Scouting report: What to expect from Saturday's meeting against the rival Red Bulls
These are the games supporters of Major League Soccer live for.
Philadelphia Union against the New York Red Bulls -- conference rivals, separated by a single point, fighting for playoff position on national television.
Saturday's rubber match is absolutely critical for both teams, considering just how much of a mess the Eastern Conference is right now.
There's minimal room for slip-ups with SKC, Montreal, Houston, Chicago, and New England each trying to break away from a seven team pack that stands separated by a measley nine points. It's the nature of the unbalanced schedule that turns the final weeks of the season into a collection of conference-based "six-pointers".
That's the case with Saturday's game at Red Bull Arena. You can take three points for yourself and deny a conference rival three points at the very same time.
As it stands, Philadelphia is just 3-7-0 all-time against New York. The season series is split, with each team winning on its home turf in the prior two matches.
Red Bull Attack:
Most significant are the midweek reports that identify captain Thierry Henry as 100 percent healthy for Saturday's contest. Henry missed last week's loss at Columbus in surprise fashion, pulling out with achilles soreness before making the trip to Ohio.
Additionally, the injury status of M/F Tim Cahill remains uncertain. Cahill's PCL tear on July 27th came with a 4-6 week recovery window, but it looks like he might be available on Saturday. It's hard to go by any sort of time frame, considering the fact that Cahill already ignored medical advice once this season to make an early return from injury. Notorious for playing through pain, it's a good chance we'll see him on the field at Red Bull Arena.
The return of both Henry and Cahill is important for obvious reasons. New York's two designated players have combined for 13 goals and eight assists this season.
There are a couple of new faces that Red Bull added in the transfer window. F/W Bradley Wright-Phillips is the brother of former Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. David Carney is an Australian D/M who last played for ambitious Uzbek club Bunyodkor, formerly known as Kuruvchi. Both players, however, have not yet received their P-1 visas and will likely not be in the 18 Saturday.
That leaves us with the usual suspects.
Look for Fabian Espindola to line up with Henry at the top of Mike Petke's basic 4-4-2 shape. Jonny Steele will play on the left with Eric Alexander on the right.
As far as depth, Lloyd Sam is listed as questionable with a quad strain. He had a breakout game against Kansas City and looked like a bona-fide natural wide option for the first time this season. Peguy Luyindula has seen significant minutes off the bench but just can't seem to score. He's got one penalty kick goal and two assists in 531 total minutes. Andre Akpan, Ruben Bover, and Marius Obekop have each played minimal minutes this year.
Red Bull Defense:
One new face you might see on Saturday is D/M Ibrahim Sekagya. He's a 32-year-old former Ugandan international who most recently played for sister club Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. In recent weeks, he's been paired with Dax McCarty in the center of the midfield. He's flexible, but plays naturally as a defender, should be interesting to see what happens when Cahill is again healthy.
The Red Bull backline is a bit thin right now due to injury.
The CB pairing of Markus Holgersson and Jamison Olave remains intact, but LB/CB Heath Pearce had season-ending hip surgery and won't be back on the field until 2014.
Kosuke Kimura had been sharing left back duties with Roy Miller until suffering a nasty concussion in the Red Bulls' 3-2 win in Kansas City on August 3. Should he miss this week's game, you'll probably see Miller at left back with Brandon Barklage on the right and Connor Lade providing depth on the bench.
Possible Starting XI: Robles (GK), Barklage, Holgersson, Olave, Miller, Alexander, McCarty, Sekagya, Steele, Espindola, Henry
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com