After a home draw with Houston that was both disappointing and promising, the New York Red Bulls head down to beautiful Chester, PA this Saturday, looking to take over top spot in the Eastern Conference and avenge their 2-1 defeat against the Philadelphia Union late last season.
With a week of training since his whirlwind arrival and debut for New York, Dwayne De Rosario should make his first start for the club on Saturday, and will hopefully bring the same dynamism and attacking thrust that he did in the second half against Houston. On the injury front, Chris Albright remains the only long-term absentee, while Greg Sutton is still out after suffering a concussion in training before the Columbus game. Sacir Hot returns to the team after his stint with the US U-20s, and the rest of the team is fit for the trip down I-95.
As for the Union, they've enjoyed a much more successful start to this season than they did last year, with 1-0 wins against Houston and Vancouver before they fell by the same scoreline to the LA Galaxy last week. They've improved significantly at the back (they already have twice as many clean sheets as in all of last season), although the two sides they have beaten don't look like Supporters' Shield contenders.
More importantly for the game this weekend, Philly fell to DC United on penalties on Wednesday even though Piotr Nowak elected to play most of his starters, while DC's team was largely second-choice. This should give the Red Bulls a distinct advantage as they'll be far fresher physically and more confident.
The Red Bulls should also have a bit of a chip on their shoulder coming into this game after losing 2-1 to Filthadelphia (see how things change below the jump?) last October. That first half was probably the most abject display by RBNY last season: they weren't just beaten by quality or a few slices of luck, the Union clearly wanted the three points more than the Red Bulls even though Philly's season was effectively over and New York still had a chance to win the Supporters' Shield. While the Red Bulls had some chances to tie the game up in the closing stages, New York's traveling fans were not treated to the sight of their side stealing a point at the home of a new rival.
Hopefully that experience was in the minds of the Red Bulls' players this week as they prepared for this game. There will be around five hundred RBNY fans making the trip down to PPL Park, and they deserve a far better performance and result than last year.
While this is not a full-fledged rivalry yet (beating DC is still far more important for most Red Bulls fans), there has been a bit of vitriol going back and forth this week -- though almost all of the humor came from the New York side. The #HatePhillyWeek tweets have been particularly funny, including this gem from the hilarious @NotHansBacke, and this one by The Viper's Nest's Homebrew Tim.
If you're looking for some more Red Bulls chat before the game, check out Episode 20 of Talking Bull. Matt and I discuss the Columbus and Houston games, the De Rosario trade, some attendance business, and there's a Philly preview segment with Matt and Scott Kessler of SB Nation's The Brotherly Game.
Tonight's game is on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN3.com, with kickoff at 7:00 PM. For those of you not making the trip to Philly (especially the Rangers fans who don't want to watch Carolina dismantle the Lightning) we'll have a game thread here at Once A Metro. Here's to a win over Filthadelphia and (finally) an offensive explosion by the Red Bulls.