The New York Red Bulls play Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday, May 6. It's a match-up between a team that hasn't been very good on the road so far in MLS 2017 and one that hasn't been very good at all since around the middle of last season. The Union is still winless in the league this year; RBNY has lost its last four road games. One of these sides will finish this game feeling a little more positive about its form.
To get a sense of the mood in the Philadelphia camp, Once A Metro asked Brotherly Game's Eugene Rupinski. Graciously, he answered them.
Once A Metro: From a distance, it seemed Earnie Stewart came in and put the Union on a very sensible path, but something would appear to have gone terribly wrong. What has gone awry, and do you have any confidence those in charge are the right people to fix it?
Eugene Rupinski, Brotherly Game: In 2016, the Union were able to draft well and jump out to a great start - remember they were atop the conference for a good part of the season. Whether it was teams underestimating a competent Union side, the Union actually being really good, or some combination of both, the Union sunk like a stone. The Union's weaknesses (no cohesive central midfield, no target striker for a team that plays a lone striker system, a defense that was prone to costly errors) were laid bare for opponents to exploit. The Union were able to be not terrible enough to get a playoff berth, and the expectation is that they'd address these deficiencies in the off-season.
The expectations were met - sort of. The Union brought in Dutch left back Giliano Wijnaldum and brought Oguchi Onyewu out of retirement to plug the defensive holes, brought in Haris Medunjanin to shore up the midfield, and brought in Jay Simpson at striker. Just because they brought players in however doesn't mean the problems were solved. Wijnaldum is stuck in Bethlehem with the USL side and Onyewu has played a couple of games but was replaced by rookie Jack Elliott. Medunjanin is a great number 8 who's playing in the 6 role, which has left the patchwork defense exposed time and again. Simpson has been relegated to a bench role behind CJ Sapong, not being the Bradley Wright-Phillips-esque find in England's lower division.
Now that's not to say Wijnaldum and/or Simpson just needed time to adjust to being in the United States or Medunjanin won't start to play more defensively, but it doesn't look likely that these things will happen soon. And with the Union being 0-4-4 and Philadelphia fans not known for their patience, later might not be an option.
I do not have confidence in the people that are there right now to fix this mess. The Union have a decent coaching and training staff, but if the acquisitions from this offseason prove anything it's that they are not good at scouting players. They're going to need help from outside to - I don't even know. Win a game? Contend? Not continually disappoint those left watching the team? Anything this team wants to do will depend on someone new coming in and helping out. Once they're here, they'll have a decent coach, a state of the art facility, and some decent players to play with. In order to bring in good players using the Union's limited financial resources, they're going to have to scout smart and sign smarter.
OaM: Does a win over RBNY make everything better? How much does the Union need to do to convince itself and others that it really is on the right track?
BG: No. A win over RBNY would be a great relief and would help the fans start to believe in the team and the team to believe in themselves, but it won't fix everything. They'd still be the worst team in MLS, they'd still be double-digit points from respectability, and would still have very easily exploitable problems that will allow other teams to get points out of them.
OaM: What should we expect from the Union tactically? Is Curtin likely to adjust to counter RBNY's all-purpose playing style, or is his team similarly committed to playing a particular way (and if so, what is it?)
BG: The Union won't change their style of play - and part of that is why the Union are in the predicament they're in. They're going to line up in a 4-2-3-1 and look to play possession, using Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin as a double pivot. Curtin has said he expects Jesse Marsch to utilize the high press and will look to counter that, but don't expect huge tactical shifts. They're still going to try and route the offense through Roland Alberg, using CJ Sapong (or maybe Jay Simpson) as a target striker.
Injuries, suspensions: Maurice Edu - Out (broken leg), Josh Yaro - Out (shoulder surgery), Ilsinho - Questionable (illness), John McCarthy - Questionable (concussion), Richie Marquez - Questionable (illness), Ken Tribbett - Questionable (sprained ankle). No suspensions.
Predicted lineup: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Fafa Picault, Roland Alberg, Chris Pontius; CJ Sapong