The Philadelphia Union travels to North Jersey on Sunday to take on the New York Red Bulls in a match that could clinch a home playoff match for our boys in blue.
They are the team you love to hate, so any match against NYRB is a big deal. But there is plenty of added significance to this one. A win would guarantee a home playoff match, and at the very least would keep pace with first place New York City FC (who are visiting FC Dallas on Sunday).
The Union had spent a good portion of the season on top the Eastern Conference Table, but a draw against a Los Angeles FC last week, combined with New York City FC winning their games-in-hand have the Union in second place. They trail NYCFC by five points going into the weekend.
But its not just NYCFC the Union have to worry about. The race for top place in the Eastern Conference has boiled down to a three team race, with Atlanta United right in the thick of it. Atlanta is just one point behind the Union. All three teams have four matches remaining in the regular season. Atlanta United are at home against San Jose on Saturday afternoon, so its possible the Union will come into Red Bull Arena in third place.
This match is the first of a grueling three match road swing, with NYRB on Sunday, a cross country trip to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes on Wednesday night and then a visit to Columbus the following Sunday. Much has been made in the media over the fact that the Union will not be chartering any flights with this road swing, but that is not a factor for this week’s match at least.
NYRB is currently sitting in sixth place in the conference. They are seven points above the playoff red line, so they are good shape to at least make the playoffs. But they are only one point out of fourth place and the home playoff match that comes with that, so they have some motivation. But its not a bad time to play the Red Bulls. NYRB hasn’t been setting the world on fire with a 2-4-1 record over the last seven matches, though they did win their last match in Portland.
What has happened to NYRB? Why are they not one of the teams battling for the top spot in the table? For one thing, they have not gotten the production from their star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips that have gotten accustomed to over the past couple of seasons. It’s so bad, that BWP is not even a regular in their starting lineup any more. The guys the Union will need to watch is forward Brian White and midfielders Kaku and Daniel Royer.
The Union are healthy and at full strength. Head coach Jim Curtin has found some success recently using a 4-2-3-1 formation, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to stick with that or revert back to the 4-4-1 diamond midfield he has used for much of the season. One thing we can pretty sure of, Curtin will continue to ride the hot hand in striker Kacper Przybylko. You don’t sit a guy who has 14 goals. NYRB’s doesn’t have a great defense, and Przybylko and the rest of the Union squad should get chances to score.
There is one other thing the Union might have to battle. The stench from a nearby landfill has been wafting into Red Bull Arena lately. The stadium may literally stink, but I don’t think the Union will. The boys in blue are the better team, and while it is hard to win on the road in MLS, I believe they can pull it off here, and we’ll be getting ready for some extra soccer in Chester this fall. Prediction: Union 2 – NYRB 1.