Match previews

Match Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (4th Place, 50 points, 15-5-12) vs. New York Red Bulls (2nd place, 65 points, 20-5-7)
What: 2018 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA
When: Sunday, October 21 at 3:00 PM
Watch: 6abc, ESPN+
Whistle: Ted Unkel; Adam Wienckowski, Logan Brown; Silviu Petrescu; VAR – Jon Freemon

This late season match up may be the most exciting of the regular season for Philadelphia Union. This Sunday, Talen Energy Stadium will host two teams both reliant on disciplined adherence to their respective systems. On one side, New York Red Bulls hope to take the MLS Supporters’ Shield by taking three points from the Union. On the other side, Philadelphia Union continue their best season to date, seeking to secure a home play off game with Columbus Crew, just two points back, nipping at their heels. New York, the visitors, bring their s

trong high press to the Union, excellent at home as they look to control possession and control the match. Having clinched playoff berths, both sides have much to gain with little to lose.

Scouting report: New York Red Bulls 

No team in MLS uses their system to control games as well as New York Red Bulls. We could focus on how they play on offense and how they play on defense, but that wouldn’t really generate a good understanding

New York Red Bulls 4-2-3-1 football formation

Predicted Red Bulls Lineup

of how this match will play out. Instead, it’s better to focus on Red Bulls’ offensive transition and defensive transition play.


In defensive transition, Red Bulls will look to immediately put pressure on the ball, halting any quick build up and ideally forcing it to one side of the pitch. As the ball moves more and more to the side, Red Bulls are able to put more numbers on the ball to cut off angles close up. That will make it hard to for Keegan Rosenberry, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, and C.J. Sapong to create that solid link-up play up  the  wing and through the middle they have this season.

Red Bulls hope the Union stick with that link-up play anyway, so that they can capitalize on any soft or errant passes. Queue offensive transition. Before that pass is even collected, the Red Bulls have transitioned to offense. Bradley-Wright Phillips will be in position between Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie. This will either force them inside give someone room for touches – whether it’s Kaku or wing backs Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo – or it will give the Red Bulls space to play Wright-Phillips into a dangerous spot.

  • Injury report: Out: D – Kyle Duncan (torn ACL), Tommy Redding (shoulder surgery); M – Florian Valot (torn ACL), Ben Mines (clavicle surgery)
  • Suspended: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia Philly Union Columbus Crew Lineup XI Soccer MLS

Predicted Union Lineup

Philadelphia aren’t playing for the Supporters’ Shield, but they want this win. Bad. This team has faced a lot of doubt from fans and media alike this season. Between wanting to prove that doubt unwarranted and wanting to give the fans their first home playoff game, this is a must win as far as Jim Curtin and his squad are concerned.

It won’t be an easy win, however. Against Red Bulls’ press, the Union will likely have to do two things: The First is push the ball up the wing. One or two of the three center midfielders will have to push to the side to give the ball holder options, at which point the ball holder can either use those options or take the defender on himself. This one-on-one play is key for the Union. It’s the best way to beat Red Bulls press, as they force numbers onto the ball leaving others open in the middle. Beat those numbers, and New York is highly vulnerable. Second, is switch the field constantly and early. The Red Bulls are incredible at the press, and they’re fit. But no one can do sprints back and forth across the pitch without getting gassed. Look for Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie to spread with the ball and for Haris Medunjanin to drop back and split the two of them.

  • Injury report: Questionable: D – Matt Real (left knee sprain), Josh Yaro (adductor sprain)
  • Suspended: None
Key matchup

Ilsinho vs. Kemar Lawrence

Again, the best way to beat the Red Bulls press is to beat your man, and the best player to beat his man for the Union is Ilsinho. He probably won’t come on until at least the 60th minute, but once he does, Ilsinho could be the key to netting a winner. The Brazilian winger has been great lately, and if he can beat Kemar Lawrence on the wing to either take a shot himself or draw more numbers in and leave Borek Dockal or Cory Burke open in the middle, the New York will be in serious trouble.

Player to watch

Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie. The Red Bulls will catch the Union in transition at least once or twice. Jim Curtin likes to keep his line high on the pitch when possible, so when that happens, Trusty and McKenzie will need to use their athleticism in speed to get back into position or to make a key play.


Union win 2-1. Both teams are having perhaps their best seasons, and both teams have styles that are strict and fun to watch. But one stat has been lost in all this that is normally brought up. Red Bulls aren’t great on the road, and the Union are pretty darn great at home. Talen Energy Stadium should be rocking Sunday afternoon, even with the Eagles game going on. Union take this one and get that much closer to securing a home playoff game.

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