It turned out to be a frustrating afternoon for Taty Castellanos. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

No team might welcome the FIFA international break more than New York City FC.

A weary City side endured another disappointing result in a 2-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

Philly exacted a measure of revenge on NYCFC, which eliminated the team in the Eastern Conference final en route to the 2021 league title. That Union team was decimated by several players catching COVID-19.

On Saturday, a determined Union squad handed NYCFC only its seventh loss in its last 72 games at the stadium.

The reigning MLS Cup champions have stumbled to a 1-2-1 start in MLS play and the latest result came after a 4-2 loss at Comunicaciones FC in the Concacaf Champions League on Tuesday.

Still, City advanced on better goal differential despite being tied in goal aggregate.

“We always knew it was going to be tough to start the year,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “So, while we would love to win every game that we have stepped on the field, knowing that that’s the expectation as champions. We shoulder that and we are disappointed when we don’t win games. But, we also understand the big picture and we are in a semifinal, it’s early in the season. Plenty of chances to press on and make the playoffs.”

The match turned into a physical affair as referee Ted Unkel handed out eight yellow cards, four on each team.

The Cityzens, who have played five games in 14 days and eight matches in the past 32 days, will get a much-needed breather during World Cup qualifying. Six of those eight contests were not at Yankee Stadium and NYCFC had to travel to Costa Rica and Guatemala on two occasions as well.

“After such an important stretch of games, we are all very tired,” midfielder Nicolas Acevedo said. “There has been a lot of travel lately, but that is no excuse.”

A combination of superb defending by the Philly backline, especially on Taty Castellanos, some poor finishing and a solid goalkeeping performance by Jamaican international goalkeeper Andre Blake doomed the hosts. City enjoyed a ridiculous possession advantage, but as we all know that can be a stat for losers if you don’t finish your opportunities.

“We played a tricky and very complicated opponent who played very well defensively and closed down spaces very quickly,” Acevedo said.

The Union, on the other hand, took advantage of its chances.

Alejandro Bedoya lifted Philly into the lead in the 12th minute. A free kick started the sequence as Julián Carranza flipped the ball to Bedoya, who scored from the middle of the box past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Dániel Gazdag doubled the lead in the 33rd minute, slamming home Nathan Harriel’s right-wing cross at the far post.

Including the three late goals in Tuesday’s CCL match, City had conceded five goals in 54 minutes.

“The first half we were sleeping in the most important situations,” head coach Ronny Deila said.

“It just wasn’t our day,” Johnson said.

Trying to invigorate his team, Deila brought on Heber at halftime, but his addition did not produce any substantial results, although the team improved its performance.

NYCFC won’t play again until April 2, when it visits Toronto FC.

It well be a welcome two weeks off from games and traveling.

“We will get much needed rest to recover physically but also mentally,” Acevedo said. “We have to analyze what we did good and bad so we can prepare for what is to come.”