MLS Preview: New York Red Bulls visit Philadelphia Union

(Image New York Red Bulls)

You would think that a well-rested New York Red Bulls side would be at full strength after three weeks away from the game.

Think again.

Tim Cahill will be unavailable Sunday against the Union having picked up a slight groin strain in Australia’s World Cup clincher against Iraq. Midfielder Juninho will also be out of the match due to card accumulation while Jamison Olave’s late game red card against Vancouver rules him out as well.

Roy Miller has returned to the club after another successful stint with the Costa Rican National team, which will allow the Red Bulls to once again unite the Heath Pearce, Markus Holgersson tandem in the middle. Still, the loss of Olave and having two of their better veterans in the midfield unavailable certainly paints a daunting picture for New York.

While the Red Bulls fill gaps, the Philadelphia Union keep on creeping up the Eastern Conference standings. Now three points behind New York, Sunday’s hosts have a chance of overtaking second place despite a deflating loss to cellar-dwellars D.C. United two weeks ago.

Will they do it?

PROJECTED LINEUP (4-4-2): Robles; Kimura, Holgersson, Pearce, Miller; Espindola, McCarty, Alexander, Steele; Henry, Luyindula

HISTORY: Red Bulls – 6 wins, 2 loss (2-2 in Philadelphia)

LAST ENCOUNTER: March 30th (2-1 Red Bulls in New York)

BATTLE TO WATCH: McInerney v. Holgersson/Pearce. While the assumed Red Bull centerback pairing has experience playing in the middle together, Jamison Olave’s (his physicality in particular) will be missed. If Le Toux finds space in front of the defense, it will make for a long day.

X-FACTOR: The layoff. While the U.S. Open Cup loss to New England shouldn’t necessarily be an indicator, the team did seem like they were still in “vacation mode” for the match. There will be little time to settle in at PPL Park.

OUTCOME:

Jack McInerney leads all scorers in the league with 10 goals while former Red Bull Sebastian Le Toux is tied for the league lead in assists. Both will play a dangerous role in testing the Red Bulls defense and their depleted midfield.

This is where presumed starters Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty will play a large role. Like last season, the central midfield will need to play a defense-first mentality to stifle the Union’s attack.

“We got Dax; we got Eric Alexander, got Michael Bustamante, a young player who’s up and coming, whose done well, any combination of those three,” head coach Mike Petke said. “Could always pull, you know depending on what type of formation we want to play, you could always pull someone like Peguy (Luyindula) or (Fabian) Espindola back behind the forward, so we have options and we are happy with our options and the guys had a good week of training and they’re looking forward to this game.”

Discipline will also be a key factor. The long layoff combined with the Red Bulls near-predictable summer swoon can pay off for the hosting Union.

Neither should be an issue in the eyes of Thierry Henry.

“I wasn’t playing the first two rounds of the FA Cup; the boss was giving me a week every time,” he recalled. “So, yeah, that’s the type of stuff you have to deal with. Like I said, we need to know where we are after the game against Vancouver and see how we can play against Philly. As I said to you, it seems like McInerney is on fire, you know Conor Casey is doing well too, Le Toux also, so, we’re going to have to be aware of that and make sure that we can go out there and compete.”

In fact, both players and coaches see an ‘x-factor’ of their own playing into the team’s favor; this weeks unveiling of the new Red Bull training facility. All of that aside, Petke feels his team is ready to compete.

“I have not seen any dip in fitness since they’ve come back. I think they took care of themselves over the break and I think that they are very clear on what our goal is, you know, and our immediate goal is to make the playoffs, that’s it so every point counts no matter where we are, cant take a game off,” he said. “So, I think they are very well aware of that and not taking any game, any situation for granted.”

PREDICTION: 1-1
Season Record: 4-12
Perfect Predictions: 1