Philadelphia Union (2-7-3, 9 points) at New York Red Bulls (4-1-5, 17 points)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match; When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
TV: Fox Sports 1 with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Tony Meola
Radio: None; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday
It took 93 minutes and a relentless amount of hard work. But in the end, it was a game-winning goal and three points against a team on top of the MLS table.
Back-to-back road trips with the top two teams in the Eastern Conference by points per game, a captain on yellow card suspension and a potential injury to a lineup mainstay. Just another day at the office for Jim Curtin and the Philadelphia Union, though.
However the Union will take the momentum they picked up, and deserved, from Sunday’s win against D.C. United and take it to Red Bull Arena – a place where they’ve never won – for another primetime, nationally televised game against Red Bulls on Sunday night.
“They have a good team right now, very talented, and it’s a tough place to play,” Curtin said. “It’s a nice stadium and a nice field, but until we win there we can’t say much about it. We have to go there and get a result – talk becomes cheap.”
The Union will attempt to do that without two key defensive stalwarts in Maurice Edu and potentially Ray Gaddis. Edu, the captain picked up a late yellow card against D.C. – his fifth of the season – which landed him on a one-game suspension. Gaddis – riding a 54-game consecutive MLS starting streak – rolled an ankle midway through and couldn’t finish the match.
Curtin has spoken very highly of Edu this year, particularly lately for keeping the group together. It’s also been arguably Edu’s best start to a season and he’s been contributing in all facets of the game.
“Mo will be missed – not only on the field, but off the field,” Curtin said. “He’s become a real leader in the locker room – he’s taken on a much bigger role. He has always been able to do it on the field, that’s come natural to him since he’s such a good player and athlete, but one of the hardest things is to lead in times when you’re losing and he’s been really good with that. He’s been really good with our young players, as well. It’s good to watch his maturing and his ability to keep the group together in tough times.”
As for Gaddis, the injury may not be as bad as originally feared. He tried to stay on against D.C. and fight it, but Curtin ultimately brought Fabinho on, which of course worked to the Union’s favor. Still, Gaddis has started every single Union game since Aug. 25, 2013 and his 54-game streak is in jeopardy.
“He is kind of one solid muscle so he bounces back very quickly from injury and he’s doing everything he can in his power to have himself ready,” Curtin said. “He knows it´s Red Bulls, it’s a big rival game, and he’s motivated by that. He didn’t want to come out of the game against DC, he tried to run on it for about three or four minutes, and he just came over and said ‘I can do it, but it’s not me, I’m not myself.’ The last thing I wanted to do is have it become something that instead of a week or game out, is six or seven or longer.”
Two key injuries, yes, but Curtin will have options. If there’s a silver lining in this tough stretch of injuries to start the year, the head coach has been forced to try different options and because of it, the team is starting to stumble upon depth that they may have never otherwise used.
Take Richie Marquez for example. The second-year defender was forced into his MLS debut just a few weeks ago when Michael Lahoud went down with injury. Marquez shined in the two games he played, outside of a questionable red card that forced him to miss last week’s game. Marquez, now, will be available for selection against Red Bulls and will be comfortable enough to fill in for Edu to play alongside Ethan White. The Union will also get C.J. Sapong back and available for selection.
As for the right back spot, Curtin could seamlessly move Sheanon Williams back there and insert Fabinho on the left side. Williams’ play has noticeably improved since losing the starting spot at his more-natural right position and Fabinho logged a solid half-hour against D.C., including sending in the cross that Pfeffer drilled home.
“Shea is a guy that’s very comfortable there and has done it – and for me played his best game of the year against D.C.,” Curtin said. “And Fabinho did a good job in that game – he gets the cross in the end that gets us the goal. With him, he has great moments and the biggest thing with him is not having that moment during the game where a good 89 minutes gets thrown out of the window because of a silly mistake.”
They’re fortunate to have some experience together considering that backline will have its hands full Sunday. After all, Red Bulls are anchored by the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips. He’s currently tied for seventh in the league with five goals.
But for Curtin, the concern lies in the midfield, where the Red Bulls boast newly-acquired Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam, Dax McCarty and Felipe Martins.
“Their midfielders are so comfortable on the ball and versatile, they have a way of getting forward and creating numbers advantage,” Curtin said. “Lloyd Sam’s another underrated player that’s having a great year – that can come inside, that can beat you one-on-one out wide – but they have a tendency to outnumber you in midfield which is something we were working on [Wednesday]. Dealing with that extra number – it’s not so much man-to-man as it is guys looking around and cutting off passing lanes and occasionally dealing with two guys in a smart way. With their high-press, they put their defenders on islands and ask them to make tough one on one plays.”
Of course the Union will be looking to grab their first ever win at Red Bull Arena. They’ve lost in there five years in a row, only fueling the rivalry even more.
“They don’t like us and we don’t like them,” Curtin said. “It’s Philly-New York and that’s the way you’re kind of raised in this area and that’s part of what a rivalry is.”
What do you think is a gameplan for success against Toronto FC? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.