Union may need to change playing style against David Villa, New York City FC at Yankee Stadium
Like most baseball diamonds, Yankee Stadium can't fit a full-sized soccer field within its playing surface. This could cause problems Sunday for the Union.
The modern Yankee Stadium doesn't have the same mystique and aura as the one that stood across 161st Street for decades. But the current big ballpark in the Bronx still has ways to get in your head — especially for soccer.
Like most baseball stadiums, the venue can't fit a full-sized soccer pitch within its playing surface. Its soccer layout is 70 yards wide, the minimum allowed by FIFA regulations.
That might pose two problems for the Union on Sunday, when they visit New York City FC in the regular-season finale (4:30 p.m., PHL17).
One is obvious: A team that likes to spread its wingers wide can't do that so easily on a narrow field. They have focused on that in practice all week. Extra lines were painted on the practice fields outside Talen Energy Stadium to reinforce the difference.
"We went through an 11-vs.-11 [scrimmage] today, and I'll just say it was crowded," manager Jim Curtin said Thursday. "It does have an influence on the game. … You can't force things up the middle of the field, because they intercept you, and then they hit you quickly on the break."
The second problem is more subtle, and perhaps more dangerous. Curtin likes his defense to press high and force turnovers. A small surface can cause traffic jams, and New York has players who are experts at getting out of them.
The orchestrator of those breaks is Maxi Moralez, an Argentine who is one of MLS' best playmakers. He has missed the last two games with a leg injury, but he is expected to return Sunday. He is great at playing passes over and through back lines, setting up superstar striker David Villa to score.
"Moralez is a handful," Curtin said. "If someone is going to play a pass that leads to a goal in their group, he's the most-likely candidate. And Villa is incredible at timing those runs to get in behind."
It will be a big task for Union centerbacks Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, but they've shown they can handle it.
When the Union beat City, 2-0, in mid-August at home, Trusty held Villa to two shots and Moralez to one chance created. In Sunday's loss to the Red Bulls, McKenzie kept striker Bradley Wright-Phillips from having any shots on goal. Wright-Phillips didn't even touch the ball in the Union's 18-yard box.