Match previews

Playoff match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls

Photo: Rob Simmons

Who: Philadelphia Union (3rd place, 55 points, 16-11-7) vs. New York Red Bulls (6th place, 48 points, 14-14-6)
What: 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, first round
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA
When: Sunday, October 20th, 3 p.m.
Watch: FS1, FOX Sports Go, Fox Deportes
Whistle: Referee: Chris Penso; AR1 (bench): Jeremy Hanson; AR2 (opposite): Eric Boria; 4th:Joseph Dickerson; VAR: Robert Sibiga; AVAR: Craig Lowry

The playoffs are here, and for the first time since 2011, the playoffs are here.

As in, the Union are kicking off the playoffs with a home game.

They’re also looking for their first playoff victory ever. This Sunday, Philadelphia will face I-95 rival New York Red Bulls for the third time this season, and the first time ever in the playoffs.

With home field advantage being a thing in this series, this could be the first playoff victory ever for the Union.

Scouting report: New York Red Bulls

The last time the Union played the Red Bulls, it was a 2-0 loss up in Jersey. It was also during the Union’s September slump, but it was a home victory for NYRB.

Before that, the Union had a very memorable, 3-2 comeback victory at home in June. You know, the one with Ilsinho?

No stranger to the playoffs, the Red Bulls are playing in the playoffs for a tenth consecutive year, now equaling the second-longest streak in league history. Leading up to this year’s playoffs, NYRB’s regular season finale resulted in a 3-0 loss to Montreal on the road. That loss ended a three-match undefeated run and a streak of three straight clean sheets.

After allowing three goals in their last match, New York will look to turn around and strengthen their back line. Of course, the defense will look to keep Philly off the board and shut down Ilsinho. Three of the four starting defenders are no-brainers, with Aaron Long being one of those three. Long has had a good year with the Red Bulls and was one of the few on the USMNT who had a decent match against Canada on Tuesday. Another regular defender, Kemar Lawrence recorded an assist and helped secure a clean sheet in Jamaica’s 2-0 win over Aruba in the Concacaf Nations League group stage match. Coming back from injury, NYRB say that Kyle Duncan may or may not be in their 18 on Sunday.

New York put up two goals in each match against the Union this season. With the Red Bulls’ plethora of goal scorers, each goal was scored by a different player. In the first meetup, Kaku and Brian White each scored, while Tom Barlow and Daniel Royer both scored at home in the second meetup.  White just returned to the starting XI for the first time since August 17 in NYRB’s regular season finale. As one of the Red Bulls’ key forwards, the team is 10-4-4 in 2019 when White is in the starting lineup, and just 3-5-1 when he is not on the 18-man roster. Midfielder, Kaku is another to watch out for. Kaku has been performing well internationally, and just tallied the equalizer for Paraguay in a 1-1 draw with Slovakia in an international friendly.

Injury report

OUT: Florian Valot (F), Amro Tarek (D)



Suspension report: None

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

It was rough getting to this match. In what many would say is typical Union, the boys in blue limped their way into the playoffs and are looking to do a 180 in the playoffs.

The 4-2-3-1 has been a Curtin favorite the last month of the regular season, and it hasn’t been a success. Hopefully, with the return of some very missed key players, we’ll see a 4-4-2 . It was the preferred formation during the Union’s best run of performance this season. Philly’s eight-match home undefeated streak was the fourth-longest in the club’s history, and the longest since the record-tying 10-game undefeated run over the end of the 2015 season and start of 2016.

With finishing being a big problem for the Union, Kacper Przybylko is the big question. In the last match against NYCFC, he was a last minute scratch after an injury during warm-ups. Now that he’s had two weeks to recover, Curtin said he’d be back this weekend. In fact, in his mid-week press conference, Curtin said, “There’s a plan in place… that fully involves him starting on Sunday.” Considering Andrew Wooten, Fafa Piccault, Marco Fabian and Ilsinho all struggled up to finish this last month, Przybylko, the team’s leading goal scorer needs to return for the playoffs.

Alejandro Bedoya is also expected to make his return, per Curtin. The captain has also been sorely missed in the midfield these last few matches. With so many different formations and lineups, the midfield has been a constant change. Marco Fabian or Brenden Aaronson at the 10? Will Jamiro Monteiro be next to Haris Medunjanin, or will Monteiro be on the bench now that Bedoya’s expected to return? There are tons of options for the Union’s 18 on Sunday, and it’s all up to Curtin.

The only thing that’s been somewhat set is the defense. Expect to see Kai Wagner, Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott and Ray Gaddis this Sunday. They’ve been the regulars, with the exception of McKenzie, who could be exchanged with Auston Trusty or Aurelien Collin.

A welcomed sight for the Union this week will be a strong performance from goalkeeper Andre Blake. It’s true, Blake hasn’t had his best season, giving up some shaky rebounds and failing to bail his team out with big saves. A clean sheet, or at least a strong performance from Blake is a necessity on Sunday.

Injury report

OUT: Sergio Santos (F)


Suspension report: None

Key matchup: Ilsinho vs NYRB’s defense

Ah, the memories of Ilsinho single-handedly dismantling the Red Bull’s back line on June 8th… It was a great match for the Union and a beautiful thing to watch. With the Red Bulls defense a bit of a mixed bag right now, we could watch a repeat of that match. Depending on the score after the first half, the super sub could make another very big impression this weekend.

Player to watch: Kacper Przybylko

The return of the Union’s main scorer is highly anticipated. In their last match against NYCFC, Philly really struggled to finish anything. A strong attacker is a necessity for this team, and Przybylko is one of those players who really sets the mood for the team. If Przybylko is healthy and makes his return, he’ll need to do it with a strong presence to boost the Union’s confidence.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-1 NYRB

With so much to bounce back from and the home field advantage, I’m thinking the Union can pull it off for the first time ever. Since home field advantage has proven to matter both times in the regular season, this team can really thrive on the atmosphere if they come to play. Of course, this prediction is hopefully optimistic that the Union can turn themselves around and play with everything they have in front of an energetic crowd.


  1. Will be extremely disappointed if they do not come out in 4-4-2 and if Fabian is on the field. Brendan should play the 10 with Monteiro and Bedoya as 8s.

  2. Depending on Ilson Jr is a recipe for disaster and I wouldn’t put much hope in a cold, unfit Kacper. This is the perfect opportunity for Marco Fabian to step up. When he and the midfield are synced up there is obvious strength. When not, he’s invisible. Let’s hope for the former.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Santos is out? I thought he was training all week?
    My lineup is the same as what Kinkead said on his podcast:
    4-4-2… Usual backline… Haris-Bedoya-Montiero-Aaronson… Kacper-Fabian. Subs are Santos/Fafa/Ilsinho and switch to a 4-2-3-1… unless a defensive sub is needed

  4. I can’t say I can really guess how Jim is going to approach this one. I can see him going 4-4-2 and pairing Fafa with Przbylko. I could just as easily see him going 4-2-3-1 with Fabian the starting 10 and Aaronson on the bench. If I were forced to put money on it, I’d bet on the 4-2-3-1. He just loves that formation.

    Union have to win. A loss would really mean same old Union to just about everyone. The team has to rewrite the narrative. It’s gotten old. Time to win. something. Please.

  5. The striker position is a predicament with Kacper not 100% healthy.
    Even so, this is why players play… for the big moments. I believe Union will be unified in their focus and rise to the occasion as a team.

  6. Just checked and saw there is an 85% chance of rain at kickoff.

  7. In Tanner We Trust says:

    This is it. A chance for Curtin to prove he’s changed and start out with a 4-4-2. A one-game audition for Fabian to change our minds. All or nothing. This Red Bulls team is not very good, so a loss proves us wrong when we say this year’s team is special. A win validates the struggle. It proves we’re a contender. A win also makes me extremely confident that we can snowball into ATL Thursday night and break another rival’s hearts. 10 years come down to 1 game. Sports can be cruel sometimes.

  8. Still can’t figure out why everyone wants this team in a 4-4-2 when we have only 1 striker who’s played well this season, and he’s trying to come back from an injury.

    My preferred starting XI is the usual back 5, Medunjanin-Monteiro, Aaronson-Fabián-Bedoya, and Kacper up top. Then you have Picault, Ilsinho, and either Wooten or Santos as offensive subs.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I think Fafa pressing in the 4-4-2 is huge in tiring out opponents. And I’m not sure Fabian gives us our best chance to win this game. I like our press to have Brenden, Fafa, Kacper, Ale, and Monty. I think the attack revolves around Monteiro more than people realize and he’s done his best work this year at the 8 spot opposite Ale.

  9. I don’t know, folks

    My thoughts for which no one asked…

    1. In my opinion, Ilsin Jr., literally, has one move. And, everyone else in the league has figured that out. So, he’s not going to be influential. Pretty sure I’m stronger and faster than him, too, and I’m over 40.

    2. Fabian is trying so hard to prove something, that he can’t play freely. He’s bound up inside himself.

    3. Monteiro is going to get called on his reckless tackles, early. Ref needs to do all he can to try to control the game before it gets away from him like Dallas vs. Seattle yesterday.

    4. Crashed miserably to close the season, as per usual.

    5. WTF happened to Trusty?

    I gave up my awesome, 3rd row Club seats behind the opposing bench for next year, and didn’t bother reserving my seats for this game.

    I’m feeling like a neutral for the first time since I became a fan, and kind of feel silly about the amount of money, time and emotion I shipped this team over the years. I have, probably, 10 Union jerseys, some signed, that’ll never see the light of day again. I just don’t really care anymore.

    Feels kind of good. I always hated that drive to Talen. I don’t even bother with the games on TV, since I can’t stream it at home. (I hate sitting inside in front of a TV) and I can’t even watch the games on cable at the beach, for some reason. Seinfeld re-runs were on PHL17 the last time I tried to watch while “down tha sure.”

    Anyway, good luck, but my emotional attachment to you is gone. Sadly, I never even got to see my tiny replica Talen Energy Stadium gift. hahaha

    • Wtf happened to trusty??? He consistently made dumb mistakes and couldn’t connect a pass out of the back. At least with him out of the lineup the union don’t have to worry about him scoring an own goal.

  10. MoorestownisOK says:

    I’m an optimist as a Philly fan. I go into every game hopeful, even when the data suggest otherwise. The augury feels mixed, true, but what I know is that they won’t hold back; they won’t protect a somewhat injured player for the promise of a near-future game; they won’t go gentle. What I know is that Talen is going to be fierce and focused; that the rain is going to create its own blurring and intensifying energy; that we’ll yell for the team; that even 5 minutes in the Chickies’ line will feel too long; and that when they score, we are going to go off.

  11. What. a. GAME!!!

  12. Bring Steel Back to Bethlehem says:

    We f’n did it!

  13. Anyone who thought they’d pull it off after the first half stoppage is better than me. That was a dealbreaker. Wet and miserable I was.

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