Philadelphia Union returns to MLS action, after crashing out of the US Open Cup to Orlando in midweek, against Eastern Conference rivals New York Red Bulls. This is a clash that sees the top two teams in the East and we’re set for a brilliant match. Here are 5 things to watch ahead of the game.
5 Things to Watch – Union vs Red Bulls
New York Keep You Guessing
Red Bulls have been extremely impressive over the last month and you have to go back to the start of April to find the last time the New York side has lost a game in all competitions. They’re coming off the back of a 1-1 draw with Portland in their last MLS game and they just beat DC United 3-0 in the US Open Cup in midweek, so it’s another in-form side that Union will be meeting in this one.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Red Bulls are currently one point behind Philadelphia coming into this one and are looking to take first place off Union with a win on the road. In terms of formation, Red Bulls like to mix things up from game to game and will try to play the formation they view as the best way to get the win in a specific match. They have a very versatile side that can fill a number of roles and it allows tactical freedom, which is a difficult thing to achieve and a difficult thing to prepare for.
In terms of style of play, New York and Philly couldn’t be anymore similar to each other than they currently are. Both are averaging very low possession-percentage in their games so far, 43.9% for New York and 38.4% for Philly, they both have only conceded 8 goals this season and New York Red Bulls have one more goal than Philly this season with 16. The one difference between the two sides is the fact that NYRB does not shy away from shooting but needs to find a more quality over quantity style when it comes to their shooting, as it’s been pretty poor this season.
Troubles Upfront for Union
Heading into the season, on the back of the signings of Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza, the expectations of Philly and their forwards were at an all-time high. It started well with Burke contributing some early goals, but since then it’s pretty clear the depth behind Carranza and Uhre isn’t what Union will want.
Uhre and Carranza are the clear top two strikers at the club and the pairing that Philly will want to roll with heading into the future but different issues have stopped them from playing a stretch of games with each other and that’s where Burke and Santos need to step up. Unfortunately for Union, that is not what’s happening and it’s really harming the team and their chances at making a really good challenge for the MLS Cup.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the course of the season, but right now, Philly has an issue with their striker depth and it may be fatal for their MLS Cup chances.
NYRB Stars to Watch
This was a tough one for me, one of the players was a standout choice and that’s attacking midfielder Lewis Morgan but the other was tough because I wanted to go with Patryk Klimala but he hasn’t been in the squad for the past two games so I’m going to opt for the safer option of defender Aaron Long.
Aaron Long has been a great, consistent performer for NYRB throughout the season, both defensively and offensively. Playing either CB in a back 4 or a wide CB in a back 3/5, Long has been a huge contributor for NYRB on both sides of the field, with two goals and two big chances created so far this season. Long has been crucial to NYRB recently and will look to add another great performance against Philly.
Lewis Morgan has been outstanding for NYRB this season and has been one of the best performers in the entire league so far. With four goals and an assist to his name, Morgan consistently produces going forward and is a key element to how NYRB usually likes to break on the counterattack, quickly and efficiently. Morgan also puts a very good shift in defensively and has some of the highest defensive numbers on the team, despite being an attacking midfielder. If Philly wants to win this game, they need to shut out Morgan’s influence.
Philly’s USOC Situation
I know this doesn’t have much to do with the game against NYRB but it’s been a huge discussion on Twitter between fans and I think it’s one that needs to be touched on. I’ve already discussed my feelings behind the whole “Union didn’t take the USOC seriously and that sucks” debate and I’ll leave a link to that Twitter thread below but I’ll quickly summarise it here for people too.
Philly has never really been in the position they currently find themselves in, where they have the squad and coaching staff to really push on this year and win the MLS Cup. Basically, cup competitions for title contenders are always the same, age-old dilemma on whether to rotate the squad or play a strong squad and make a cup run.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but at the end of the day, Curtin and Union made the decision they thought was the right one that would set them up in the best position to win the biggest trophy of them all, the MLS Cup.
This game is going to be one that is closely watched by a lot of teams and their fans. It involves two of the best sides in the league and will directly influence, come the end of the season, where teams finish heading into the postseason.
The easiest thing to predict would be an NYRB win given the fact that Philly has struggled in their past few games, but I actually think Philly will come out of this one as victors, and this will be a season-defining moment for them. I’ll go 3-1 Union, Carranza with 2, Gazdag with one, and Morgan adding one for the visitors.
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Mandatory Credit: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire