Once again the New York Red Bulls have a big match up next on their calendar. The upcoming game against a resurgent Philadelphia Union - seemingly instantly transformed since Earnie Stewart took over as Sporting Director - must be won or RBNY's 2016 US Open Cup will be done.
The fifth round USOC match-up presents a big task for this Red Bulls side, currently in the midst of a four-game road swing that has yielded one league point from two games to date. The Cup has a slightly different dynamic: Philly is the team that bounced RBNY out of USOC last season. Perhaps the Red Bulls have revenge as motivation for this match?
"No, I don't think so. You want to win the game, I think you play against these teams in the East so much that your not looking for revenge, your just looking to beat them." said Dax McCarty, "Certainly, they knocked us out last year and that was a bitter pill to swallow and it went down to penalties. Anything can happen when those games go to penalties."
Last year's match was complicated by RBNY's decision to participate in the Guiness International Champions Cup. It forced a difficult decision: the calendar got crowded and the Red Bulls hoped to move the USOC game to allow some space around the ICC friendly against (at the time) defending Premier League Champions Chelsea.
Philly dug its heels in, threatened to force RBNY give up its hosting rights and move the match to PPL Park, and so the match was played on the afternoon of July 21st at Red Bull Arena, with the Chelsea game following the next day.
This year, though the schedule is crowded, there are no such calendar headaches. Instead, the big issues is simply that the Union look like a much more challenging opponent this season. Jesse Marsch is well aware that this is not the same Philadelphia Union that habitually made poor roster decisions and fired coach after coach for most of its existence. Now Jim Curtin seems secure as head coach and the team appears to be responding positively to a more stable outlook from the sidelines. The Union is top of the Eastern Conference in MLS at the moment, despite a couple of recent losses.
"This is a good Philly team, we all know that. They are very tough to beat at home so it will be a big challenge," said Marsch. "I think what's more important is that it's not the same team in the past, We need to show that we need to perform on the road and get results. It's a hard time for us right now, we are in the middle of a four-game road streak. If we don't get it together now we will be out of the Open Cup."
Roland Alberg has been a big help to the Union. He has looked strong and is finding the back of the net. Marsch knows he is a danger man for Philly: "He can score with his left, with his right, he is so dangerous for them we need to make sure he doesn't get the ball."
The match will close out RBNY's June. The Red Bulls will hope it does not also close out their 2016 Open Cup campaign.