Match previews / Union

Match preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Who: New York Red Bulls (3rd in the East, 47pts, 13-8-8) vs. Philadelphia Union (1st in the East, 2nd for Supporters Shield, 57pts, 16-9-4)
What: 2022 regular season game
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
When: Saturday, September 3 at 7:08 pm
Watch: Phl17, MSG, ESPN+
Whistle: Timothy Ford; Brian Dunn, Gianni Facchini; Luis Arroyo; Kevin Stott, Mike Kampmeinert

The Union’s greatest don’t-call-it-a-rivalry returns this weekend as Philly hops on the Jersey Turnpike and heads north to face New York’s oldest soccer team operated by a multinational “football” conglomerate.

The history between these two teams is undeniable, even if the rivalry apparently is, and the Union will be playing against that history to a certain extent as they’ll be looking for just their third-ever win in Red Bull Arena. It should be a good test, not just because the Red Bulls could be the best team in the East playing outside Pennsylvania, but because they are the first playoff-bound Eastern Conference team that the Union have faced in over a month.

Scouting report: New York Red Bulls

Predicted lineup for New York

Make no mistake, the Red Bulls are a very good team this season. And they’re doing it the way they’ve always done it- putting pressure on teams and waiting until they crack. It’s a system that was familiar to the Union before they appointed a former Red Bull Salzburg executive to be their sporting director in Ernst Tanner, and it’s made the Red Bulls a tough nut to crack historically. Even today, there’s a lot to be said for a team that’s allowed the third fewest goals so far this season, and while their offense hasn’t been quite as prolific as the Union’s of late there’s no denying that it’s gotten results.

Speaking of results, the Red Bulls have gone undefeated since early August’s goalstravaganza against Colorado; beating Miami, Orlando, and Montreal, all teams currently above the playoff line. Then add in a road win against a technically-not-out-of-the-running Atlanta and a draw against seventh-place Cincinnati. Taken all together that may not have earned them the headlines that the Union’s beatdowns against Houston, D.C. United (again), and Colorado got, but it may have been more significant since the Red Bull results actually had playoff implications.

Luckily for the Union, the timing of this game is somewhat in their favor. A Wednesday night yellow card means the midfield will be missing lineup regular Cristian Cásseres, and designated player Luquinhas is listed as questionable with back issues and only just made it into the second half against Montreal. So the Red Bull attack will be somewhat blunted, no doubt welcome news to the Union defense as they look to continue their exceptional season.

On defense things are significantly less chaotic as Red Bull head coach Gerhard Struber will primarily have his first choice lineup available to him. Players to watch there include keeper Carlos Coronel who came to New York through Red Bull farm teams in Brazil and Austria (and also Bethlehem Steel FC), and the USMNT’s Aaron Long. They’ll be a good test for for a Union offense that will be looking to prove it’s capable of more than just running up the score against inferior opposition.

Information accurate as of Saturday morning

  • Injury report: AJ Marcucci (GK, shoulder), Serge Ngoma (FW, hamstring); Questionable: Luquinhas (MF, back), Frankie Amaya (MF, groin)
  • Suspended: Cristian Cásseres Jr. (yellow card accumulation); Sean Nealis may be in danger of missing next game due to yellow card accumulation.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Predicted Union Lineup

The Union are pretty well settled as far as lineups go, and with no significant injuries and no players lost to discipline, expect a starting XI of familiar names on Saturday evening. The only real positions without certainty, left midfield and right back, are less a question of “who can do the job” and more about “who is the best fit against the opposition”. It seems certain that head coach Jim Curtin will start Nate Harriel at right back, both because the Union take a more conservative approach on the road and because Mbaizo picked up a knock on Wednesday night. Likewise Jack McGlynn’s offensive prowess could earn him a start, but Leon Flach isn’t exactly a defense-only player and could wreak havoc on the disjointed New York midfield.

As to the rest of the lineup, expect more of the same. The Big Three of Mikael Uhre, Julián Carranza, and Dániel Gazdag will be facing their biggest challenge in a long while in the Red Bull Defense, and arguably their first real challenge since emerging as MLS’s most prolific attacking trio. Which could go either way- maybe the fireworks we’ve enjoyed in the last month are just castles made of sand since they haven’t really been tested, or maybe they really are something special and just needed time to gel in order to reach their true potential.

Out back Andre Blake will have familiar faces (well, backs of heads) helping him keep Red Bull off the board. Just like the Union offense hasn’t been tested in some time, the Union defense has had it easy of late. It’s hard for the other team to score when the ball is in the back of their own net. But unlike the offense the Union defense is a known quantity. And it’s known to be very good, and should be more than equal to the challenge the Red Bulls will be able to field on Saturday.

  • Injury report: None
  • Suspended: None; none in danger of yellow card accumulation.
Key matchup: Dru Yearwood and Daniel Edelman vs. Dániel Gazdag

Presumably the Red Bull center backs will have their hands full with Uhre and Carranza, leaving the defensive midfield responsible for the Hungarian. Which means English veteran Dru Yearwood and Red Bull Academy Product and New Jersey native Daniel Edelman. The Red Bulls won’t be able to afford double coverage on Gazdag, which means communication between the two Red Bulls will be essential, and the Union man is more than capable of exploiting any advantage presented by inefficiencies in that communication.

Match to watch: LAFC vs. Real Salt Lake

Whatever result the Union get, the game out in California will be of particular interest. Currently the two teams are tied on points for the Supporters Shield, with LA still in the lead due to the first tie breaker (total wins). LA is also holding a game in hand, though how much of an advantage that is can be debated. If the Union get more points from the weekend, they would pull ahead.

Available on ESPN+ the game kicks off at 10:38 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night, so maybe not “watch” per se. But definitely check the result first thing Monday morning.

Prediction: Red Bulls 0-1 Philadelphia

The jumbled Red Bull offense will have a hard time getting one past the Union’s league-leading defense, so there’s a fair chance Andre Blake will be able to add another clean sheet to his already quite full linen closet. But going the other way Red Bull’s defense should be all first-pick players, and with the third fewest goals allowed this season that’ll be a tough nut to crack.

The Union haven’t had a multi-goal margin of victory against a team above the playoff line since March’s trip to face New York City. Maybe the Big Three can surprise us, they are on a tear at the moment. But even a single goal victory on the road against a very good Red Bull would be worth celebrating.

5 Comments

  1. MLS website has Bedoya one card away from suspension (along with Cameron Harper, not Sean Nealis).
    .
    Union should be favored in Harrison given that their road record (6-4-4) is better than New Jersey’s home record (4-5-5).

  2. If I’ve done the math correctly, based on the standings and remaining schedule, a Union win tonight clinches a home playoff game.

  3. Lots of changes for the Union. Harriel, Real, McGlynn, and Burke all starting. Mbaizo, Martinez, Bedoya, and Carranza on the bench.

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