Maurice Edu. And the departure in the off-season of last year’s #10 Tranquillo Barnetta whom they’ve struggled to replace – sometimes with Roland Alberg, sometimes with Alejandro Bedoya. But, as those to suggestions, Friday’s scoreline and the Union’s record would all indicate, without much success.

In other words, when NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union, they beat a side that are in about twenty seven different kinds of hurt right now. In fact, you could almost make the case that NYCFC would have had to work harder to lose to them than they did to win.

What’s next?

The reason all of this matters, of course, is because in the next two weeks, NYCFC face two of the three teams that are above them in the table. They host Orlando City SC, to whom they lost in the opener, followed by a trip to MAPFRE Stadium to face the Columbus Crew, where they’ve never won. Taking points out of either of those matches will be vital if the team want to keep pace in the Eastern Conference.

And will tell us just how good NYCFC really are.


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