The New York Red Bulls got out of their winless rut with a 2-0 win over Orlando City in mid-week, and now turn attention to the weeken's trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to face Philadelphia Union. Again.
Last month, this journey did not end well for RBNY. The Red Bulls took a one-goal lead into halftime of their US Open Cup match against the Union, and watched it taken from them by Ilsinho and Chris Pontius in the second half. It was a disappointing way to exit the Cup: not just because the Red Bulls had been winning the match heading into the second 45, but also because Philly dumped RBNY out of the Cup last season.
But this is a league match, three points are on the line and the Red Bulls are ready to make things right. The Union is second in the Eastern Conference but RBNY is just two points behind. But wins have not come easy for the Red Bulls on the road this year.
"I thought we played very well in the Open Cup match, but let a few plays slip way. We know Philly is better this year, right now looking at the table it's a big six pointer and it can be a big result once you get to the end of the year." said Jesse Marsch, "We need to do better on the road period, we've got to be ready at all levels."
Ilsinho was a big part of the Union's last success against RBNY. The Red Bulls do not want to see him unpick their defense again.
"I saw him play in Brazil before he moved to Shakhtar (Donetsk) He's always been a good guy playing 1v1 and he's tricky." said Felipe, " But we have a number of guys here to pick him off and don't let him do so much stuff on the ball."
The last loss hurt, but this game is a chance to put things right. "I really think we lost this ourselves honestly. We started off well, we dictated the pace of the game. We scored one goal and we started the second half not so sharp and not on alert and now we need to concentrate against this quality team."
As I have said before, this Philadelphia Union team is a departure from years past when the side was often poor and unbalanced. Former US International Earnie Stewart seemed a smart hire for a club seeking to improve dramatically on the field - but that improvement has come more quickly than all but the most optimistic Union fan can have expected. Philly is a legitimate contender to win this year's Eastern Conference as the MLS season ticks into its second half.
The Red Bulls have a serious task in front of them this Sunday. They face a good team that is playing well. And this is the first of back-to-back games against the two teams ahead of RBNY in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls can't afford to get ahead of themselves, but nor do they want to fall any further behind the leaders in the East.