There’s never a dull moment when Philadelphia faces New York.
The latest edition of this I-95 rivalry is highlighted by the Red Bulls’ acquisition of former Union superstar Sebastien Le Toux. The Frenchman, still the top scorer in Philadelphia history, was traded from Vancouver to New York two weeks ago in a swap deal for long time Red Bull winger Dane Richards.
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New York got the better of Philadelphia at PPL Park back in May. Despite playing a man down for much of the game, Philadelphia controlled the bulk of possession before eventually falling 3-2.
The Union are 2-3-0 all time against New York in league play. Hans Backe’s club is currently second place in the Eastern Conference with 35 points and a 10-5-5 record.
Red Bull Attack
Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper, Sebastien Le Toux – it’s an attacking trio with deadly potential.
Henry, who recently returned from injury, scored a cracking game winner on Wednesday against Chicago. It was a master class finish that few players in the entire league can pull off. That strike moved him to 10 goals and 5 assists on the season.
Cooper has cooled off in recent weeks, but his torrid streak to begin the year was key to the Red Bulls’ fast start. Cooper remains in second place in the entire league with 11 goals this season. He also scored the game winner in that May 13th matchup at PPL Park.
Le Toux scored in his debut for the Red Bulls against Seattle last week. Philadelphia fans know the Frenchman’s strengths. He’s a high motor, hustle player with the ability to stretch defenses and create space on the field.
Backe has so far played Le Toux in his preferred advanced position. In the Chicago win, Le Toux started with Henry at the top of a basic 4-4-2 formation. In last week’s Seattle draw, Le Toux paired Cooper, while Henry was used in a second striker role in a type of 4-3-1-2 shape.
Joel Lindpere continues to play at a high level on the left side of New York’s midfield. Mehdi Ballouchy is the likely starter on the right with the departure of Richards to Vancouver.
Red Bull Defense
New York is dealing with a number of injuries in defense. First year goalkeeper Ryan Meara is questionable for Sunday with a hip issue. Recent acquisition Bill Gaudette filled in against Seattle and Chicago.
Teemu Tainio, Jan Gunnar Solli, Heath Pearce, and Rafa Marquez are all listed as out for this game. Tainio might be the closest to seeing playing time, while Marquez can’t seem to catch a break this season. Pearce will miss the All-Star Game with his injury, a hamstring issue.
That means that Dax McCarty likely remains as the starting defensive midfielder. It might be a blessing in disguise, as McCarty has played at a high level this season with Marquez mostly out of the picture.
Along the backline, look for Wilman Conde to pair Markus Holgerrson in central defense. Brandon Barklage has been surprisingly excellent at right back, while Roy Miller holds down the left back position. It’s a solid defense despite the injuries.
Backe has also been successful using rookie Connor Lade in a variety of roles this season. Lade has played both on the backline, and in the midfield.
Keys to the Game
New York is one of just two teams currently unbeaten at home this season. At 6-0-3, Backe’s team has taken 21 of 27 possible points at Red Bull Arena. Philadelphia has yet to win at Red Bull Arena in three tries.
New York continues to put together results with a fluid combination of star power, depth, and blue collar contributions. The quality of Henry is complemented by the resurgence of guys like Barklage and McCarty. New York is getting solid minutes from rookies and there are “glue” guys like Lindpere who keep the whole thing moving along.
Whenever these two teams meet, the records and the recent trends can be thrown out the window. Every game in this series has been close. In fact, every single league game between these sides has been decided by just 1 goal. Both matchups in 2011 played out to gritty 1-0 wins, one for New York and one for Philadelphia.
Expect an even contest between two teams that are playing good soccer.