Preview: New York Red Bulls v Philadelphia Union

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

BY MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

Despite unleashing 19 shots in the general vicinity of DC United’s goal on Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls were unable to put one into the net, ending the club’s month-long unbeaten string at four matches.  While New York played with a heightened sense of purpose in the second half, their inability to get shots on frame has them without a win six matches into the season, and the fan base is starting to get anxious.

The Red Bulls now have Wednesday night home matches for the next two weeks to try and right the ship before things truly go sour on a promising season.

The good news is that this week’s opponent, Philadelphia, is in a similar funk.

Match Information:
Wednesday, April 16th at Red Bull Arena, 7:30p ET kickoff, TV: MSG+

Record, GF/GA, Final Division and League Position, Recent Form:
New York, 4 points from 6 matches, 6 GF/10 GA, 9th in the East, t16th in MLS, DDDDL
Philadelphia, 7 points from 6 matches, 8 GF/8 GA, t4th in the East, t9th in MLS, WLDDD

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The Union front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Andrew Wenger vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya and Kosuke Kimura (and Luis Robles). Newly arrived from Montreal, Andrew Wegner introduced himself to his new home fans with a 55th minute goal against RSL last week that tied that match at one. However, Philly’s Red Bull-killer Conor Casey (3 goals against New York in 2013) is a sure bet off the bench to strike fear into the hearts of Red Bull fans.  Poor marking and good execution on a DC corner kick was the difference between a shutout and a loss in last week’s match.  Although Armando is working his way back from an injury, Sekagya had only one poor moment last week; a dangerous tackle on the edge of New York’s box that wasn’t called. Kimura was decent against DC, combining well with Lloyd Sam on the right. Robles leads the league in saves (26).
Slight Advantage: New York

New York’s attackers vs. the Philadelphia defense:
Thierry Henry and Peguy Luyindula vs. Sheanon Williams Amobi Okugo, Austin Berry, and Raymon Gaddis  (and Zac McMath). Henry missed a few chances fans are accustomed to seeing him finish last week in DC.  He also held up on a through ball from Dax McCarty that looked to be a sure scoring opportunity.  Luyindula sported a new ‘do at RFK but his two-match scoring streak came to an end.  It’s hard to argue Petke’s placement of the Frenchman given New York’s 19 shots, but Luyindula’s two chances were both off target.  BWP looks to come off the bench once again. The Union D has allowed seven goals over its last four games (1.75/match). There’s little offense from the defensive unit, with Okugo and Fabinho combining for only three shots over six matches. Berry has been relegated to part-time starter, a tough fall from his 2012 Rookie of the Year honors with Chicago.
Slight Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Jonny Steele, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam vs. Sebastien LeToux, Maurice Edu, Victor Nogueira, Bill Carroll, and Leonardo Fernandes Cahill will lift New York if he’s able to play Wednesday night, but the Aussie has yet to exhibit his 2013 form, even before his injury. With Cahill’s availabilty off the bench, Alexander looks to return to the starting XI. So much of New York’s offense went through Sam in DC.  Too much, perhaps.   Can Steele pick up the slack on the left side?  McCarty seems to have recovered nicely from his injury which kept him out for the first half in Montreal.  Newcomers Maurice Edu and Leo Fernandes are leading the Union in scoring (each with two goals and an assist), with Edu salvaging a point in injury time last week at home against RSL. Former Red Bull LeToux (1g/1a) would continue to hurt his former club.  Nogueira (1g/1a) has contributed as well.
Advantage: Philadelphia

The Coaches:
Mike Petke is enduring his first crisis since last year’s slow start to his coaching career.  He’s facing plenty of criticism from the media and the fan base on his lineup decisions and substitution patterns, as well as his continued reliance on hot-and-cold midfielder Eric Alexander.  Of course, his players need to put shots on frame and in the net.  Winning will take the heat off of Petke a bit, but it’s hard to argue that his team has played well enough to win against DC and Chivas, and had Luyindula’s pk gone in at Montreal, there would be considerably less pressure on New York’s Head Coach. Much has been made in Philadelphia about John Hackworth’s standing as the most tenured among that city’s pro sports teams.  His 21-24-18 record isn’t exemplary, but the former USMNT U17 coach has a way with the younger domestic players that make up a sizeable portion of the Union’s roster.  While 2014 hasn’t been stellar for Philly to date (1-1-4), the club is only three points from the top of the conference, and there hasn’t been much pressure on Hackworth to date.  Slight Advantage: Philadelphia

Intangibles:
New York has never lost to Philadelphia at Red Bull Arena (5-0-1 including an Open Cup match), the draw coming in the most recent match played at Harrison, a scoreless draw last August 17th.  The Union have yet to win on the road in 2014 (0-1-2). Of course, the Red Bulls have yet to win at home (0-0-2), or anywhere this season.  The match will be played until clear skies, but with a temperature in the low 40s at kickoff, look for a very sparse midweek crowd and a smaller traveling contingent of Union fans than usual.
Advantage: Even

Prediction:
There’s been quite a bit of debate across social media this week about how Red Bulls fans are “supposed to feel” about the state of the team.  Either the team is playing well and has been a bit unlucky, or they are, in the words of one fan on Facebook, “the worst team ever.”  Given that New York started 2014 with four of six matches on the road, and two of the road matches on turf, four points to date isn’t the worst possible outcome.  The Red Bulls have 28 matches to play over the next six months to get things in order, but the longer New York takes to get a “W,” the more the fans will squirm.  I choose to be optimistic, and while Philadelphia is surely a talented team with many weapons, the home venue will do a world of good.  New York finally breaks through, 2-1.