New York Red Bulls don’t like playing Philadelphia Union, but they don’t want you to know it. For Red Bulls, a branded rebirth of the New York MetroStars, there is a strong tug of ego that leads to an on-field overcompensation. In order to prove that they do not view the Union as a threat, the club from New Jersey must adopt an aloofness that doesn’t serve them well when facing Philly. After these clubs drew in May, with the Union failing to convert a breakaway and a penalty, the message from the Red Bulls camp was to shrug it off as just a personal unwillingness to match the energy with which the Union entered the match. Philly saw it as a rivalry game, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ryan Meara both said, careful to delineate how the Union viewed the match from how Red Bulls saw it.
The subtext here is a belief within Red Bulls that if they cared enough, they could wipe out the Union without a second thought. This October 21 match will be a test of that.
A lot on the line
New York swept Atlanta United this season, but they trail the MLS newcomers in the Supporters’ Shield standings by a point. As the end of the season approaches, any dropped points could mean the end of Red Bulls’ challenge to Atlanta’s overall superiority. They want three points in Philly.
For the Union, a late season surge has rocketed them up the Eastern Conference standings, and now they can lock in a third place finish by nabbing six points from the two New York clubs. Third place means a home match and, with a win in the knockout round, a showdown with this very same Red Bulls club in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This fits the Union well because they are one of the few teams in the league that seems unafraid of New York’s suffocating defensive system. Atlanta’s high priced talent gave the Union issues this year, but faced with a clash of philosophies against New York, Philly has responded well.
Tweaking the approach?
These clubs are 2-2-2 in all competitions over the past two years, and they have played fairly even games. One huge reason to check out this match is to see if Red Bulls are willing to make any adjustments after the Union feinted and juked their way to an Open Cup win in June. In that match, Philly used a tactic called cojones to take on the initial pressure from New York and then look to move the ball out of trouble. Ale Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin led the charge, but all over the pitch the Union showed unshakeable confidence on the ball and that gave them the edge over Red Bulls’ unrelenting defense.
Masters of the little things
A final reason to tune in on Sunday is to watch two dominant central midfielders ply their craft. Ale Bedoya has a long and distinguished career with the US National Team as a jack of all trades. The Union captain uses his intelligence and a large catalog of above-average skills to give his teammates a platform on which to perform showier moves.
Similarly, Tyler Adams uses a great soccer brain and his well-above-average motor to give Kaku, Daniel Royer, and Bradley Wright-Phillips the chances they require to swiftly turn a game in Red Bulls’ favor. Both Adams and Bedoya have a cerebral approach to the game that allows them to both understand their own abilities and figure out how best to apply those abilities to foment success in each match. When they go head to head, it’s always fun.
Check out all the action from Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday, October 21 at 3PM ET.