Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls
What: 2017 US Open Cup Round of 16
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
When: Wednesday June 28th, 7:30 PM
Watch: Philadelphia Union YouTube

The Union and the Red Bulls aren’t rivals. Their coaches don’t get thrown out of Open Cup matches in empty stadiums and hurl the ball at their counterparts on their way to the locker room. Their players don’t get straight red cards for studs up challenges against one another, and certainly not in the Cup. Their front offices don’t force each other into awful and inexcusable start times in order to gain a slight upper hand and, more specifically, to make the other team look bad. Those grown men and women leading their respective professional sports franchises then don’t play games with homegrown players and steal right out from under the other’s nose. They also don’t institutionally endorse burning their opponent’s mascot in effigy or painting said team’s logo on a car and having fans destroy it for charity.

Perhaps the Union and the Red Bulls aren’t rivals, but from this seat it’s clear that one of them certainly views their matches as having more to them than just 90 minutes. Their non-rivalry will continue tomorrow night in Harrison, NJ for a Round of 16 US Open Cup match.

Scouting report: New York Red Bulls

Possible Red Bull Lineup

The Red Bulls and Union have done this dance twice in 2017, but not yet in Red Bull Arena. Expect the home side this time to change little from what worked so well in their win in Chester, PA on Father’s Day – a match that the Red Bulls not only won but also dominated in possession, forced the Union to chase the game all over the field (seemingly even when the Union had the ball), and bewitched referee Allan Chapman into being himself and losing the plot and all control.

In that match, the Red Bulls not only picked up just their second road win of the 2017 campaign, but also their first goal away from home since April. The difference between the Father’s Day match and the one that came before it, a game in which C.J. Sapong scored his first MLS hat trick and Alejandro Bedoya played Sacha Kljestan’s shadow for 90 minutes, was that the first time around the Union took their chances and the second time around they didn’t. Yes, Bedoya was missing in the second match and Derrick Jones was sent off in the 55th minute, but the margins in MLS are too small to miss free headers and 1v1s with the goalkeeper and have the team not pay a price.

  • Injury report: OUT – Gideon Bah (Leg), QUESTIONABLE – Mike Grella (Unknown), PROBABLE – Conor Lade (Knee), Aaron Long (Unknown)
  • Suspended: None known.
  • International duty: Michael Murillo (Panama), Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica)
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Possible Union Lineup

The Union’s place in the MLS table continues to be tenuous, something that has marked the entirety of Jim Curtin’s coaching tenure. One thing that is not so uncertain, however, is how seriously the former Cup winner takes this tournament. Time and time again Jim Curtin has stressed that, in a league where there are really only two trophies a team can win (sorry, Supporter’s Shield), he will put as much emphasis on the Cup as he does the MLS Playoffs.

A knockout tournament is, by definition, so small a sample size that even bad teams can advance and ultimately make the final by sheer luck, determination, and good old fashioned asymmetrical sampling resulting in random error. Just ask Greece. Jim Curtin’s side has benefitted from all of those phenomena in the three years that he’s guided them. In the first two, he made finals on home soil and was ultimately undone in extra time and penalties. Last year, the hard turf at Harvard University beguiled the Boys in Blue until penalties saw them out.

The losses in the final might be the most heart-breaking Union moments in the franchise’s history. The consolation? The Union actually have their own streak to defend in this competition.

Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake are set to miss this match after having been called into their respective country’s Gold Cup rosters. That means John McCarthy in goal, while Derrick Jones slides back into the midfield hoping to atone for his prior outing. On the wings, Marcus Epps seems like he might be poised for a start, but Chris Pontius and Fafa Picault should see plenty of the field too. The defense could see Ray Gaddis get a rest in favor of former MLS All-Star Keegan Rosenberry, and frankly should given the former’s work rate over the past few weeks. Giliano Wijnaldum did well enough against United over the weekend that he might keep his spot on the field, too.

  • Injury report: Maurice Edu (M, left ankle/tibia), Brian Carroll (M, herniated disk), Fabian Herbers (F, right adductor)
  • Suspended: None.
  • International duty: Alejandro Bedoya (U.S.A), Andre Blake (Jamaica)
Key matchup

Sacha Kljestan and Felipe v. Derrick Jones and Haris Medunjanin.  When the Union beat the Red Bulls, the Boys in Blue keep their lines tight and force their opponent’s playmakers into hurried passes from bad spots on the field. When the Union lose, they fail at this task. Watch for how Jones and Mdjunjanin communicate and work with one another, it will tell you all you need to know.

Player to watch

John McCarthy. Andre Blake is away from the Union for this match on international duty, as he is for the next two league matches in early July. John McCarthy is here to play in his stead and has been kept with the team now for three consecutive seasons because he offers a summery ale to Blake’s season-long lager, aptly named “Andre Blake Lite”: Some great saves, coupled with inconsistent distribution. He was the penalty hero two years ago when the Union beat Red Bulls in this competition and he may be called upon again to play that role.

Prediction: Philadelphia 0 – 0 Red Bulls, Red Bulls advance on penalties

Midweek Cup fixtures following rivalry matches usually involve sides with tired legs. Considering Jesse Marsch’s midweek European vacation and the team’s first-ever home loss to crosstown foes NYCFC, the Red Bulls might have a little extra in their tank when they try and right the ship against the Union. Meanwhile, the Union have to begin to build momentum in any way possible and few things do that like winning streaks or road wins against rivals.

So perhaps the Red Bulls have a motivational edge and, while the Union are back on the field on July 2nd against New England, the Red Bulls get an extra three days rest before their match against the same side. Expect fireworks.


  1. These games have been pretty entertaining the last couple years. I actually like the Union. I think the RBs have a hard time “getting up” for these games. Union win 2 -1.

  2. Need to see Simpson start. CJ needs rest.

    • ^^^This. And Simpson has been looking good. Unless Curtin plans to start Simpson against New England this weekend. But he’s got to do one or the other.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    What head injury does Gooch have? I don’t remember seeing anything during the DC game.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      That’s a typo. He’s fine, as far as I know.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Good to hear. (And for anyone who wonders what I was talking about, it looks like Chris corrected it but his original post had one additional item on the injury report.)

  4. Anyone hear the interview with Tyler Adams on SiriusXM? Kid is a senior in HS and has a younger brother who is even better than he is! Talked about how his teachers reacted after he told them he had to go to S-Korea for the U17 WC (with Derrick Jones). Also that he lives circa 1.5hrs from where Red Bulls practice…

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