After suffering a 3-2 defeat to D.C United, the Union return home to host one of their toughest rivals, the New York Red Bulls. There will be added spice to this game following the Penalty shootout victory that knocked the Red Bulls out of the U.S. Open Cup, but with the Union once again suffering some depth issues whilst the Red Bulls have gained a man..it could well become a war on the field.
The Union are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference yet sit only two points off of a playoff place, which means that should they rediscover their winning ways, there is a high chance the team could scrape into the playoffs. Their rivals however come into the game carrying two wins on the bounce and will look to make it a third.
But here are the key factors coming into this weeks game.
“Oh Bradley Wright-Phillips, he’s better than Shaun”
As Charlton fans will be quick to reassure the Sons Of Ben, Shaun Wright Phillips is nothing to worry about. Whilst the new brotherly duo will aim to shake things up as Bradley looks to rediscover his scoring ways, Shaun is a somewhat declining winger who has spent the best part of four seasons rotting in QPR’s depth chart. After amassing just 78 minutes from September until January last season, the former Chelsea and Manchester City midfielder has certainly lost his sparkle. Whilst still fairly quick, he lacks a diverse style of play and is fairly limited in his ability. It’s kind of like buying an android tablet for $30 instead of an iPad.
The biggest problem for the Union is that they have received a big blow in the past week. Maidana’s midfield partner Vincent Nogueira has suffered a pulled quad and is out for at least three weeks. This is a huge blow, as he has erupted in form as of late, scoring four goals in the last couple of months and rallying the team against the Red Bulls in their last meeting. Vincent has arguably had his best season this year and has banded the team together when the rest seem to fall apart. Chipotle star Zach Pfeffer will probably start alongside Chaco which isn’t a bad thing. It will be even more experience for the youngster in his busiest season to date. The speed of which he plays could well replace what Nogueira’s absence would provide.
The Defense hit a roadblock against DC, conceding three goals and a missed penalty whilst surrendering a 2-0 lead. Things simply have to change this time around. The Red Bulls are a punishing team and with the likes of Lloyd Sam veering into fine form, the Union are either going to be heroic or horrendous. If the back line can stop the wing play and force an off form Bradley Wright Phillips into playing the ball on his weaker foot, then they have every chance of conceding minimal goals. If they don’t..it may be the second defeat in as many weeks.
The lineup for tomorrow’s game could well see some big changes. After a shoddy defensive display last weekend, Curtin needs a reliable option in goal and might just finally give Andre Blake a shot. Blake finds himself in a vicious cycle as Coach Curtin wants to see him play in more games, but has had various bumps in the road to eliminate that possibility. Edu will once again star alongside White at CB whilst the wingbacks should remain unchanged. Pfeffer will stand in for the injured Nogueira and play a slightly more advanced role. Carroll will cover defensively, allowing the creativity of Pfeffer to shine and add an aspect of play the team really need. Eric Ayuk gets the start alongside Le Toux with Sapong posing the lone threat up front. The bench is a debatable topic and one you can hear more of on the first episode of our Inside the River End podcast! (Coming later today)
Coach Curtin has already expressed his conservative approach to new signing Barnetta, saying that he doesn’t want to rush him off the plane into a match environment and you can hardly blame him. If Barnetta was fatigued and fell injured, it would bring a huge cloud over the Union’s playoff hopes. Short term loss, long term game. That doesn’t mean he may not replace Ayuk, Le Toux or Pfeffer in the latter stages of the match to get his bearings at PPL Park.
Much like the Open Cup game, what you read about two sides on paper quite often goes out the window in rivalry games and the Union are going to play with a lot of heart and character, not to mention the home field advantage. The Red Bulls may get a bit tail happy experimenting with formations, and the expectation for Shaun Wright Phillips to become an unstoppable threat will ultimately fall short as the team could choose to run the play through the winger. This allows the Union to loft through balls over the top and find their target man. I think both sides will find the net, but the Union could snatch a 2-1 win over the Red Bulls as they seem to succeed in games like this.