The New York Red Bulls (0-2-1) return home to Red Bull Arena still on their opening season winless streak, looking for a win against the Philadelphia Union (2-1-0). New York has owned the Union, winning 5 of the 7 meetings between the clubs, including the last four matches and never losing inside Red Bull Arena. New York ahs held Philly scoreless for 224 minutes. The Red Bulls are coming off a 1-0 loss on the turf in Montreal while the Union, idle in MLS play, beat Pumas 1-0 in a friendly at PPL Park last weekend.
Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke will once again be forced to trot out a different starting lineup then the previous match, especially along the backline. With the suspension of Brandon Barklage, expect Kosuke Kimura to slot in at right back. Kimura was probably the best along the backline last weekend. Olave did not travel to Montreal as a precaution but trained this week. Who he partners with remains a mystery. Markus Holgersson had a great game against DC United but was cut to shreds in Montreal. If Pearce slots next to Olave, with Connor Lade out with injury, could Roy Miller see the field of RBA for the first time this season? With Petke experimenting with the backline still, it is a possibility. Miller is coming off of international duty with Costa Rica where he had an awful game against the USMNT in the SnowClasico in Denver. Miller missed out on Costa Rica’s match this past Tuesday after yellow card accumulation. Besides Kimura and Olave, Luis Robles is the only certain starter for NY against Philly. The Red Bulls did sign league veteran Kevin Hartman but don’t expect him to see the field this quickly. Hartman’s fitness, specifically his arm strength built from shot stopping, is not match ready yet.
On the offensive side the ball, there are more questions then answers for NY. The main question: who will finally finish a chance for the Red Bulls. To figure out the answer, you have to figure out who will even play for NY as the injury bug is once again running rampant through camp. Thierry Henry is questionable but Henry has been quoted as saying he still feels pain whenever he turns or shoots the ball. If you have been living under a rock for the past decade or so, those are two main parts of Henry’s game. His strike partner through the first three games, Fabian Espindola, is also questionable after pulling up lame with a hamstring injury in practice on Tuesday. It’s a safe bet that Peguy Luyindula, who almost went the full 90 against Montreal, will once again start for NY up top. NY traded Andre Akpan from the Colorado on Thursday and if both Espindola and Henry are not fit, he could get the start. Another option would be to have Tim Cahill up top but Cahill returns from international duty with Australia and could be a bit jet lagged. Petke said on Thursday that a decision on Cahill would come o Friday after he had a training session under his belt. Last season, the majority of the goals against Philly came from players no longer with the Red Bulls. Kenny Cooper had five and Joel Lindpere tallied a goal as well. Holgersson and Henry also both scored a goal for NY. Philly’s central defensive pairing of Omobi Okugo and former Metro Jeff Parke has showed well against the likes of Colorado and New England but NY boasts an attack that should be much more dangerous than the Rapids and Revolution.
Last week, Peguy Luyindula saw a lot of chances on net but just couldn’t connect. Not surprising for a guy who had not played a competitive match in almost two years. At home, where his former teammate Juninho will see more of the ball, Luyindula could see more chances on net. Hopefully he can find his old form with Juninho behind him and put a few goals away. Zac MacMath is the weakness the Red bulls need to attack. Any set piece opportunity NY has should be a golden opportunity for Juninho to put a ball on frame and test the shaky Philly keeper. On corners, Tim Cahill just needs to keep finding that ball and attacking it. You can’t be that unlucky to have every attempt of yours saved off the goal line.
As for this Philly team, they are a playing well together and consistently. Coach John Hackworth did not change his side from the wins in Colorado to New England. Jack McInerny is the player the Red Bulls will need to keep serious tabs on. McInerny likes to find space with and without the ball in the opposing 18 and is very dangerous with that space. The key to shutting down McInerny will be to close down the passing lanes to him. If NY can replicate their high pressure against DC, Philly won’t be able to capitalize on McInerny’s movement. Some extra defensive responsibilities will come to the midfield with Juninho in there. While the 38-year-old Brazilian is not afraid to defend, he is a bit slow once a player gets around him and Philly has a strong young core of players who can do that.
Any which way you try and spin it, two points out of twelve is not a good start to the season. Mike Petke does not believe the Red Bulls are in a dire situation or a must win game on the 5th match day of the season. While it is not a must win, the Red Bulls do need to start accumulating points or they run the risk of letting the rest of the Eastern Conference slip away. Many fans want to point to last years MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy and their slow start. I remind them that this is the New York Red Bulls, not the LA Galaxy. New York hosts Philly at 3:30pm est on NBC Sports.