Scouting report: Taming the Red Bulls
The rival Red Bulls are in the playoffs, that much is certain.
The question is whether New York will play a first-round game on Oct. 31, or jump Chicago and D.C. United to claim a higher seed in the Eastern Conference.
Hans Backe's star-studded team is currently fourth in the conference, sitting on 54 points and a 15-9-9 record. The Red Bulls are coming off a scoreless home draw with Kansas City, which was preceded by a 2-0 home loss to the Fire. Much like 2011, Backe's team mixes flashes of brilliance with head-scratching inconsistency.
Philadelphia is 2-5-0 all-time against New York. The Red Bulls won both prior meetings this season.
Download: Union-Red Bulls roster card
Red Bull Attack
Believe it or not, New York has failed to score in the month of October. The Red Bulls played two home games this month, but didn't get on the scoresheet against Chicago or Sporting Kansas City.
In the scoreless draw with Sporting, New York's offense was active and involved on the night, but Jimmy Nielsen made some spectacular saves to keep the game level. The final score wasn't exactly indicative of how the match played out.
Kenny Cooper remains the leading scorer for New York, with 16 goals this year. He's scored three goals against the Union in 2012 alone.
Superstar Thierry Henry is second on the team with 14 goals, and also leads the club with 12 assists. He's the most dangerous scorer in the league when he decides to stay up top, instead of drifting back into the midfield.
Former Union striker Sebastien Le Toux is currently sitting on the New York bench. He's only scored one goal in 13 appearances since joining the club in July. Le Toux did not play in the scoreless draw with Kansas City.
This will be the first time the Union have seen newcomer Tim Cahill. The designated player is a box-to-box midfielder with a great nose for goal. He was a star at Everton and Millwall before jumping ship to New York just prior to the All-Star Game.
And you've got to give a lot of credit to Joel Lindpere, who happens to be the longest tenured Red Bull. The Estonian international is a hard worker in the midfield, a consistent "glue guy" on a team full of stars.
Red Bull Defense
It's all about Dax McCarty in the defensive midfield role.
New York plays their best when McCarty sits deep, just ahead of the backline. Backe has tinkered plenty since taking over at New York, sometimes using Rafa Marquez or Teemu Tainio in this role, and sometimes using McCarty wide. But the Red Bull ground game is much more consistent with McCarty pulling the strings.
There's no lack of talent with New York's defense, but there seems to always be let downs in this department.
Against Sporting, Backe used Marquez and Markus Holgersson as his center back pairing, with Heath Pearce at left back and Connor Lade at right back.
Wilman Conde has played at both in the center and at left fullback this season. Tyler Ruthven and Stephen Keel provide more depth on the backline, but it always seems like Backe is shuffling players in and out of the gameday 18.
That same shuffle pertains to the goalkeepers. Luis Robles, a midseason signing, is now the starter. Ryan Meara had the No. 1 spot locked up early in the season. Bill Gaudette took over when Meara went down injured, then Robles won the starting job.
Philadelphia is 2-1-0 against New York at PPL Park. The Union earned their first-ever victory over the Red Bulls in the 2010 season finale. It was a 2-1 victory with goals from Fred and Michael Orozco Fiscal. The 2011 Union defeated New York 1-0 on a second-half Roger Torres strike.
New York is 5-8-5 on the road this season in all competitions. The Red Bulls have three draws in their last three road games, dating back to Aug. 26.
Winger Lloyd Sam is out for the season with a knee injury. The mid-season signing did not appear against the Union this season. Right back Brandon Barklage is also out for Saturday's game.
Contact Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com. Follow Kevin on Twitter @PhilUnionKevinK