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Preview: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls

Game time: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

TV: Live Well (ABC -6.2, Comcast 245, Verizon Fios 466)

Philadelphia Union vs. the New York Red Bulls. Welcome to the best new rivalry in American sports.

The Red Bulls, a team named after a bad sport drink, up the road in the new palace outside New York, that market Philadelphia fans love to hate so much that the Sons of Ben supporters group went up to boo the Red Bulls before Philly even had a team. Even better, the first place Red Bulls are hugely improved, with almost as many wins (3) in their first five games as they had all last season (5).

On the other side, the upstart Union, trying to rebound from a tough loss in which they outplayed their opponents – save for a few fatal flaws that cost them the game. Their captain is suspended, their goalkeeper is struggling, and now here they come to play the team that will likely be their arch rivals.

And my guess?

The Union are going to wipe the floor with the Red Bulls before thousands of Philly fans who swamp the Red Bulls’ house in Harrison, N.J.

Read on to find out why.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Michael Orozco, Toni Stahl, Cristian Arrieta

Midfielders: Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Roger Torres, Andrew Jacobson

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

New York

Goalkeeper: Bouna Coundoul

Defenders: Roy Miller, Tim Ream, Mike Petke, Jeremy Hall

Midfielders: Dane Richards, Seth Stammler, Joel Lindpere, Brian Nielsen

Forwards: Juan Pablo Angel, Salou Ibrahim

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: DF Danny Califf is suspended. MF Stefani Miglioranzi (upper leg strain) is probable.

New York: MF Macoumba Kandji (fractured foot), DF Chris Albright (knee surgery recovery), MF Giorgi Chirgadze (hip surgery) and DF Kevin Goldthwaite (adductor surgery recovery) are out. DF Jeremy Hall (left ankle sprain) and MF Carl Robinson (right knee sprain) are questionable.

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. New York forwards

The Union have two major question marks here: Who will replace captain Danny Califf at center back, and what kind of game will Chris Seitz put forth? Seitz has been shaky in the back, but in fairness to him, one of the goals he’s gotten the most flack about should’ve been disallowed. He’s due for a big game to silence the critics. As for Califf’s replacement, manager Peter Nowak can pair Shavar Thomas or Toni Stahl with Michael Orozco at center back, or he could opt for a 3-5-2 and add a midfielder. My money is on Stahl or the midfielder, because Thomas had no business being on the field last week against Toronto. On the flanks, Jordan Harvey and Cristian Arrieta look like one of the league’s best fullback tandems.

For New York, it’s Juan Pablo Angel and probably Ibrahim, who played in his first career Major League Soccer game last week. Angel is one of the league’s best, but last week New York was outshot 17-8 by FC Dallas. That could be a good recipe for a rebound from Seitz.

Edge: Philadelphia

Philadelphia midfield vs. New York midfield

Danish midfielder Brian Nielsen just signed with New York on loan and could start in place of Macoumba Kandji, who broke his foot last week. New York coach Hans Backe is pretty high on the former youth international, despite the Danish press labeling Nielsen an underachiever during his five years with Vejle BK in Denmark. Dane Richards is a speedster on the outside who often has trouble producing enough to match his potential, but Estonian Joel Lindpere is looking like one of the best MLS signings of the year. Defensive midfielder Seth Stammler is a decent ball-winner. This is a talented midfield, but they don’t have a ton of experience playing together.

That helps the Union, whose midfielders are also obviously somewhat new to each other but are already looking like a team strength. Attacking midfielders Roger Torres and Fred have been first class so far, dangerous on the attack even when playing a man down against Toronto, while holding midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi has played mistake-free soccer. Fellow holding midfielder Andrew Jacobson had a strong game against Toronto FC last week. The bench gets a boost as Danny Mwanga is off the injury report, though whether Nowak will play Mwanga at midfield (where he seemed lost against Seattle) or his college position of forward – or at all – remains to be seen.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia forwards vs. New York defense

It’s Bouna time! Which Bouna Condoul will show up? The goalkeeper who’s made a league-high 23 saves through four games and turned in a highlight reel of acrobatic saves last week against Dallas, or the one who gave up an own goal in his previous game? Your guess is as good as mine. Fortunately for New York, their defense is much improved this year, with rookie center back Tim Ream wowing nearly everyone who sees him play and fullback Roy Miller solidifying one flank. Center back Mike Petke has long anchored the back line, and this year, it doesn’t look so bad.

On the flip side, the Union have two of the league’s hardest working forwards in Alejandro Moreno and Sebastien Le Toux. When their team actually plays with 11 men, they look great. But with two red cards in their first three games, the Union center backs have made their forwards obsolete at times.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Chris Seitz vs. Bouna Coundoul

No two MLS goalkeepers have prompted as much talk recently as these two. Coundoul goes from spectacular to spectacularly bad almost by the minute, mixing highlight saves with highlight gaffes. Seitz has some impatient critics already calling for his benching, although no one seems to be too high on putting in the 20-year-old rookie goalie (Brian Perk) who was on the bench behind him. Whichever of these goalkeepers has the better game will likely bring home a win. I’m betting on Seitz.

What to expect

The crowds at Red Bull Arena have dipped since the home opener, with under 14,000 at the last game. Don’t expect a repeat, as big contingents of Union fans will likely make the trip north to fill the stands. (If you’re going, click here for train info.) Who will have the real home field advantage? There are Sons of Ben involved, guys, and 12 of them equal about 100 Red Bull fans. Advantage: Union.

Look for more fluid play from the Union’s midfield, with Torres and Fred consistently threatening the Red Bulls and keeping them on their heels. Lindpere is good, but Miglioranzi and Jacobson have been stellar shutting down the attack.

Prediction

The Union win 2-0. Seitz turns in a big game to silence the critics, helped in part by the vote of confidence he got this week from Nowak and assistant coach John Hackworth. Torres causes fits for the Red Bulls, and the back line and holding midfielders turn in a solid game to secure the upset on the road.

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

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