UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls can take a big step towards winning the Eastern Conference on Saturday by earning three points when they hit the road to play Philadelphia.
Four things to watch in Saturday’s match:
1. Red Bulls Getting Offensive – Over the past two games, the Red Bulls have scored just one goal, in a 1-0 win over Kansas City. That they won despite being outplayed just underscores their recent offensive woes. Last weekend against Real Salt Lake, New York held some quality possession but failed to create chances in the scoreless draw.
Head coach Hans Backe thinks that part of the solution is the return of Dane Richards, who played in the win over Kansas City but was away on national-team duty for the Red Bulls last match.
“I don’t think we need to do anything, in a way,” Backe said. “We just need to get Dane’s pace back.”
2. Not Underestimating Philly – The Union will miss the playoffs in their inaugural year, perhaps no surprise, but New York aren’t going to underestimate the expansion side. Backe heaped praise on the team, saying this year was just part of Philadelphia's natural growing pains.
Needing the three points to help solidify their position atop the conference to get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs is definitely on the mind of the Red Bulls.
“We really need to win this game,” added Richards.
3. Ángel To Soar – On Thursday, Juan Pablo Angel told the media that amid speculation and his own statements hinting at the fact, “I know I won’t be a part of this team next year, for a fact.”
Let the speculation begin on the big-name signing – most likely a central midfielder – heading to New York next year. But in the here and now, Ángel affirmed his commitment to the club and wanting to “walk out of here with a MLS championship.”
It’s not an issue for his teammates, with Richards not even knowing about the issue and quite frankly, not caring. “I know that he’s a player that goes out there and gives his 100 [percent],” he said.
4. Off The Field – Saturday's atmosphere at PPL Park could be one of the better ones MLS has ever seen. The New York-Philadelphia rivalry is incredibly intense in all sports, and soccer is no different. At Red Bull Arena earlier this year, the Sons of Ben had very strong numbers who made the two-hour trip north to support the Union.
On Saturday, Red Bulls fans in the Empire Supporters Club are estimating between 350 to 400 will make the trip down as they sold out their away-section allotment of tickets.
“We already seem to be rivals with them,” goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012