The Philadelphia Union and New York City FC look to shake off the effects of a four-month hiatus on Thursday morning when they compete in the MLS is Back Tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
Both Eastern Conference clubs answered strong performances in 2019 by stumbling out of the blocks to start this season before the coronavirus pandemic brought the MLS to a halt.
The Union (0-1-1, one point) followed a 2-0 setback at FC Dallas on Feb. 29 with a 3-3 draw at Los Angeles FC on March 8.
For their part, NYCFC (0-2-0) were on the business end of a pair of 1-0 road defeats to Columbus and Toronto.
Despite the early-season struggles, Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin is reminding his charges that NYCFC finished atop the East with an 18-6-10 record in 2019.
"NYCFC, for me on paper, are the best team in our conference," Curtin told reporters on a video conference call. "They're very strong in all aspects. We're breaking down film now, they played really good soccer. I know it's three or four months ago now, but they have a very good coach, they're well organized and their talent speaks for themselves."
The Union finished last season third in the East with a 16-11-7 record. Forward Kacper Przybylko, who led the team with 15 goals, is eager to get started on Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to the game, I was missing the competition," the 27-year-old German said Tuesday. "We've done a great job in Orlando with the training, though the humidity is very tough."
First-year NYCFC coach Ronny Deila cited the Florida heat as a formidable foe for the Union's up-tempo, counter-pressing style.
"It's gonna be (95) degrees here. It's going to be a different game from playing in a normal temperature," Deila said. "I think the game is going to be different from that high energy that is possible to play when it's colder."
NYCFC have outscored Philadelphia by an 11-6 margin en route to winning each of the last four outings.
Ronald Matarrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi each netted a first-half goal as NYCFC overcame the injury absence of leading goal scorer Heber and posted a 2-1 win on Oct. 6.
--Field Level Media