Preview: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

by MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

After Wednesday’s last-gasp victory, the Red Bulls find themselves above the red line and looking down at Philadelphia — now on the outside looking in from sixth place.

The Union have been on an unbelievable tear of late, going 7-2-4 in MLS since May 31st, while stampeding to their first US Open Cup Final.  Interim coach Jim Curtin has done a masterful job lifting his club from a lost cause to a playoff contender.  If Wright-Phillips’ hamstring strain is worse than it looked in the DC match, Mike Petke will have to find some offense from other sources.  In any case, despite the national TV audience, both clubs may be looking past Saturday’s matchup to other important midweek matches.

Can New York make it three wins in a row for the first time this season?

Match Information:

Saturday, September 13th at PPL Park, 3p ET kickoff, TV: NBCSN

Referee: Allen Chapman

Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
Philadelphia, 36 points from 27 matches, 43GF/41GA, 6th in the East, 11th in MLS, WLWWW
New York, 37 points from 27 matches, 42GF/39GA, 4th in the East, 8th in MLS, LWLWW

Note: Both Mike Petke and Jim Curtin have important matches outside the league following Saturday’s tilt. New York visits Montreal on Wednesday in the Champions League, and Philadelphia hosts Seattle on Tuesday in the US Open Cup Final.  The lineups listed below are a best guess not knowing how the coaches will juggle their rosters to account for these matches.

 

Philadelphia’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Conor Casey vs. Ambroise Oyongo, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Chris Duvall (and Luis Robles).

Casey (8G/2A) has scored in two straight matches, and already has a goal against New York this season. The Red Bull-killer usually puts in about 65 minutes per appearance for the Union.  New York is surely ecstatic about posting its first MLS shutout since June, but obviously Espindola’s red card blunted DC’s strategy for the last half hour of Wednesday’s match.  Roy Miller will be with Costa Rica, who will try to win the Central American championship versus Guatemala in Los Angeles. Oyongo has returned from Cameroon’s African Cup of Nations qualifiers and should take Miller’s place.  Does Petke throw Perrinelle or Armando here to give Sekagya a rest until Wednesday?  The Union have scored seven times in the club’s last three matches.

Advantage: Even

New York’s attackers vs. the Union defense:
Tim Cahill vs. Raymon Gaddis, Maurice Edu, Ethan White, and Sheanon Williams (and Zac MacMath).

Assuming BWP can’t go, I’m placing Tim Cahill at the top of the Red Bulls’ new 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1. Cahill scored with Australia this week in Europe, and by finally playing far forward, should serve as the target striker and stay out of everyone else’s way.  The Philadelphia defense has posted back to back shutouts against Toronto, but allowed two goals each to San Jose and Houston before those TFC games. Gaddis has started every match for the Union this season.  Edu has bounced back and forth between the back line and the midfield for most of 2014. For DCU defender White has gone the full 90 for eight of Philly’s last nine matches.  Despite the addition of Algerian national team keeper M’Bohli, MacMath was in net for the Union’s shutout of TFC last week.

Slight Advantage: Philadelphia

The Midfields:
Thierry Henry, Eric Alexander, Peguy Luyindula, Dax McCarty, and Lloyd Sam v Andrew Wenger, Amobi Okugo, Christian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, and Sebastien LeToux.

It’s here that considerations for important midweek matches will have their biggest impact on roster selection.  Petke may throw Ruben Bover and/or Marius Obekop out at starters to give New York’s big names a rest. Once again, Alexander will join McCarty in front of New York’s backline.  McCarty was everywhere Wednesday against DC and was rightly named man-of-the-match. Wenger (5G/4A), along with LeToux (11G/6A) and Casey have scored Philadelphia’s last ten goals. Wenger has scored three times in the Union’s last three matches. Maidana is the club leader is assists (9) but is still getting back into match form after the Argentine recently missed five matches due to a hamstring injury.

Slight Advantage: Philadelphia

The Coaches:
Pity Jim Curtin. The former Chicago Fire player has done an incredible job shifting the fortunes of the Union’s season, while the club is actively searching for his replacement.  As a first-time manager, though, should Curtin be passed over for the permanent position, he’ll be on a short list should another position in the league present itself.  Mike Petke has a major juggling act with the two big matches in the next five days.  Given New York’s victories this week, does Petke take his foot off the MLS gas and save his best for a crucial CCL matchup on Wednesday?

Advantage: Even

Intangibles:

The Red Bulls have been shut out in their last two away matches. The Union have scored an average of 1.9 goals per match at PPL Park this season, while the Red Bulls have only managed 0.9 goals per match away from Harrison.  New York’s super results this week has given the club a bit of breathing room in the Eastern conference.  Nine more points should be enough to clinch a playoff spot for the Red Bulls with seven matches to play (and four at home). New York is 2-4 all time at Philadelphia, and has lost the last two matches in the series at PPL Park by a combined score of 6-1. Saturday’s forecast for Chester is for 70 degrees and showers at kickoff.

Advantage: Philadelphia

Prediction:
Given the uncertainties about lineup choices for the match, a prediction is nearly impossible to divine. As Philadelphia’s first ever title shot comes three days after Saturday’s match, Jim Curtin may use tomorrow as a glorified training run for unproven players.  The Union’s ambitions are surely lower than New York’s though, as Philly fans will trade a US Open Cup victory for a playoff miss.  New York must make the playoffs as Henry’s time may be drawing to a close.  The prediction is  a 1-1 draw, but no outcome would surprise.