Getty Images

Preview: Union vs Red Bulls

Philadelphia Union (7-14-7) will conclude their home schedule Saturday with one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of the season, welcoming the Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls (14-8-6) to PPL Park. A continuation of the newly-formed I-95 rivalry won’t offer Philadelphia a chance to advance to the MLS Cup playoffs, but there will be plenty of pride at stake in front of a second straight sold-out crowd. The Union will try to avoid being swept by RBNY, who edged the expansion side 2-1 on April 24 in league play, before winning by the same score three days later in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match.

The Red Bulls can clinch the East with a victory (also needing a loss or draw from Columbus in Toronto), coming into the match with a five-game unbeaten streak. Most recently, New York played to a scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena. The Union are coming off a hard-fought 1-0 loss to the league-leading LA Galaxy, in which an Edson Buddle header served as the game-winner for LA despite being outplayed in all facets of the contest according to Union manager Peter Nowak.

WATCH: Knighton, Williams, Zimmerman preview Saturday's match

The Union are winless in the last three matches, looking to end their inaugural season on a high. The club’s first year has been marked with a number of strong performances that could’ve translated into better results, a trend they will attempt to reverse in the season’s final two matches and certainly in 2011 as well. A young core provides plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the offseason, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Nowak experiment a bit down the stretch to help with the decision-making process leading into a two-team expansion draft on November 24.

Philadelphia’s big offensive guns will be in action Saturday, with Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga stating their respective cases for year-end awards. Le Toux would likely be a near lock for the MVP award if the Union were playoff-bound, but he still deserves prime consideration for a historic season. Mwanga won’t be penalized in Rookie of the Year voting, and while his statistics dictate that he should be the frontrunner, a strong finish would undoubtedly help solidify his case.

Two of New York’s biggest stars are uncertain for the match, with Thierry Henry picking up a knock in training this week and Rafael Márquez recovering from playing 90 minutes on international duty with Mexico. While their absences would be missed, New York got off to a fast start this year without them. Anchored up top by Juan Pablo Ángel, who has recently indicated that he won’t be back in New York next season, and Rookie of the Year candidate Tim Ream in the back, the Red Bulls are a balanced side with quality from top to bottom. Bouna Coundoul has been strong between the pipes with a 1.04 GAA, recent acquisition midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy has assimilated seamlessly, Dane Richards has experienced a resurgence of form lately, and Joel Lindpere has been a rock all season both as a holding midfielder and along the left flank.

The Union will need to be sharp to win one last time as an expansion team in front of their home fans, but Philadelphia have yet to be outplayed at home this season despite dropping three results. With an electric atmosphere in store, expect a battle at PPL Park. 

Matchups to Watch:

Juan Pablo Ángel vs. Danny Califf

Ángel’s 2010 campaign has gone under the radar with the high-profile additions of Henry and Márquez, but the Colombian has already bested his 2009 output with 13 goals and three assists. Ángel has been MLS’s most prolific scorer while he’s been in the league with 58 goals in less than four full seasons in New York, and he’ll be looking to finish strong to drive demand ever higher for his future services. A clinical finisher with both his feet and head from a variety of angles, the Union would be smart not to lose sight of the 34-year-old.

Califf will be chiefly responsible for keeping track of Ángel, particularly in the penalty area. The Union’s captain has engineered a significant defensive turnaround over the course of the season, with really only one rough defensive performance since early in the season (a 4-1 loss in Colorado). After limiting the star-studded Galaxy to one goal, containing New York’s equally powerful attack -- at least on paper, as RBNY have only scored once in the last 210 minutes -- would serve as further proof that Philadelphia’s backline is in good shape heading into 2011.

Danny Mwanga vs Tim Ream

A battle of two of the top Rookie of the Year candidates, Mwanga and Ream will see a lot of each other on the field Saturday. The Red Bulls’ 23-year-old rookie has played every available minute in league play for his side, stabilizing a defensive unit that was tied for second worst in the league last year. With good size at 6-1, the St. Louis University product will have his hands full with the faster Mwanga, but his positioning and technical ability out of the back are impressive, especially considering his level of professional experience. Mwanga’s return to full health following a strained left shoulder injury will help his chances of breaking a nine-match goal scoring drought, not to mention his RotY bid. For those who are still torn between the two for the year-end award, look no further than PPL Park on Saturday.

NOTE: New and gently used coats will be collected at PPL Park during Philadelphia Union's home matches in October to help keep Chester residents warm this winter. All donations are greatly appreciated. 

More Analysis

Three Reasons to Look Forward to the Home Finale

Califf: Union to be Stiff Test for NY

Mapp Happy with PHI, Eager to Beat NY

Union to Play Spoiler vs. I-95 Rival

Four Things to Watch for PHI-NY

Le Toux Excited to Play Against Henry

PBPP: Next Opponent Might be MLS Cup Favorite

Last Meeting Highlights

New York 2, Philadelphia 1

Last Match Highlights

LA 1, Philadelphia 0

New York 0, Real Salt Lake 0

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

PROBABLE: DF Juan Diego Gonzalez (L groin strain); GK Brad Knighton (L shoulder sprain)

LA Galaxy Injury Report

OUT: MF Luke Sassano (R ankle surgery); MF Brian Nielsen (R knee strain); MF Irving Garcia (hernia surgery); DF Carey Talley (L hamstring strain)

QUESTIONABLE: DF Mike Petke (R calf strain); FW Thierry Henry (L knee strain)

Match Information

Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time: 6:00pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)

Television: Fox Soccer Channel/ Fox Sports en Español

Talent: Brian Dunseth (Play-by-Play), Christopher Sullivan (Color Analyst), Steve Bell (Sideline), Todd Grisham (Host)

Referee: Paul Ward. SAR (bench): Philippe Briere; JAR (opposite): Cameron Blair; 4th: Terry Vaughn