So much of the Union's hopes in the playoffs ride on this man, Borek Dockal. (Photo: Frank Fimmano)

So much of the Union's hopes in the playoffs ride on this man, Borek Dockal. (Photo: Frank Fimmano)

Match Preview: Union versus New York Red Bulls, Sunday, October 21st, 3 PM

The Union face the rival Red Bulls on Sunday afternoon with much on the line for both teams.

The second-place New York Red Bulls face the fourth-place Union in Chester on Sunday with much on the line. Both teams are familiar with the other; they fought to a scoreless draw in Harrison in late May, then the Union eliminated the Red Bulls from Open Cup play in mid-June, 2-1. I expect a fierce, physical match, as this is a rivalry and both teams still have much to gain.. or lose.

Playoff race implications:

Here’s the Eastern Conference table right now.

MLS Eastern Conference table as of October 19th

The Union can clinch fourth place and a home playoff match if:

  • They win and Columbus ties or loses
  • They draw and Columbus loses.

The boys in blue also have an outside chance at third place. To get that:

  • The Union must gain three more points than NYCFC over the last two matches.

So if NYCFC gains more points than the U this weekend, the U cannot gain third place, even with a win against NYCFC next week.

The U could also slip to fifth or sixth. Even though that would be the most Union thing possible to do at this juncture, let’s stay on the positive and move along.

There’s nothing less on the line for visiting New York, who is a single point behind Atlanta for the Supporters’ Shield and the number one seed in the playoffs. A loss to the Union coupled with an Atlanta win would doom the Red Bulls to the second seed and a lost trophy, and certain disappointment.

Injuries:

For the Union, defenders Josh Yaro (right adductor sprain) and Matt Real (left knee sprain) are both questionable. (Update: Real started in the Bethlehem Steel playoff match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night and will obviously not be available for selection).

For the Red Bulls, Florian Valot, Kyle Duncan, Vincent Bezecourt, Tommy Redding, and Ben Mines are all done for the season. Midfielder Tyler Adams (back injury) is probable.

Keys to success:

  • Remember the Red Bulls match last year when Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made ten saves to seal a scoreless draw? This can’t be like that. The Union back line have to mark well and limit opportunity for the Red Bulls and the ever-dangerous Bradley Wright-Phillips. They can’t allow balls over the top to beat them, or this is going to be a long game.
  • The Union need to supply Cory Burke. Borek Dockal is back from his world-beating stint as the number 10 for the Czech Republic national team and is as sharp as ever. A match in which Dockal is involved and can link with Burke will be a match the Union take points from. Limited service to Burke will also mean it will be a long game. To do this, they need to…
  • Feed Borek Dockal. Give it to him anywhere on the field. He has amazing vision, great touch, the ability to maneuver in tight spaces. You cannot go wrong with giving him the ball.
  • This is going to be a physical match. Both teams are going to be fighting for every 50-50 ball a little harder, going shoulder to shoulder a little harder. The boys in blue need to keep their emotions in check while playing tough. Being at home should help, but that’s not enough.

Prediction:

This is a measuring stick match. Who the Union were early in the year are not who they are now. Can the Union give the Red Bulls more than they can handle in Chester? I think they split the points, much to their collective chagrin.

Union 1, Red Bulls 1