One more time: Union vs NY Red Bulls preview

For the final time this season, the two bitter rivals meet in what is set to be a thrilling contest. But by this point, the teams are binary opposites. The Red Bulls sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, and clashing with FC Dallas in the race for the supporters shield. The New York outfit sits six points clear of Toronto and eight positions above the Union who are only four points clear of Chicago. But if we have come to expect anything from these two teams, it’s that what a game looks like on paper may not be the way it pans out..

The Union are coming off of a 3-1 defeat to Toronto but bring a mysterious element to the table in that nobody knows how they’re going to prepare for the game. With the US Open Cup now out of the question and playoff hopes prematurely ended, this is a team who isn’t afraid to experiment and could well spring a surprise or two come tomorrow.

Coach Curtin has already made it clear that he’s willing to use the final games of the season to evaluate the teams options. Andrew Wenger is riding a lifeline after a sub-par season whilst the team have a few loan deals coming to an end soon, most notably Benfica CB Steven Vitoria. With Edu injured, the stage is set for some big performances…

We could see a few lineup adjustments because of this and a team with nothing to lose is often a team who play their best football if European Competitions are anything to go by as players are out their fighting for a roster spot for the following season.

Players to watch:

Zach Pfeffer-
Pfeffer may well feature into Curtin’s plans at somepoint during the game and after dealing with injury earlier in the season, will look to end his most successful year in the MLS on a high. He has proven that attacking roles suit the speedy midfielder as opposed to ball winning positions but only time will tell if he can adapt or shine if given the chance in a more conservative role.

Eric Ayuk-
After starting the last two games, it looks as though Ayuk is almost certain to replace Andrew Wenger. But these last couple of games could see a shift in momentum depending on how he plays. Ayuk has proven to be a huge threat down the wings but often makes reckless mistakes. Can he cement his position in the starting lineup with another solid outing or will rookie errors see Curtin lean towards the more experienced Wenger?

Fernando Aristeguieta-
The problem for the Union is that the striker position is over-crowded with players who can bring different styles of attacking to the table but none of them excel in a specific area. Nando has struggled in his debut season in the MLS but may well receive the start over Sapong tomorrow in order to try and re-ignite his goalscoring form he encountered briefly earlier on in the season. He is incredibly dangerous when leaping up for set pieces but is slow when pushing through opposing defenses and his physicality is often not enough to fend off the likes of Kemar Lawrence who are able to storm down from the top of the pitch to cause a headache for the Venezuelan. Sapong has been the man to lead the Union’s attack so far, but who sits in behind him? Can Nando make one final case before the season’s up?

Keys to the game:
Stopping Bradley Wright-Phillips simply has to be a priority. The Union know what to expect from the Red Bulls now having met them so many times this season and know where Wright-Phillips is dangerous. If the Union can stop the ball being fed through from the likes of Mike Grella then they have every chance of snatching a point…especially with Blake at the helm. BWP and company have encountered a Union Defense with McCarthy in goal..but they are yet to experience the wrath of Andre Blake.

Possession is a key part of this matchup for sure. The Red Bulls have a very dynamic midfield and sport two full backs who are able to charge forward and create attacking plays in an instant. When the home team strike, it’s often heavy and fast..seeing flurries of 2-3 goals in sometimes no more than half an hour. The Union have to dictate the pace of the game and players such as Lahoud and Carroll will be able to provide that more efficiently after the team have began to play the type of football Curtin has been trying so hard to deploy.

Prediction: I can honestly see the Union snatching a point here, but they have to attack down the wings. The NYRB Defense is too good to attack with through balls intended for a slow Aristeguieta. They have conceded just 41 goals this season, only DC have conceded less in the conference. If the Union can dictate possession, rotate some unknown quantities into the lineup and capitalise on set-pieces then they have every hope of snatching a draw.

Score New York Red Bulls 2-2 Philadelphia Union