Mind Games: An NYCFC-Philadelphia Union Preview

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NYCFC Open Cup

To play this sport – to play any sport – one needs a weird kind of brain. One that can fundamentally contradict itself. On the one hand, you need a really good memory. You need to be able to recall at a moment’s notice everything you’ve studied and learned about the 11 men facing you on the pitch – as well as the other ten on your side. Does the man you’re attacking favor his left or his right, what blind spots does he have, how spent is he, do those first two facts change based on the third? 1,000 calculations in the blink of an eye based on the video you’ve watched and the conversations you’ve had with coaches and other players before and during the match.

But you must also have the remarkable ability to be able to completely and utterly forget everything that just happened. To obliterate the past. Blot it out, convince yourself that whatever bad thing just happened, sort of didn’t happen at all. The ability to force yourself not to obsess about a mistake. For obsession distracts you out of the moment, leaving you wallowing around in the muck and mire of the past which, frankly, is a luxury no player has during the game. A goal scored on you must be erased, deemed, at best, a freakish outlier in the overall run of play even if it was not – especially if it was not – in order to give you a fighting chance to make sure it never happens again

Two different skills in one brain. Often functioning at more or less the same time. And no where may they be more on display than in the upcoming match between NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union.

Mind Games: An NYCFC-Philadelphia Union Preview

Speak, Memory

The last time these two teams met in Yankee Stadium, Frank Lampard notched a goal. Remember him? You know who else did? Andrea Pirlo. In fact it was the only goal he scored last season. Or the season before that. Or this season, for that matter. (Okay, that’s unfair. Nobody hires Andrea Pirlo to score goals.) Last time NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union played in Yankee Stadium, one of NYCFC’s players got ejected – want to guess who? Nope – it was Jason Hernandez. Oh and speaking of leaving the pitch Kwadwo Poku made an appearance in this match – remember him? In fact, it may have been his final appearance before taking his talents to South Beach. As it were.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Philadelphia have won only once on the road in ten of their past 11 matches – that lone victory coming when they beat the stuffing out of D.C. United at RFK. But remember, that win was part of a six-match unbeaten streak – a streak that didn’t end until they lost to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto. A streak in which they took an impressive 14 points out of a possible 18. Now, can you recall who their last loss was to before that streak started? You guessed it – NYCFC, when David Villa scored that crazy goal from midfield on Andre Blake – the one that didn’t win “Goal of the Week” that week.

Encouraging, right? So here’s one more thing to remember: while NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union have played each other fairly evenly over the past three seasons, NYCFC lead the series with three wins and a draw out of the six matches.

I Can’t Remember

Let’s face it, NYCFC are coming off a rather disappointing run of form since defeating Orlando City on May 21st. As Patrick Vieira himself said, the team gave away two points on Wednesday against the New England Revolution and made too many mistakes against Atlanta the preceding Sunday.

By the same token, the Union are coming off of a loss on the road to Real Salt Lake. A loss where they were uncharacteristically shut out (they’d scored 11 goals in their preceding four matches) which hadn’t happened since they drew the L.A. Galaxy at the end of April.

But the thing is, those points are already lost for both sides. Those opportunities are already squandered, and while there’s much the teams can learn from them, there’s not a hell of a lot they can do to change them now. When NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union square off, both sides need to put the past behind them. For as Sean Johnson told NYCFCNation: “The past few games we came out with results we didn’t want. We need to buckle down and move forward.” Precisely.

Do this in Remembrance of Me

Ah but both NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union will have to do that without key players won’t they? Yangel Herrerra will be half a world away facing off against the U.S. U-20 side (how conflicted about this am I?). A U.S. U-20 side, by the way, that’s featuring the Union’s Derrick Jones. Rodney Wallace will be on senior international duty with Costa Rica while Philadelphia’s Alejandro Bedoya will be with the USMNT. Khiry Shelton is still dealing with that hamstring injury. And Andrea Pirlo? I don’t know. I mean, how long does it take for a mystery knee injury to heal?

And even though Alex Ring, RJ Allen and potentially even Ronald Matarrita will be all be back for NYCFC, it will be a short lived return. NYCFC won’t play another match for two weeks after Saturday. Two weeks without NYCFC? What will we do?

Oh wait, there’s the US Open Cup match against the Red Bulls in Harrison on the 14th

Can’t believe I almost forgot about that one…

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