Match previews

Preview: Union at New York Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls
What: Regular season game
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ, USA
When: 7:30 pm, Wednesday, April 16
Watch: TCN, WACP TV-4 (Xfinity: Ch. 4/789; Fios: Ch. 4/504; DirecTV/Dish: Ch. 4), MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Referee: Ricardo Salazar; Linesmen: Peter Manikowski, Craig Lowry; Fourth official: Jorge Gonzalez

It would be easy to make fun of the New York Red Bulls by pointing out that, after six games, the 2013 Supporter’s Shield winners have collected zero wins. It would be so simple to rub it in by pointing out that those six non-wins all came against teams that finished no better than 5th in their conference last season.

But if you really want to twist the knife, all you have to do is casually mention that this incarnation of the Energy Drinks is the one that let Peguy Luyindula take a penalty kick. In a real-life soccer match that mattered.

I think we all know what happened.

Is New York a pretender?

Yes, the New York Red Bulls are off to a slow start. A porous defense and a Thierry Henry-centered offense that is putting in 28 crosses per game (far more than a certain team featuring Fabinho!) is not a combination for success. But is New York, like Montreal, another squad that is suffering as much from bad luck as poor play? Or are they truly mediocre?

Red Bulls shots vs DC United

Red Bulls shots vs DC United

The answer, of course, is a bit of both. Bad luck against DC United, but for the most part the Red Bulls have been nothing more than middling.

After giving up a 4th minute goal on a flicked on corner kick, New York easily controlled DC. How in the world they managed to put only one of eight shots on goal from the middle of the 18-yard box is something of a mystery. These shots were not saved. They just sucked.

One reason they sucked is that over half of the shots were headers (⅝), and with Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke on alert, few were clean looks. But to blame the headers is to miss the bigger point that New York settled for 37 crosses against a DC United team that has two big, slow center backs who excel in exactly one area: Heading the ball. If the Red Bulls were behind a one-foot-wide wall, they would just keep pushing on it instead of walking around.

Poor construction

But beyond a poor tactical approach, New York’s biggest problem remains that it seems like a team built for Tim Cahill instead of Thierry Henry. One of the silkiest strikers in the game reinvented himself in MLS as a hybrid gap runner/hold-up man extraordinaire. And the NY brass gave him … Jonathan Steele and Peguy Luyindula. Oh, and Eric Alexander. And Lloyd Sam. And probably a copy of the MLS salary system, because none of this makes any sense.

What did make sense was bringing aboard Dax McCarty. One of the most underrated players in the league, McCarty thrives when the spotlight is off. Recycling possession as well as any midfielder in MLS, McCarty also makes late runs with guile and brilliant timing. But right now, New York has nobody useful to play alongside their workhorse midfielder, and McCarty is being asked to be something he is not: An out-and-out playmaker.

The Union know playmakers. Not because they’ve ever had one, but because they’ve faced a parade of them this season. Diego Valeri, Federico Higuain, the emerging Lee Nguyen, and Javier Morales are all guys who can split a defense out of the blue. McCarty is much more the Vincent Nogueira-type. He will retain possession, move the ball, and create space for others. His 58-of-66 passing performance against DC — with most passes from the middle to wide areas — was just another day at the office.

Slammin’ Sam

In an intriguing twist, McCarty’s reticence to act as playmaker has accidentally gifted the role to mercurial winger Lloyd Sam. Sam has assisted on half of New York’s goals this season and has almost a third (17/60) of the team’s key passes. In recent games, Sam has drifted further inside from the right wing, opening space for the reliably ill-positioned Roy Miller while also offering a link between midfield and the strikers.

All this suggests the Energy Drinks should be both the Union’s best friend and worst enemy. Best friend in the sense that the New York style plays directly into Philly’s hands. Worst enemy because Thierry Henry is guaranteed to punish any little mistake the Union make. And as PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch highlighted in the RSL game analysis, the Union keep making costly mistakes.

Attack down the middle, threaten out wide

Philadelphia is a better team than New York right now. If the Red Bulls insist on continuing with a 4-4-2, the Union should own the center of the park whether they play with Fernandes high, Carroll deep, or both.

The focus of this match should be on smart possession in the final third. New York has no true defensive midfielder, and they are not a strong team marking in the box. This suggests that a patient approach will be best, especially with Nogueira, Edu and Fernandes making runs into the box.

While Philly should dominate the center of the pitch, getting quality play from the wingers will be equally important to success. New York’s midfielders don’t play much defense, which means the Union wide men should be able to isolate their defenders and take them on the dribble.

This seems like the perfect match for Cristian Maidana to reemerge as a first 11 winger, and it may also be the right time to rest Sebastien Le Toux. The Frenchman has positive qualities, but the reason he has trouble sticking on his other MLS stops is that he’s a negative influence on his team’s shape. As better coaches and better players have filtered into the league, shape and discipline has become the hallmark of the more elite teams. Call Sporting Kansas City a run-n-gun squad all you like, but everyone in that midfield knows where to go and what to do in that system.

In Le Toux’s place the Union could slot in Danny Cruz to pressure the New York fullbacks and call Pedro Ribeiro up to the bench as a more possession-oriented option.


This matchup has all the trimmings of a destruction. The Union are primed to break out and the Red Bulls don’t have a functional midfield. Did I just jinx the outcome? Don’t answer that.

Union vs Red Bulls lineup

Union vs Red Bulls lineup


  1. I like the conclusion. I think your line up will actually happen except with Leo pushed wide and Carroll at CDM, and no Cruz.

  2. Ha! So… pretty much a normal lineup with Le Toux rested. I’d say it’s quite likely you’re right.

  3. No Carroll? That would require a miracle.

  4. If Le Toux has been having 1st touch issues how is Cruz going improve the situation? I’d still trust Le Toux rather than Cruz. I would like to see Carroll not start(you’d need to drug Hackworth). All it’s going to take is for Carroll to gift wrap another pass to get the Red Bull offense going.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    One of these two teams is breaking out tomorrow. I don’t see a 1-1 draw happening. I’m really hoping he U come to play. I’m nervous but I know I shouldn’t be.

    • Astute and I’m inclined to agree. I could see the Union winning or getting run out of NY 3-0. My fear is New York is going to win sooner than later, sooner being in about 6 hours.

  6. There’s Zero chance Carroll sits, especially on the road. This will be Saturdays lineup with Le Toux subbed for Maidana straight up. It sounds like we can really work from the wings and then into the middle, this begs for some talented possession out wide. Cruz is not that.

  7. If Brian Carroll sees the pitch we will not gat 3 points. This is the CURSE OF CARROLL. He sucks and needs to cut or traded.

    • Dear Lord he certainly doesn’t suck. Such a shame you think that related to a few bad games. Brian Carroll was just about the only good thing in this town for 2 years and now he sucks? He just doesn’t fit anymore. Please. Have some respect.

      • +1 and thank you for this. I think we’d probably be a better team with Edu as the lone CDM, but the Carroll bashing here gets ridiculous sometimes.

      • I beg to differ. He was only worth a 2nd round draft pick and money to Columbus, which we traded for him. He was on the downside when he got here. If he is sooo good, why don’t we trade him for the same amount that we got him? We will never win a championship with the like of Brian ” Missed Penalty Kick” Carroll. ( look that one up)

      • Pardon sir- we are mincing words and you are misallocating mine. Did I say he was so good? I said have respect for a player who was good for this team when the team was not very good. Under Nowak, Brian Carroll was asked to stop the other team and he did that, more often than not.
        Again- your use of the word ‘sucks’ is completely inaccurate. Argue all you want. I am fine with moving on from Brian Carroll just be a bit more respectful to the player’s ability or what he offered of himself.

    • Listen, Brian Carroll is not a center midfielder….he lacks the touch and creativity one in that position should have…at midfield you need to be composed with the ball at your feet looking for penetrating through balls and the awareness to work your way out of pressure from the middle of the field with defenders attacking from all sides. Yes he is more of a defensive midfielder and this is why we have Maurice Edu who is not a good attacking midfielder. Carroll is a timid, uncertain player who always, always, always plays the easy pass. Nogueira is a perfect example of a center mid…Carroll should be sitting on the bench with a pen and paper taking notes….,and for those of you who think he is good and needs to be on this team, you are soccer mom fans who have no clue about the sport, sorry to say…this should be the last we speak of Brian Carroll

  8. Dan are you suggesting a flat 4-4-2 as the picture indicates? I tend to think Noguiera and Edu on field should play a diamond 4-4-2. Your thoughts?

    • Joel you’re dead wrong about Carroll he has been horrible for five long years in philly, however the 4-4-2 with Nogueira playing CAM and Edu playing CDM will give us the best central mid play we can have. Sad to see that Hackworth cannot see that.

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