Union can prove how good they are by beating David Villa’s New York City FC
"Three weeks ago, everybody was saying we're crap and we're a trash team, and we don't deserve this or we don't deserve that," winger Fafa Picault says. "Now we're in fifth place and everybody is saying we're a good team."
From time to time, Union manager Jim Curtin says something that not only stands out in the moment, but also lingers for a while.
He did it after last month's loss to the Galaxy, noting that "in all the games against the teams that maybe are toward the upper echelon and have some star players … we've come up just a little bit short."
Here comes another of those teams in New York City FC, and another of those players in David Villa. They will visit Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (7 p.m., PHL17), giving the Union a chance to prove their rise to fifth place is no fluke.
"Three weeks ago, everybody was saying we're crap and we're a trash team, and we don't deserve this or we don't deserve that," winger Fafa Picault said this week. "Now we're in fifth place and everybody is saying we're a good team. It's really just [up to] us to say that we know what we're doing, we're the guys doing the job here."
Villa is doing the job in the Bronx, as he has throughout his time in MLS. He has 74 goals in his four years here, including 24 last season. Just nine have come this year, but that's mainly because he missed seven games this summer because of a knee injury. He returned Sunday, and scored 15 minutes into New York's 3-2 win at Toronto.
The Union certainly need no convincing. They haven't forgotten the 2-0 loss to New York at home last year, in which Villa chipped Andre Blake from almost halfway up the field.
Saturday's game could be his last here, by the way. Spanish newspaper AS reported Friday morning that NYCFC won't offer the 36-year-old a new contract after this season.
New York isn't one of MLS' elite teams just because of Villa. Its entire front four is lethal: him, playmaker Maximiliano Moralez (8 goals/12 assists), and wingers Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (10/3) and Jesús Medina (6/7).
Moralez leads all of MLS in chances created this year with 78; his average of 3.3 is tied for second. Tajouri-Shradi's goals-above-expected-goals margin is the league's best, according to statistical analyst Opta, a sign of how efficient he is as a scorer. Medina has completed at least 75 percent of his passes in nine of his last 10 games.
Tajouri-Shradi is especially worth watching. A 24-year-old Switzerland native, he joined NYCFC from the Austrian league as a relative unknown, but is far from unknown now.
"He gets shots off quick, doesn't need a ton of space, has been a guy that I think has caught the league off guard," Curtin said. "Certain guys get into our league and really struggle to adapt and get used to it. He's been thrown in and has just thrived."
Union vs. New York City FC
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
Union's record: 9-11-3, 30 points (5th in the East); 5-4-2 at home
New York's record: 14-5-5, 47 points (3rd in the East); 4-5-3 on the road
Series history: Union 2 wins, New York 4 wins, 1 tie
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 2 wins, New York 2 wins, 0 ties
New York players to watch
M Alex Ring: Someone has to play defense behind all that attacking firepower, and Ring is very good at it. His hustle and grit earned him an All-Star nod this year.
F Jo Inge Berget: He might not start, but if he gets on the field, you won't be able to miss him. The big Norwegian has a magnificent beard, and pretty good skills too, as his four goals and two assists have shown.
D Anton Tinnerholm: The Sweden native can play multiple positions on the back line. He's also a very good passer, averaging 80 percent accuracy on 50 attempts per game.