Philly Sports Network’s Union Crew preview: Will the Union be knocked down a peg by high-flying Red Bulls?

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The Union have won two in a row in dominating fashion. Next up for the Union is their rivals from New York… er, New Jersey. The Red Bulls have been very impressive as of late. The team from New Jersey has moved past Atlanta, after beating them last week, to the number one spot in the power rankings. Our Philly Sports Network’s Union Crew preview if the Union can find a way to get their third win in a row away at Red Bulls!

Matt McClain:

Philadelphia Union travel just a short distance to northern New Jersey against rival New York Red Bulls in what promises to be an exciting and wild game of soccer. Just how wild the match becomes will be the deciding factor behind Philadelphia’s result, or lack thereof Saturday night. New York wants their opponents to play at a frantic pace in hopes of rattling players and disrupting any type of rhythm their opponent can muster.

Considering Philadelphia utilizes a young back line, communication along the back will be pivotal. Red Bulls attack excels when forwards attempt to split opposing center back groupings. All it takes is a split-second of misjudgment between Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, and New York could capitalize with ease. You have to expect Tyler Adams will be on the pitch for Red Bulls. Adams will look to provide an offensive jolt to a New York team already performing at high levels.
With another Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday match schedule this week, it’ll be interesting to see which starting XI Jim Curtin decides to roll out onto the pitch tomorrow night. David Accam was mentioned during Thursday’s midweek press conference and Curtin mentioned the three matches on short rest will be an opportunity for Accam to see the pitch once more. Both Accam and fans are a bit disappointed with the lack of offensive production so far, but Accam’s skill and work-rate are bound to create meaningful chances eventually. Right?
Another important factor to take note of Saturday night would be the play of Philadelphia’s midfield trio in relation to striker CJ Sapong. Sapong must stick close to the central midfielders against New York. By doing so, Sapong creates another outlet pass for not only the central midfielders but for outside backs like Keegan Rosenberry as well. In order to break the high press from New York, Philadelphia should look to utilize the wide areas of the pitch as much as possible, on both offense and defense. Moving the ball to the wide patches of space defensively allows those outside backs a bit more space on the ball while granting midfielders enough time to maneuver into open passing lanes. However, in order to successfully alleviate New York’s pressure, Philadelphia cannot simply clear the ball out of their end while remaining satisfied to sit back all match. That won’t work against New York, they break teams down throughout a 90+ minute match.
That’s where Sapong steps in. His ability play with his back to goal is something Philadelphia fans know pretty well by now. In fact, Sapong and his skills in hold-up play were one of the main factors he’s remained effective offensively despite having the offensive statistics to show for it. Think of Sapong as an extra safeguard for Philadelphia’s midfield and back line Saturday night. You may not see him streaking up the pitch as much. Rather, you’ll see him in the gritty areas of the pitch keeping possession in hopes of freeing up wingers down the flanks.
Curtin mentioned Thursday that the match against Red Bulls simply comes down to Philadelphia being able to notice offensive advantages in the final third. Which ultimately requires a lot of focus for a team playing away from home against a highly skilled opponent. Not only will Philadelphia need to remain defensive diligent, they’ll need to be intelligent when deciding to move forward as well. Against a team like Red Bulls, finishing what little chances Philadelphia can create will be the storyline after the match. Any offensive chance against a high-pressing team needs to be buried.
Prediction: Red Bulls 2 – Union 2
Man of the Match: Haris Medunjanin

Jeff Green:

I am really trying to figure out how the Union can win this weekend.  I really am.  Every aspect I look at goes in favor of the New York Red Bulls.  The Union are playing their best soccer of the season, winning two in a row, albeit against the porous defenses of Montreal and Real Salt Lake.  The Red Bulls are riding a four game winning streak, including beating up on the likes of NYCFC and Atlanta United.  They are simply on another level and have been clicking on both sides of the ball.  Not to mention they sport the league’s best goal differential of +14!

Earlier this week, midfielder Tyler Adams and left back Kemar Lawrence were both on the injured list.  If this held true, the left side of the Red Bull defense would be seriously weakened and present some openings for the revitalized Union attack.  Unfortunately for the Union, both players are listed as active, although due to the circumstances involving Lawrence getting carted off the field last week, I doubt he will see any action.

Jim Curtin mentioned David Accam seeing more action since the team has three games this week.  I am thinking Curtin will keep the same starting lineup that won at home 4-1 vs Real Salt Lake last week.  Regardless of the result Saturday night, you can bank on Accam being inserted in the starting lineup against his former club, the Chicago Fire, on Wednesday.  As far as this match, I think the Union will be down a goal late but tie it up in the closing minutes.

Prediction: Red Bulls – 2 Union – 2
Union man of the match: Fafa Picault

Tim Lovenguth:

If the Union want to be in contention for the playoffs, and would like to be a team that challenges the teams at the top, then they will have to show their worth in a match just like this one! The Red Bulls are one of the hottest teams in MLS right now, and are trending upwards. They have the best points per game average of any team. After they knocked off Atlanta last weekend in Atlanta, they will be heavily favored to take care of business against Philadelphia. That’s what logic dictates.

You know what I saw to logic? Screw it! My overly ambitious self doesn’t see this match as a one way tilt towards the team from New Jersey. Historically, Union-Red Bulls games have been a toss of a coin. This one is going to be the same. Even though Kaku and Wright-Phillips have been a lethal tag team, I see a way that the Union’s teenage center backs get the job done. That being said, it’s impossible to keep the Red Bulls off the score sheet. This one won’t be a dull affair at all! For that to be the case, the Union’s attack will need to continue to fire on all cylinders!

Who would’ve guessed that the spark the Union’s offense needed was Marcus Epps? The youngster has played like the teams MVP the last two matches. He’ll need to continue that against a Red Bulls back line that has shown some vulnerability when their opposition finds ways in behind. With that fact, Fafa Picault will also need to have a productive night getting in behind. Borek Dockal has finally shown his worth, and lived up to his high price tag. Now’s the real test. Play the way he’s done in the last two against NYRB, and the Union may just find a way to get points.

In a match that is sure to have a lot of offense, I see the Union finding a way to have just a bit more. While this is all wishful thinking, the Union will have to show that they can play this type of game away from home if they want to be above the redline near the end of the season. Hopefully my optimism doesn’t doom the Union to another 3-0 loss on the road, where the team looks like they forget how to play soccer.

Prediction: Red Bulls – 2 Union -3
Union Man of the Match: Borek Dockal

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Tim Lovenguth

Matt McClain

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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