Match previews

Match preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Rob Simmons

Who: New York Red Bulls (6th place, 44 points, 13-13-5) vs. Philadelphia Union (2nd place, 52 points, 15-8-7)
What: 2019 regular-season game
Where: Red Bull Arena
When: Sunday, September 22 at 6:30 pm
Watch: PHL 17, ESPN+
Whistle: Jair Marrufo; Corey Parker, Jose Da Silva; Lorant Varga; Jose Carlos Rivero

It’s a different script as Philadelphia Union travel to Harrison, N.J. Sunday evening to face New York Red Bulls.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union pulled a Freaky Friday for the 2019 MLS season.

Just don’t ask which side is Lindsey Lohan.

The perennial cup contending Red Bulls, just a year removed from setting the league record for most points in a season, are fighting to secure one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots. A midweek trip to the West Coast aided that goal immensely. New York beat Portland Timbers 2-0, putting them seven points clear of Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire. But that result belies some late season struggles. The Red Bulls managed only one win, including three consecutive losses, before Wednesday night’s victory.

Conversely, the Union are the club battling for the top seed in the East. With four games remaining, Philadelphia sits in second place— five points behind New York City FC and a point ahead of Atlanta United. If they’re to claim the first round bye that accompanies a first place finish, they’ll need a result in the first of three consecutive trips away from home. Pulling a double over their I-95 rivals would be a gigantic step in that direction.

Scouting report: New York Red Bulls

The departed

All it takes is one stat to show how the Red Bulls went from a record setting club to a middling one. New York allowed 33 goals in 2018. That was best in MLS, and 11 fewer than the next closest in the East. This year, they’ve conceded 48 times which ranks them in the bottom half of the league.

So how does an elite defense become mediocre?

It matters who you have on the field. Despite returning their entire first choice back line (from left to right) of Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, and Michael Amir Murrillo, only Parker hasn’t missed double digit matches this season. The other three have combined to miss 32 games.

All four will be available against the Union, but New York have one gigantic piece missing that won’t be coming back: Tyler Adams. The Red Bulls haven’t be able to replace the U.S. international midfielder after his transfer to RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga.

When a team loses its best player, sometimes there’s a downside.

Top bulling

Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips has been the definition of consistency since joining the Red Bulls in 2013. He’s scored 27, 17, 24, 17, and 20 goals in each season dating back to 2014. His 108 career MLS tallies have him tied for seventh in league history with Jason Kreis.

But only two of those goals have come in 2019. At 34-years-old, time may have finally caught up with the legs of the British striker. Wright-Phillips has played 21 times this season, but only nine of those appearances have been starts.

Yet New York still ranks fourth in the conference in scoring with 51 goals, five behind leaders NYCFC.

They’ve gone with a committee approach. Only winger Daniel Royer has hit double digits with 10 goals, but 10 different Red Bull players have scored multiple times this season.

While Wright-Phillips might not single-handily destroy teams like days of yore, New York now has variety in how they’ll fill a score sheet.

  • Injury report: OUT — Florian Valot (M, torn ACL)
    DOUBTFUL — Amro Tarek (D, ankle injury)
    QUESTIONABLE — Brian White (F, ankle injury); Cristian Casseres Jr. (M, knee injury)
  • Suspended: None.
  • International duty: None.

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The “road” to the top

If the Union want the season finale showdown against NYCFC to matter, they’ll need to have quite the business trip.

The visit to Red Bull Arena is the first of three consecutive road games for the Boys in Blue. After Sunday’s clash, they’ll head west for a Wednesday night bout with San Jose Earthquakes before finishing the journey next Sunday against Columbus Crew SC.

While the midweek match in California may seem the most difficult factoring in fatigue and travel, Philadelphia will first have to survive their personal house of horrors.

The Union have gone four years since beating the Red Bulls on the road. That win came back on May 24, 2015. In fact, that 2-0 result was the only away win Philadelphia has recorded over New York. Overall, the Union have posted a paltry 1-7-3 record at Red Bull Arena.

 Squad deep

Union manager Jim Curtin has some choices to make.

Chasing a first place finish in the Eastern Conference, he can’t throw away the game in San Jose. He also has to balance maintaining fresh legs for the postseason push. This year, those two things are not mutually exclusive. Take the friendly against Pumas UNAM as an example.

Battling injuries and international duty, Curtin featured a largely second choice side against the Liga MX powerhouse. The Union still rolled to a 3-0 victory.

The 2019 iteration of the Union is the deepest and most talented in club history. The coach can legitimately feature two starting 11s that provide a chance to win on the road. If the Union were to replicate the lineup of the 1-1 draw with Los Angeles FC, a unique lineup could be as such:

GK – Joe Bendik; LB – Matt Real, CB – Auston Trusty, CB – Aurelien Collin, RB – Olivier Mbaizo; LM – Anthony Fontana, RM – Warren Creavalle; LW – Sergio Santos, CAM – Marco Fabián, RW – Michee Ngalina; FW – Andrew Wooten

Will he feature drastically different lineups? Will Curtin mix-and-match his lineups this week, sprinkling in reserves in each game? Or will he continue to play his starters every minute he can?

  • Injury report: None.
  • Suspended: None.
  • International duty: None.
Matchup to watch: Kai vs. Kemar

Philadelphia left back Kai Wagner and New York left back Kemar Lawrence will be on opposite sides of the field with very little interaction. So why is this the “matchup to watch?” For years, Lawrence has been the best left back in MLS. Wagner can claim why that title is now his.

Player to watch: Ilsinho

Philadelphia’s first win over New York back on Jun. 8 came through a virtuoso performance from the Brazilian attacking midfielder. Down 2-0, Curtin introduced his super sub with just 37 minutes remaining. All he did was score twice and provide an assist, securing the dramatic 3-2 comeback victory. Unlikely to make the midweek trip to San Jose, the 33-year-old will have more time to do stuff like this:

Prediction: New York Red Bulls 0-2 Philadelphia Union

This Union team is just better. They’re not the same side that’s struggled at Red Bull Arena. They’re the team that picked up four combined points against Atlanta and LAFC. Bonus prediction: Curtin makes no changes to last Saturday’s starting 11.


  1. This is a really big game. RBNY has owned us for years and have basically been our big brother in terms of having a good academy and proving it on the field. We have flipped that script this year and we can make a major rivalry statement with a good win.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Yeah totally agreed. Getting a win over Atlanta is fantastic and something we aren’t used to, for sure. But in a season like this, winning games like this one, goes a long way. Maybe it’s not hyped as much… it’s on the road… late on a Sunday. You have to go in and beat a team that historically you struggle against (especially in their house) and that you are better than.

    • Agree. With a win this season will be even more special than it is!

  2. Must Have.
    …Must validate the 7 points taken from last three games… otherwise, what was the point.

  3. O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

    Who’s going? I’ll hop in for the ride!!!!! Not joking. C’mon you boys in blue!!!!!

  4. In Tanner We Trust says:

    I really believe in our B team this year. I’d LOVE to see Ngalina get a chance. Creavalle proved that he’s effective against some teams. I’m no tactical expert, but maybe San Jose has a style that matches with his strengths? Mbaizo deserves another audition. Fontana would start on at least 10 MLS teams in my opinion. Sending a mostly B team to San Jose isn’t exactly throwing in the towel.

  5. Curtin may want to rethink his strategy. The San Jose game just became a LOT more winnable with Espinoza who is 6th in the league in assists picking up a 2nd yellow in the 34th minute (not only meaning that he will miss the next match but also tiring the team out a bit more) and Wondo picking up a red card from the bench for foul and abusive language 30 minutes after he was subbed off.
    Also, Martinez came out injured so NYCFC may have picked up a break for Wednesday.

    • O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

      B team vs NY and A team vs San Jose? Interesting. Grab 1 in NY which I’m fine with and go west for 3. Why not? I think NYFC play Atlanta play week. I’d so love to beat the Red Bull’s though! C’mon U!

  6. With San Jose suddenly exposed, I personally would like to see the A lineup today and vs. San Jose. Then determine if the NYCFC game will matter in terms of standings and a week off.

    Rest the A guys vs NYCFC and see if the B squad and the ‘youts’ can take advantage of the home crowd.

    • You have the schedule wrong. NYCFC is after a week off and 2 weeks before the playoffs, so no need to rest there. At Columbus is the third game in a week on the road.

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