What we know and what we don't: The Philadelphia Union

Mike Stobe

In which we preview the first of two week 19 matches.

Just in case anyone hasn't been paying attention, it had been a really long time since the New York Red Bulls actually won a game at home.  Before last Saturday's win against the Columbus Crew, the Red Bulls were winless at RBA since April 23rd when they handed the Houston Dynamo a 4-0 thrashing.   The Red Bulls snagged one of their only other home wins just a week before, beating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the two Eastern Conference "rivals" first meeting of the season.  This evening, they meet for the second time in 2014, in a match that sees both sides desperate for points.  The Union will need three points to climb back into the playoff picture and the Red Bulls need three points to stay inside said picture.

Here's what we know:

  • Angry Titi is angry....and very, very dangerous
One of the main rules within MLS is as follows: Don't make Thierry Henry angry.   This rule applies to every club within MLS, and that includes the New York Red Bulls.   New York's young defense, specifically Matt Miazga, gave up the lead against the Crew last weekend due to simple mistakes.  The type of mistakes you'd expect a back line composed mostly of rookie defenders to make.   Fortunately, Thierry Henry doesn't expect mistakes from anyone, and if you make them in his presence, he's going to let you know.   The captain quickly scored another to reclaim the lead, berated his entire team and then laid down one of the best performances of the season.   Now he's turning his attention to Philadelphia.   Through out the DP's tenure with the Red Bulls, he's taken delight in completely dismantling the Union and their supporters.   A match away at PPL Park couldn't have come at a better time.  If the Sons of Ben were smart, they'd scrape together a quick note of apology in order to get in Titi's good graces before the match starts.
  • RBNY is slowly climbing back to full health.
Tim Cahill hasn't had the greatest start to the season, but can you blame him?   He started the year with nothing but Australia and the World Cup on his mind, but now that distraction is over.  His reinsertion into the lineup has produced immediate results by adding another level of determination to the Red Bulls' attack.   Not only does the RBNY midfield benefit from Cahill's return, but Dax McCarty is also back from injury.   The sturdy destroyer came into last Saturday's match and brought a better organization to the defense by helping to shore up the back line.   Unfortunately, Peguy Luyindula will not be available due to a "personal issue" or "toe injury" depending on who you ask, but New york should be more than capable to pull out a win without the creative midfielder.
  • Philadelphia is struggling.
Much like the Red Bulls, the Union are having trouble preventing teams from scoring against them.   They've allowed five goals in their last three games and have earned themselves a goal differential of -3.   They are just outside of current playoff contention with nineteen points from nineteen games played.   That means they are averaging just one point a game.   They're coach, John Hackworth was finally shown the door a few weeks ago and replaced with interim head coach, Jim Curtain.   Hackworth may have been taking the side nowhere fast, but it's never unusual for a team to struggle when management changes midseason.   If the Red Bulls are able to play their game, they should be able to take advantage of the Union's bad luck.

Here's what we don't know:

  • Will this be a repeat of New York's last visit to PPL Park?
The last time the Red Bulls traveled to Philadelphia, things didn't go so hot.*  The team completely imploded while Connor Casey had a field day.  Lloyd Sam earned himself a red card (the only time you'll see him not smiling), which put New York a man down for most of the match and Heath Pearce essentially moved about the pitch at a light jog due to a knee injury, allowing Philadelphia's attack chance after chance.   Will this time around be any different?   PPL is never an easy place to grab points, but you have to like New York's chances.   Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry have been one of the hottest strike partnerships in the league, Sam [hopefully] isn't stupid enough to get another red and Pearce is no longer with the team.  Now it's just up to the Baby Bulls to deal with Casey, who makes scoring on New York a habit.

  • Is the Convey experiment over?  Please?
Head coach Mike Petke didn't have many choices when it came to his midfield while Dax McCarty was out injured.  For that reason, he'd often put Eric Alexander in the middle of the field while Bobby Convey played on the left.   This presented two problems.   The first being Alexander isn't very good in the middle and the second being Convey isn't very good anywhere on the pitch.   The former US international hasn't exactly been terrible...he just hasn't been visible.  Last week was his chance to really lock down a spot on this team and he failed to contribute.  As soon as McCarty entered the game against Columbus and Alexander shifted left, the results were immediate.  If Petke wants the three points, it's probably time to put the Convey experiment on the same shelf as the Eckersley experiment, far far away from the starting eleven.

*For those of you wondering why there was an outline of a tiny football field on the Union's pitch, evidently PPL Park was being shared with the Philadelphia Passion, a franchise in the Legends Football League (better known as the "Lingerie League")......yeah, I don't get it either.

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