When the leagues across the globe had come to a halt back in march due to the coronavirus being declared a pandemic by WHO, no one could have guessed when football will resume again, if it will at all this year, with early talks of scrapping the seasons leading the discussions and debate between the league and the clubs. But MLS is finally back on July 8th, with some of its European counterparts already underway. There will be many drastic changes, most notably, no fans in the stadiums, and rigorous COVID-19 testing procedures among other things. This is the tactical preview of New York City FC and Philadelphia Union of MLS to be played on July 9th.

Predicted Lineups

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview



NYCFC lineup:

Sean Johnson is expected to start in goal, with Anton Tinnerholm, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Ronald Matarrita completing the back four from left to right respectively, ahead of him, given the fitness and availability of the said players.

James Sands is expected to occupy the defensive midfield role, with Alexandru Mitrita, Keaton Parks, Maxi Moralez, and Jesus Medina Completing the midfield four from left to right respectively.

Heber should be starting as the lone striker up top completing the 11.


Philadelphia Union:

Andre Blake is expected to start between the sticks, with Matt real, Mark McKenzie, Jakob Glesnes, and Ray Gaddis completing the back four, from left to right.

The midfield diamond will see Jose Martinez be deployed as a defensive mid, with Jamiro and Alejandro Bedoya sitting ahead of him in central midfield, and the young exciting Brendan Aaronson occupying the hole behind the two strikers.

Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko are the two expected strikers to be deployed which completes the lineup.


Philadelphia will rely on their high press

In the 2020 season, it’s too early to say how Philadelphia will end the season, with only two games in and the season was paused indefinitely. But if those two games are anything to base one’s opinion on, it doesn’t look a good road ahead, with Union picking up only a solitary point from a possible six, and failing to keep a clean sheet and conceding five in the process. And their attack doesn’t look that potent either, with only 1.06 xG per match, although they’ve outshone this by scoring three against LAFC when they had an xG of 1.06. Averaging possession just over 40%, it signifies why Philadelphia aren’t creating enough chances to stay in the game, taking just over 12 shots a game and keeping a meagre four on target.

Philadelphia are more reliant on their high press i.e. their ability to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible from which they look to transition to the final third where they are the most threatening due to their ability to bring bodies up to support the attack. But their passing and attacks are a bit raw to the naked eye, with sloppy passes never really fading away from an overall match, even when the game goes on and settles down to the individual battles on the pitch. Jim Curtin emphasizes more on creating fast chances which will yield a goal, which in turn puts the defence in danger. And since the midfield diamond plugs and overloads the centre, they tend to be caught out wide, or the central midfielders get dragged out wide to support the full-back which leaves gaps in the midfield and opens spaces for forwards to find the ball, or midfielders to pick a pass with space and time.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As shown in the picture, the Philadelphia union players (marked under the circle) have pushed up the pitch, with four actively involved in the press against LAFC’s players (marked under quadrilateral).

The Dallas game in particular saw, the front three being phased out of the game for long stretches of the game. And they would trap Philadelphia in their own half quite often, resulting in cheap freekicks for Dallas and rash tackles from Philadelphia’s players. Jamiro has been given the free role with the other central midfielder playing a supporting and screening role with the defensive mid dropping into the back three as the fullbacks push up.

The player in the hole, is the only link between the front two, as Philadelphia create chances through the middle, and full-backs available only as a passing option, or to cross the ball into the penalty area.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As shown in the picture, the midfield retains its shape as the ball progresses up the pitch out wide, with one of the strikers staying central to offer an option in behind.

Their possession play and recycling of possession has been sloppy with only 75% of their passes finding the respective recipients. Their backline also has been very shaky and have displayed scenes of nervy defending which doesn’t bode well for the team. And their employment of risky defending in terms of positions and their approach to winning the ball back allows their opponents to create chances quite frequently, despite maintaining their shape fairly evenly across matches. With their high backline, it is possible to get the opposition offside, but a disorganized backline will create difficulty maintaining the shape of the back four and also affords the opposition to run in behind against their high block.

With the two-striker system, one of the two strikers, usually Przybylko is often isolated as Santos drops in to help defensively with his aggressive nature and harassing the opposition defence, the key to the high press of Philadelphia union.

Zonal defending by the players often are overwhelmed by quick passes, as it is easy to cut through them while the players change the man they will be picking and marking, the confusion between the defending players results in defensive lapses, which is one of the significant examples of the risky defending from which they are subject to being carved open time and time again.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As shown in the picture Kaye has ample space and time to pick the perfect pass to send Rossi through on goal for the equalizer, with the no defending union player insight for Kaye to be disrupted by or hurry the pass because of.

But their play build-up for attacking sequences does show they’ve what it takes, as they themselves do prefer quick passes in the opposition half, and are dynamic themselves when exchanging quick passes to carve space up for themselves.

NYCFC looking to cut Philadelphia out of the game with blocking passing options for them

With only bursting into existence in 2013 as a club, New York City FC have established themselves in the MLS fairly well in such a short span of time. With Ronny Deila at the helm since the start of the season, this pandemic and the postponement of the league might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, with the past 4 months helping him bond with his team, and get his message, and tactics through to the players effectively in time for the restart.

With New York City FC employing a medium block, with little to no emphasis on a front foot press, it is quite simple to understand that the defensive mid (usually sands) in as the third centre back to provide stability to the defence and also assist in building play from the back. Since Deila was a newly appointed manager at the start of the season, the defensive lapses seen in NYCFC’s game was understandable but needed to be removed or eliminated as soon as possible to ensure that they can find their feet back on solid footing.

They have been seen to start the game a little slow which makes them error-prone, both on and off the ball, in terms of passing and positioning to win the ball back. With the two banks of four, they stretch the pitch as much as they can, aiming to tire the opposition with two midfielders ahead of the defensive mid the only link to the apparent front five as the full-backs push up to play as makeshift wingers, while the wingers tuck in between the defenders in the channels.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As shown in the picture, except the striker, almost everyone falls back in, and behind the ball maintaining shape and compactness.

The team possesses flair and creativity which is helpful in opening up opposition defences, plus with the tactic of overloading opposition half, and the final third, in particular, it plays into their hand to have plenty of passing options available. With one of the two central midfielders playing as an orthodox box-to-box and the other playing as a playmaker, linking play however way possible.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As seen in the picture when the player in the centre gets the ball, all the players in focus make a run forward to support the attack and provide a passing option to the passer.

The transition from defence to attack for NYCFC is fairly quick, with the team looking to progress the ball up the pitch as fast as possible, and it is relatively the same way on the other end, with their transition from attack to defence quick too, as almost everyone drops in behind the ball.

MLS 2020: New york City FC vs Philadelphia Union - tactical preview
As shown in the picture, the wide player moves in and Parks makes a run to receive the ball, while Heber comes inside to draw a defender away from Parks’ run ahead.

The wingers would cut in or get in behind depending on the state of play, and the position of the attack building up from. The players don’t hurry the attack and build the play patiently rather than looking to get the attack over with as fast as possible, and not opening a good enough opportunity from which they could threaten the opposition defence and the goalkeeper.

Their gameplay is more based on and around possession with the team averaging around 48.8% possession in the 7 games they have played this season (2 of them being friendlies). But they are averaging 1.14 goals/game, from an xG of 1.23, which is a bit of an underperformance, but this should pick up as the players, and coach become familiar with each other and the qualities that are at the disposal of the club. But they take and create few chances, with an average of 9.71 shots taken, with a further few 4.14 on target.

The early season stats don’t really bode well for the club, but the new manager should start picking up results as the season progresses, with no points picked up in the MLS, int the first two games.

Stat wars (NYCFC: Philadelphia Union) {Average}

Duels Contested/Won – (188.57: 232.5); (92.71:100)

Shots against/On target – (15.14: 15); (6.14: 8)

Sliding tackles/Successful – (5.29: 3); (2.43: 2)

Interceptions – (45: 59.5)

Clearances – (15.86: 16)

Passes to the final third/Successful – (49.43: 56); (34.43: 34.5)

Progressive passes/Accurate – (70.57: 75); (50: 54.5)

Passes per defensive action – (13.72: 7.9)


On paper, this a fairly even match up, with both teams’ defensive frailties, on the show, which will allow both teams to create chances. The difference between their defensive stats, is evident both on the pitch and in between the numbers of stats, as the teams have two contrasting playing styles, which should yield an interesting match for the fans back home to enjoy.

With both the teams looking to bag their first win of the season, don’t expect anything less than a toe to toe between New York City FC and Philadelphia Union on 9th July 2020.