Root for Red Bull, temporarily

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Now that we all have breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank God they won,” the immediate question for Philadelphia Union fans is whether or not the Boys in Blue will secure a home playoff game.

Here is what we know.

The MLS website’s recap of the home victory over Cincinnati Sunday night at Subaru Park writes, “The result also virtually assures Philadelphia of a home match in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Only Atlanta United could knock the Union out of the top four spots in the East, and it would take two Atlanta wins, a Union loss and a combined six-goal total shift in goal difference.”

Let us examine “virtually assures” in detail, relying for our statistical predictors on the website

First, consider the middle of the three propositions, that the Union must lose to NYC FC at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on Decision Day this coming Sunday, November.  As of the end of the Union’s win over Cincinnati, the Citizens have a 57% chance of winning, the Union have a 19% chance of winning, and there is a 24% chance of a tie. In addition to league-wide homefield advantage, the Union have never done well at the postage stamp. We should be expect them to lose.

Second, refer again to league-wide home field advantage. Both of Atlanta’s two remaining games are on the road. Tonight, they play Red Bull in Harrison, NJ, and they play in Cincinnati on Decision Day. They should beat Cincinnati, although the home field advantage reduces the chance below half to 47%.

But statistically Red Bull on Wednesday is a different proposition. Atlanta’s odds of winning in Harrison are 16%. Red Bull’s odds of winning or drawing are 84%, 57% to win and 27% to tie. As repugnant as the concept of rooting for a New York team is for any Philadelphia sports fan in any sport, Union fans must do so this evening.

Finally, break down the potential shift in goal difference between Philly and Atlanta. Two Atlanta wins and a Philadelphia loss would shift the difference in Atlanta’s favor by three goals at a minimum. Philly must avoid being blown out in the Bronx, and hope for close matches in Harrison and Cincinnati.

Cincy offers little resistance defensively these days. In their last two games they have surrendered seven consecutive goals in a little more than 135 minutes. And Atlanta have Josef Martinez.

However Red Bull are themselves trying to make the playoffs so they will not roll over and die.

Hold your noses or smoke smelly cigars. But root for – Aaugh! Koff! Hack! – Red Bull tonight. It is in the Union’s best interest.


  1. It’s not just tonight. We need to root for them even more on Sunday. They play in Nashville and if the Union draw, a Red Bull win or draw gives the Union second while if the Union lose a Red Bull win might be necessary to for the Union to get 4th if Atlanta wins tonight and overcomes the goal differential.

    • a Red Bull win in Nashville Sunday is statistically unlikely 29%, a draw is 21%. A Nashville win is 40%.
      Which seed, 2, 3, 4, is less important than getting the home field, it seems to me.
      This Union side has done less well on the road this year than last, and all the draws go to OT and PKs in the playoffs of course.

      • I think there is a HUGE difference between 2 and 3 since 2 means second round would be at home.

  2. Sorry, that is too big an ask

  3. Tie is fine, boring 0-0 with as many red cards for Atlanta a possible.

    • +1 agree that I’d prefer a tie, which still keeps Atlanta from catching Philly

    • John P. O'Donnell says:

      I don’t think red cards carry over into the playoffs.

      • Yellow cards don’t. Red cards do (and if your team doesn’t make the playoffs or loses in the playoff game where you get the red card you are suspended for the first game of next season).

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I think the context was red cards so they’d be depleted for Decision Day. But yeah everything above makes sense.

  4. In Tanner We Trust says:

    There are 27 teams in MLS right? That’s 1 Philadelphia Union and 26 Not Philadelphia Union. The names are irrelevant to Union’s playoff push. I will root for THAT team from Harrison both right now and Sunday. Although I am enjoying the goalless draw.

    • Enjoying is a bit of an overstatement. Happy I don’t normally have to suffer through watching either of those teams is a more accurate description. (Not from a rooting standpoint but from a quality of play perspective.)

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Yes the goalless draw we all hoped for lol. It helps if you have something else to do while following the game. No one should have to watch NJPC on a regular basis religiously. Imagine doing that voluntarily. I played Rocket League while keeping an eye on that snoozer of a game. A nice night, 2 thumbs up.

  5. Union are hosting a playoff game. It helps when the team we are rooting for not to win doesn’t get their first shot until about the 86th minute and their only shot on goal until the 3rd minute of stoppage time.
    0-0 draw.

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