Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls

Photo: 215pix

Who: Philadelphia Union (10th place, 16 points, 4-6-4) vs. New York Red Bulls (6th place, 20 points, 6-7-2)
What: 2017 regular season
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, Pa.
When: Sunday, June 18 at 5 pm
Watch: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
Whistle: Allen Chapman; Kyle Atkins, Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho; Ted Unkel

The last time the Red Bulls traveled to Talen Energy Stadium, Philadelphia was mired in a franchise record-setting winless streak. C.J. Sapong scored the first hat trick of his career, and the Union earned their first victory since August 27, 2016.

It launched a run of play that saw Philadelphia set a different franchise record with four wins in a row.

New York will head back to Chester this Sunday. Philadelphia failed to pick up a point during their two game road trip. A 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake was followed by 2-1 defeat to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. The latter was the more bitter pill, as Jim Curtin’s men conceded two late goals from corners and relinquished the lead.

The Red Bulls entered the international break with their own struggles. They had won only one of their previous six games. Their last MLS match came in Montreal, which was a drab 1-0 loss to the Impact.

Both teams, however, will enter the contest on a positive note after successes in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The Union secured a comfortable 3-1 victory of USL side Harrisburg City Islanders while the Red Bulls defeated their city rivals NYCFC 1-0 in Harrison, N.J.

Now, the focus shifts back to league play.

Scouting Report: New York Red Bulls

Lean beef 

Projected New York Red Bulls lineup

The Red Bulls finished at the top of the Eastern Conference in 2016. They were fueled by a potent attack registering 61 goals last season, second most in MLS. Bradley Wright-Phillips was the golden boot winner, and Sacha Kljestan’s 20 assists led the league.

But 2017 has been a different story.

Only D.C. United and Colorado Rapids have scored fewer goals than New York. They are averaging 1.0 goals per game, with 15 through the opening 15 games of the season.

To head coach Jesse Marsch’s dismay, only four have come away from home. All of which occurred in their first three road contests. New York has been shut out in four consecutive matches as visitors.

On the right wing, Marsch has turned to homegrown talent Alex Muyl. The 21-year-old has found the back of the net twice, but has yet to produce consistent offense. He is a high energy player, but his ability in the final third has led to a disappointing four goals in his last 41 appearances.

But Austrian Daniel Royer has been a bit brighter. In his second year with the team, the left winger has added production. He is stylistically similar to Chris Pontius, as he excels in the air. His penchant for drifting inside, however, can leave the attack lacking width.

The biggest onus falls on stars Wright-Phillips and Kljestan. The forward’s production has fell from 0.71 goals per game to 0.43.  Kljestan has yet to tally after posting six last season. His six assists are slightly off the pace he set in 2016.

Marsch is left pondering this significant question. How has his once dynamic offense become so anemic?

The missing link

The answer is clear.

New York has been unable to replace Dax McCarty.

It isn’t that the former Red Bull captain was a source eye-popping statistics. He was, however, the piece that linked the team. The midfielder did all the dirty work behind Kljestan and the attack. He defended well and was calm in distribution.

Marsch traded away McCarty because of his faith in his homegrown talent. The Red Bulls have two midfielders from their youth system who may become stars.

Sean Davis got the first crack at filling the void. He performed well stepping in for an injured McCarty last season, but has been unable to replicate that success so far this year.

The Red Bulls future rests more on the shoulders of another. Tyler Adams is an immensely talented prospect. The 18-year-old claimed a spot in the starting 11 after Davis disappointed. Adams missed the last few matches on international duty, playing a key role in the U.S.’s run to the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. There, Adams shined. He played 355 of a possible 360 minutes in the first four matches over 11 days. He has a remarkable engine and poise in the center of the pitch. His offense, however, is still a work in progress. Adams has failed to record a goal or assist.

Despite clubs like Everton rumored to be interested in the youngster, there is a reason he has yet to replicate McCarty’s role.

The veterans have yet to fully trust the teenager. Felipe is doing more work to shield New York’s back line. More importantly, Kljestan is dropping deeper to help defensively and collect the ball. The farther from net last season’s MVP candidate is, the more disconnected Kljestan is with Wright-Phillips and the rest of the attack.

  • Injury report: Out – Gideon Baah (D, broken leg)
  • Suspension: None

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Questions at the back 

Projected Philadelphia Union lineup

Jim Curtin will have his full compliment of defenders when he selects his starting 11.

It’s all but a certainty the coach will deploy Fabinho and Raymon Gaddis at left and right back, respectively.

There is a bigger mystery in who Curtin will select as his center backs. Oguchi Onyewu has been cleared from concussion protocol while Richie Marquez was a stalwart in the lineup last season. Joshua Yaro is the promising first round pick from last year, while Jack Elliott has had surprising success as a rookie.

The Open Cup clash with Harrisburg may have provided a little clarity. Elliot slid to the left while Yaro played on the right. It hints Curtin prefers Yaro.

Onyewu has been a steal for the Union. He is a big reason the team kept consecutive clean sheets during the unbeaten streak.

Despite Marquez’s under appreciated ability to defend in open play, his performance against NYCFC reminded of his flaws. His lapses in concentration proves a lethal liability on set pieces.

Expect Curtin to deploy Onyewu as the physical presence and use Yaro as the mobile distributor from the back.

Protecting what’s yours

MLS is increasingly become a league of home-field advantage.

The .691 winning percentage and 1.96 points per game for home teams are on pace to be record highs. For comparison Ligue 1 in France is the next closest with 1.72 points per game.

It makes it all the more important for teams to collect all three points when playing at friendly confines, regardless of the opposition.

The Union need to ensure Talen Energy Stadium becomes a fortress. Including Wednesday night’s match, Philadelphia have won their last five at home.

Conversely, New York have been dreadful away from Red Bull Arena. They dropped six consecutive matches, with their only win coming in Atlanta during MLS’s opening week.

  • Injury report: Out – Maurice Edu (M, left ankle/tibia), Brian Carroll (M, lumbar disc herniation), Fabian Herbers (F, right adductor partial avulsion)
  • Suspension: None.
Key matchup: Alejandro Bedoya vs. Sacha Kljestan

Alejandro Bedoya returns from international duty and should be good to go despite picking up a minor injury in training. Yes, Sapong and Andre Blake were brilliant when these two teams last met. The Union would not have won, however, without the stellar performance of their captain.

Bedoya mirrored the movement of Kljestan, limiting his influence on the match. The Red Bull attacking midfielder had to come deep to collect passes, preventing him from attacking the channels between the center backs and full backs. Philadelphia will require the same performance this week.

Kemar Lawrence

The spotlight always falls on stars like Kljestan and Wright-Phillips. The Red Bulls best player this season, though, can be found at left back. Blake’s Jamaican teammate is nationally undervalued and should be in consideration for a starting position in MLS’s all star match with Real Madrid.

With respect to Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence has been the team’s steadiest defender. It’s especially impressive considering the 24-year-old’s effectiveness going forward. He’s collected a goal and three assists so far, but has been more dynamic than those numbers express.

Gaddis struggled to control NYCFC’s Ben Sweat. He will have a much tougher task this week.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 2-1 New York Red Bulls

Without much analysis, the Union have been good at home while the Red Bulls have struggled on the road. Thus, Union win.

With analysis, Marsch has his team play an aggressive high-pressure system similar to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Haris Medunjanin is the type of player that renders this style moot. Philadelphia has the ability to calmly move the ball and release the pressure. Also, Sapong is playing his best soccer. Thus, Union win.

One Comment

  1. OneManWolfpack says:

    Very winnable game and the Union are basically healthy on all fronts. Have to get 3 points at home.

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