United head to the Bronx Saturday looking to do something they have not done in three years: leave Yankee Stadium with three points in their pocket. Since NYCFC entered the league in 2015 the Black-and-Red have yet to earn a win in the Bronx.
Yankee Stadium has served as friendly confines for NYCFC this season, and until a 1-0 defeat against the New England Revolution on Wednesday, David Villa and co. had been undefeated at home.
Despite that admirable home record, United will face an NYCFC side that are reeling as of late, winning only one of their last seven games including Wednesday’s defeat. Saturday's match will still be a considerable challenge, though, as the Black-and-Red will be without several familiar faces who are off on international duty.
The game will be a test of squad depth as United will be without four regulars due to call-ups, including Paul Arriola (United States), Zoltán Stieber (Hungary), Júnior Moreno (Venezuela) and Darren Mattocks (Jamaica).
New York will also be short handed as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Libya), Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica), Ebenezer Matarrita (Ghana) and Maxime Chanot (Luxembourg) will all be away with their respective national teams.
Despite the absences, the match will revolve around a marquee matchup between European stars in Wayne Rooney and New York’s David Villa. Saturday will be the icons' second-ever professional meeting.
Villa has been a key piece for New York since arriving in 2015 as the club’s first-ever signing. The Spanish striker has scored 73 goals in 112 appearances for New York and won the MVP award in 2016.
This season, Villa has missed time due to injury but has still managed to score 10 goals in 18 appearances for New York, only one goal short of the team lead. Maxi Moralez is the main creative presence behind Villa, leading the team with 13 assists—one shy of tying for the league's lead.
Meanwhile, since arriving to D.C. during the summer transfer window, Rooney has transformed United. After taking over the role of team captain, Rooney has ignited the players around him and has been the driving force behind the Black-and-Red’s push for the playoffs. The forward has scored four goals and added five assists in 11 appearances with the Black-and-Red and has helped spark an offensive explosion from Luciano Acosta.
The pair have quickly blossomed together and have already established a trademark style of quick one-touch passing play in the opposing half. Acosta has scored six goals in 11 games since Rooney’s arrival, and four of Rooney’s five assists this season have resulted in Acosta goals.
Rooney’s strength on the ball also creates a natural magnetism that draws defenders toward him, resulting in space for Acosta and his fellow midfielders. That dynamic has opened up the United attack, and has forced opposing defenses to try to cover multiple dangerous fronts.
The Black-and-Red will need their go-to duo to continue scoring, especially in the absence of other key players, if they hope to earn the win on Saturday and keep pace in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Tune in at 4:55 PM on Univision or Twitter to see how the match unfolds.