Saturday's game at the New York Red Bulls looms large for the Philadelphia Union. Winners of three straight for the first time in franchise history, the club has also won four of their last five games. While their defense has remained strong under Interim Manager John Hackworth, it's the offense that has come to life. Since the managerial change, the club has scored two or more goals in four of six contests. Prior to that, they had scored two goals or more on only one occasion in 12 games. That was versus New York in a 3-2 loss back in May.
They'll need some of that offensive spark against a New York Red Bulls side that looks like a genuine contender for at least the Eastern Conference title, if not MLS Cup. Despite all kinds of injuries Hans Backe's club is second to Sporting Kansas City in the East, trailing the leaders by a single point. New York is coming off of a 1-0 home win vs Chicago, as Thierry Henry (one of the injured) scored his first goal in 12 games this past Wednesday.
Now if they can only get Kenny Cooper going again, look out. Cooper has 11 goals this season, but none in his last seven. Part of Cooper's early success came when he and Henry were on the field together. When you play with Henry, the other team has to give you more space since much of their concentration is on the French star. In the last game, Cooper came off the bench as his spot in the starting lineup was taken up by ex-Union striker Sebastien Le Toux.
We'll see who starts on Saturday, but the guess would be—if it's a 4-4-2— that Le Toux and Henry start up top. If Backe decides to play with a 3-front, then we might see Le Toux, Cooper, and Henry all together. Whatever the case, a lot of the pressure again falls on the steady Brian Carroll. It will be his job to disrupt balls that are on their way to New York's skilled attacking players.
The Union are doing better on the road these days, losing 2-1 in a controversial finish (Ching penalty kick) to the Dynamo, then beating LA by that same score just a few days later. This will be their first road game since that win over the Galaxy.
Things won't be easy in New York, as the team is undefeated this season at Red Bull Arena. Along with Houston, they are the only two teams yet to lose on their home field.
Following this game, it's the much anticipated 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star game vs Chelsea at PPL Park, and a few days to think about the upcoming schedule mostly versus Eastern Conference teams.
After the All-Star break, five of the next six games are versus conference foes, with four of them at PPL Park. There's still time to get into the playoff chase. Saturday's intensity should reflect that as the club knows there is still a lot of this season left to play for.
Hoping you will enjoy the game at Red Bull Arena either in person or on ESPN, and continue to enjoy all of the atmosphere surrounding the All-Star game at PPL Park. It's truly a feather in the organization's cap to be selected as an All-Star host in only their third season.
I'll be off for the next two weeks, calling Olympic soccer games for NBC. Back at it when the Chicago Fire come to PPL Park on August 12th.