Week 34 Preview: Union vs. NYCFC

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s the last game of the regular season, as the Union look to head into the playoffs with a win and a second place finish.

Jamiro Monteiro’s absence was a big surprise for Union fans in the game against FC Cincinnati, especially given his previous transfer drama, but Jim Curtin assured fans that him being left out of the squad was due to a knee injury, and that Monteiro is back in full training.

“He’s back and trained fully and no real issue with the knee,” Curtin clarified. “I’ll be honest, when the initial MRI was read, it was listed as a potential grade 3 strain, which is ‘you’re done.’ He’s bounced back in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense and the strength of his knee is stable and he’s trained fully the last couple days and looks great. Knock on wood, it’s a good spot for Jamiro.”

It’s a good spot indeed, seeing as the Union will need every bit of strength they can get, as this is the third time this year that they will be battling NYCFC for second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s a three-way fight between Philadelphia, New York, and Nashville, and the Union are hungry for that spot.

“The importance of home field comes up and it’s something that is in our hands,” Curtin said of the possibility of having a playoff game at home. “We’ll have to be at our very best. [Yankee Stadium] is obviously a very difficult place to go and play. They play very well there against all teams in our league, it has unique dimensions obviously.”

Playing in a baseball stadium could present some challenges for the Union, as the field is narrower and NYCFC are much more comfortable playing in that environment than most teams in MLS are.

“With the way the field dimensions are, New York City has become very comfortable and used to it,” Curtin said. “For us, we can replicate it and make the dimensions tighter, but we’re going to have to solve the problems on our own. Their record in Yankee Stadium speaks for itself.”

At this point, it’s up in the air as to whether Curtin will deploy his preferred 4-4-2 formation, or continue to use the 4-3-2-1 shape that he’s been favoring recently. With Monteiro back to full fitness, fans could very well see him and Daniel Gazdag share the No. 10 position in an effort to generate as much offense as possible for the Boys In Blue.

Although the Union’s back line is one of the best in the league (if not the best), they’ll face a significantly difficult opponent in forward Valentin Castellanos, whose 18 goals have put him at the front of the race for this season’s Golden Boot.

Speaking about the counterattacks his trusty defensemen will face, Curtin said, “Right up the center of the field is where it becomes critical to cut off the service to those guys as best we can. We want to try and limit their touches. Tough matchup, tough field, tough dimensions. But there’s no excuses now going into the last game and trying to get a result.”

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, Kacper Przybylko

  • With limited options for a second striker, seeing as Sergio Santos is questionably fit at best, and Cory Burke is still easing back into the squad after an injury of his own, a 4-3-2-1 formation is looking optimal. Monteiro and Gazdag share the creator role surprisingly well, and both Flach and Bedoya have proven that in this midfield shape, they’re capable of handling the offensive and defensive responsibilities in midfield. As stated before, this back line and goalie combination is the best of the best, so Curtin will be putting his best possible foot forward for this game.

Score Prediction: It’ll be a close one, and while the Union are going into the playoffs all guns blazing, they simply don’t have the best away record. Especially playing in a stadium with such unfamiliar and awkward dimensions, they probably won’t make the necessary adjustments as quickly as they need to. A 2-2 draw is looking most likely to finish out the season.

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