Match previews / Union

Preview: Union at NY Red Bulls

Photo: Daniel Studio

Who: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls
What: 2015 regular season game
Where: Red Bull Arena
When: Sunday, October 18 at 3:00 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Whistle: Ismail Elfath; Linesmen: Greg Barkey, Kermit Quisenberry; Fourth Official: Silviu Petrescu

Two teams that, by virtue of Chicago, could, surprisingly, be further apart meet for the final time in 2015 on Sunday. New York Red Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference, riding a deceptively dominant second half of the season into the MLS playoffs. They have the best goal differential in MLS.

Philadelphia Union have been dismal in the second half of the season. Although, oddly, two of their three road wins have come in the four victories they have collected since June. And the only other road win of the year? At New York Red Bulls.

At this point, the Union know Red Bulls well. And, conversely, New York has no idea what to expect from Philadelphia because, honestly, nobody does. The Union have recently gone toe-to-toe with a motivated New England side, collapsed like Jurgen Klinsmann’s vocal support against Toronto, and beaten good (though short-handed) San Jose and Montreal teams. They have played stout defense but failed to connect passes; they have connected passes and but looked calamitous defensively. They have, by any definition, been inconsistent.

Against Montreal, the NYRB center mids dominated the ball. Compared to the first time these teams met, though, the big difference is Kljestan's influence on the offense.

Against Montreal, the NYRB center mids dominated the ball. Compared to the first time these teams met, though, the big difference is Kljestan’s influence on the offense.

Yet, the Union are far from hopeless. There are no echoes of Chivas in the City of Brotherly Love.

Wenger central?

Although Steven Vitoria is likely to start in place of the injured Maurice Edu, this would be the perfect game for Andrew Wenger to slide into the center. Wenger was a central defender in college, and if the Union are still not entirely sold on Maurice Edu at center back — which they never seem to be — the club could simply slot one former number one pick in for another.

The counterargument is that Vitoria needs minutes to prove himself. But no, no he doesn’t. Even at a reduced salary, Vitoria is not more valuable than any number of MLS veterans. Heck, someone must still have Jeff Parke’s digits. Wenger is not a great passer under pressure, which is why central defense may suit him well. If he plays quickly, he has the range and talent to add a vital offensive dimension to the Union back line. One that Edu offers and Vitoria clearly does not.

At this point in the season, with the mirage that was a playoff run finally fading into the desert, the focus should be squarely and exclusively on next season. That means finding out who can contribute in ways not yet identified. Can Zach Pfeffer gain confidence as a deeper player? Can Tranquillo Barnetta further adapt to a central role?

Any deference to Vitoria is wrong-headed. Let’s see what Wenger’s got.

Aristi’s trying

The other major personnel question is whether Fernando Aristeguieta will be around next season. The Venezuelan has shown both a willingness to work and a

Against Columbus, Bradley Wright-Phillips showed why he is so key by dropping into midfield to act as creator, pulling the CLB defense up and opening gaps down the wings.

Against Columbus, Bradley Wright-Phillips showed why he is so key by dropping into midfield to act as creator, pulling the CLB defense up and opening gaps down the wings.

profligacy that has helped him fit easily into American soccer. However, the Union only ever need one striker at a time and already have CJ Sapong starting ahead of the ever-reliable Conor Casey.

Aristeguieta is too expensive to ride the pine, and he does not seem like he is ready to settle into a second fiddle role yet. Still, Jim Curtin needs to know what he has in the loanee, so the big man is likely to lead the line as the season winds down.

What Curtin has is an extremely dangerous but utterly raw striker with limited speed and a nose for set pieces. If Aristeguieta’s headed finishing matched the quality of his dead ball runs, he would be a hot commodity. To the extent that the Union think he can put all the pieces together, Aristeguieta remains an intriguing option. However, as he nears the put-up-or-shut-up age, it should be difficult for Philly to commit good money to the Venezuelan. Sunday’s match — on the road against a defense without Matt Miazga — is a wonderful opportunity for Aristeguieta to give Curtin a roster headache in the offseason.

NYRB storylines

Same ol’, same ol’ from Jesse Marsch, who continues to take his team to the next level by adding to the rotating band of wide players who can slide in and out interchangeably around the team’s central core. For a full breakdown of Red Bulls tactics, check out previous previews. The main thrust is this: New York wants to own the middle of the pitch, and they want to own the ball.

From a team that relied heavily on the mercurial talents of Lloyd “Streaky” Sam and Mike “Under My Umbr-” Grella, Red Bulls began the season predictably inconsistent. But while they accumulated only five losses over the first 16 matches of the season, Marsch’s men also tallied five ties. In the past 16 games, the team has lost another five times, but ties have turned into wins as a mix of wide players have taken the pressure off of Grella and Sam.

Shaun Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron have given depth in attack and allowed Sal Zizzo to slide into defense, where he has served as the inspiration for the Union’s own attempt at a winger-to-defense conversion. The result of these new options is that Jesse Marsch can now rotate when his starting wingers hit cold spells.

The second big change for New York has been the emergence of Matt Miazga. A player with limitless potential has finally stopped trying to prove he belongs and is simply acting like it.

Luckily for Philadelphia, Miazga will be serving the second game of a red card suspension and will see his spot filled by the Unionesque Ronald Zubar, a player who is very good… until he isn’t. Zubar’s whiff allowed Herculez Gomez to score when Toronto knocked off Red Bulls to clinch a playoff spot on Wednesday. The Union should attack Zubar, though they may struggle in the air against his solid 6’2″ frame.

All of the front six drift central as Red Bulls establish long periods of possession. This means Grella and Sam have been taking higher percentage shots of late. Though Sam's goal against Montreal was from deep, few shots came from bad angles.

All of the front six drift central as Red Bulls establish long periods of possession. This means Grella and Sam have been taking higher percentage shots of late. Though Sam’s goal against Montreal was from deep, few shots came from bad angles.

When these teams met in May, Red Bulls were still figuring out their system. Sacha Kljestan in particular was struggling to find his role on a regular basis, as his mazy runs were punctuated by periods of defensive soloing. Now, Kljestan and Felipe do the obvious: They play off of the wind sprite Dax McCarty. The little middie reads the game so much better than those around him, that he will almost always end up as the axis around which the rest of the defense turns. This simplifies the assignments for McCarty’s midfield partners, who have otherwise shown themselves to be naive, individualistic pressers. As long as they use McCarty as their lodestar, Felipe and Kljestan rotate across the midfield well, dropping in and pressing when necessary.

Prediction: NYRB 2-1 Union

The scoreline is waning in import as Philly seeks individual positives over team success. Winning still matters, but certain players need to make an impression on the coaching staff regardless of outcome.

Experiments with personnel, deployments, and shape will all be welcome in a game that should display the promise of a different, progressive future more than the club’s tepid past. As difficult as it is, the Union must think of this match as a learning experience.

It could be an ugly one, but that would hardly differentiate it from the rest of the season.

Injuries

Union
Out: M Jimmy McLaughlin (appendix injury); GK Brian Sylvestre (left knee inflammation); M Fred (left groin strain); M Maurice Edu (hernia surgery)
NYRB
Out: D Chris Duvall (broken tibia); D Roy Miller (knee injury); F Anatole Abang (hamstring injury)

7 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    I suggest combining Adam cann’s piece above with the link to Matthew DeGeorge’s one on Union contracts whose link Ed Farnsworth gives at the beginning of today’s Union Bits column put up earlier today.

  2. This the kind of pointless match I expect us to win in a walk.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I detest seeing New York teams with their shit together. Once more for good measure…. I detest seeing New York teams with their shit together, save the NY Yankees who never phased me one way or the other.
    .
    It’s always been funny to me how in Philadelphia we were somehow raised as Eagles fans to hate the Dallas Cowboys.. there is no question, the NFL Football Giants are the team I most loathe…always have always will.
    .
    So the NYRB can shit in a hat as far as I’m concerned and it irritates me to no end they come in here this weekend looking to rise and gel and play well as playoffs aproach while we explore who should or should not be on this team or where.
    .
    BALLS.

  4. What a joke this team is !!!!!!!!!!

  5. Kensington bluebeller says:

    On the L.A. v Seattle broadcast Taylor twellmen said “why did the union even show up”.That’s the same question I ask about myself before each home game.

  6. Kensington bluebeller says:

    On the l.a. Seattle broadcast Taylor twellmen said “why did the union even show up”.That’s the same question I ask about myself before each home game.

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