In the historic words of Jim Mora, “Playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs!?” I’m not kidding you Union fans, there is a way the Philadelphia Union can clinch a playoff berth this weekend.
Recently Philadelphia has been in lackluster form, getting just two points from their last four games. This team has given away points late in games, and sometimes decides to not show up on the road. Even with this recent trend, Philadelphia can still clinch a playoff berth this weekend. All they need to do is snap their current trend against New York Red Bulls, and also root for Sporting Kansas City.
Philadelphia’s chances of clinching a playoff berth looked pretty complicated earlier this week. Coming into the week, the Union needed a variety of results to happen for them to clinch a playoff spot.
For the @PhilaUnion to clinch a playoff berth:
Union win@NERevolution loss@OrlandoCitySC loss or draw ✔️@ColumbusCrewSC loss or draw ✔️
— Brotherly Game (@BrotherlyGame) September 29, 2016
Then the midweek MLS games happened! Toronto’s draw with Orlando, and DC’s win over Columbus cut the Union’s list of clinch helpers in half! Now they only need SKC to beat the Revolution and of course for the Union to get a win in New Jersey!
The Union play Red Bulls for the second time this season and play them twice in four weeks to end their regular season. This weekend’s game is the Union’s last road game, and it couldn’t be more important. With a playoff clinching scenario in the forefront them, the boys in blue have to battle a team who has a lot at stake in this game as well.
The Red Bulls currently sit three points behind the team that actually plays in New York, NYCFC. If the NYRB want to challenge their cross-river rivals, then they will look to stomp on Philadelphia’s playoff push. What will this game be, and who are the players to watch, in this heated contest that can decide so much for both sides?
This game is going to be physical. These are two teams who dislike each other greatly. With the stakes being so high, this game will likely favor the home side. The Red Bulls have home field advantage, and look a more complete team at the moment. New York have not lost a game since July third. They have found ways to grind out results, even with their recent problems late in games.
The Red Bulls concede goals late in games, they’ve done it all year. This team would be running away with the east if they if they didn’t give up late goals. With weapons like Bradley Wright-Phillips the second leading scorer in the league (20 goals), and Sasha Kljestan the league leader in assists (16 assists), it’s no wonder this team is so good. So how can Philadelphia stop this high-flying offense? By giving them a taste of their own medicine.
The Reason the Red Bulls have been so good this year is because of their high press. Their midfielders push up and cause opposing defensive players to turn the ball over in their own half. This then creates better, and more chances to score. The Union have been a high pressing team all year, and if they can get the press right against Red Bulls, then they could see the game go their way.
The Union’s front four will have to do a good job of pressuring the back line of New York to find success in this match. This is something that Philadelphia has done in its past two matches against Red Bulls.
The last two matches between these two has been the tale of two halves. Red Bulls have scored in the first half of both, and the Union did so in the second of both. The Red Bulls have been one of the best teams in the first half-hour of games, and they’ve scored inside of the first half of both of the previous games this year. The Union have come back in both games in the second half after the first half-hour hotness fades from New York. All of the Union’s goals against Red Bulls this year have come from pressing, forcing turnovers and creating counter attacks. The Union will need to do this to get the result they want.
The Union will turn to the capable feet of their rookie Fabian Herbers to help this press click. He has been the linchpin in the last month for the Union’s offense. His service to others, and creative play will have to be top-notch against New York. Along those lines, CJ Sapong and Chris Pontius will look to get back to their scoring ways in this match. Pontius and Sapong have been the most dangerous offensive players at times for Philadelphia this year. Recently they’ve been in some pretty serious ruts, but that’s nothing a goal can’t cure. Alejandro Bedoya could play the ten again today, if Barnetta is still not 100%. Maybe he can add another brilliant finish, like this one from last week! All of these players will need to factor in this game for the Union to be successful!
This game is one of importance for both teams. The Red Bulls have already clinched a playoff spot, and a win for the Union would almost guarantee playoffs for Philadelphia with two games left to play. For the Union to win they’ll have to stop the Red Bulls in the first thirty minutes, and find a way to press the Red Bulls back line. This game will be a hard-fought one for both sides, and so much is at stake. It’s fun this time of year! Come back to Philly Sports Network later for post game analysis. Say it with me Union fans… PLAYOFFS!
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports