The US Open Cup match against the Philadelphia Union is all that stands between the Red Bulls and a well deserved week long break. This will be the teams fifth match in 14 days, boasting a 2-1-1 record in the first four.
There was not much of a choice for the Red Bulls to face in the Round of 16 in the Open Cup. After all the matches were finished in the fourth round, the teams were again redrawn to match up against teams in their region. This meant the only two choices for the Red Bulls were DC United and the Union, the latter being the actual opponent.
Philadelphia had their own dominating performance during the last round, albeit against a USL team. An easy 5-0 win against the Richmond Kickers saw five different scorers for the Union. This has not translated to their recent MLS form, though.
The matches the Union played before and after the Open Cup win both ended in defeat. A 3-1 loss to Atlanta United saw two Philly players sent off after yellow card accumulation just 19 minutes into the match. Josef Martinez netted a hat trick and the Union really had no chance.
Philadelphia’s latest match saw them lose 2-0 to Toronto FC at Talen Energy Stadium. Jonathan Osorio grabbed a brace in that win as the Union fell further down the table in the Eastern Conference.
With the Red Bulls coming off a 2-1 against the Seattle Sounders three days ago, it will be interesting to see if MLS form carries into the Open Cup. If the previous meeting between these two teams is anything to go by, then penalties could be on the cards yet again.
Last seasons Open Cup is eerily similar to this seasons. In 2017, the Red Bulls beat NYCFC and matched up with the Union in the next round after they defeated a USL opponent. The 0-0 result between the Red Bulls and Union in MLS this season suggests that the two could again lock horns for 90 minutes and force a penalty shootout, just like in 2017.
Just one of the players that converted a penalty for the Red Bulls that day is still on the roster. Sascha Kljestan, Felipe, Gonzalo Veron, and Sal Zizzo all scored for the team that day, and have all since moved to different clubs. Daniel Royer, scorer of the third of five penalty scored, remains on the team.
One key remaining factor from that win over the Union is Ryan Meara, who will be starting the rest of the cup matches this season. Per a tweet from the official Red Bulls twitter, Meara officially locked in his spot as the Open Cup keeper in 2018. This had been his role in 2017 as well, and he was exceptional throughout the competition.
Effecting a different area of the pitch, the Red Bulls will also see the return of Kaku to the starting line up. The Paraguayan international was with his new nation for a friendly against Japan, playing 31 minutes in their 4-2 loss. His return to the line up will be vital for the team that has missed his creative mind in the midfield.
Other line up tweaks could see Hassan Ndam return to the defense. He was rested in Wednesday’s win against the Sounders as Aaron Long and Tim Parker ran the show yet again.
Tyler Adams and Kemar Lawrence played less than 65 minutes in that same match, meaning Jesse Marsch could be looking to use them against the Union. Connor Lade should also return to the starting XI as Ethan Kutler made his first start for the team, notching his first career MLS assist.
The Open Cup is always a competition the Red Bulls take seriously, so it is not surprise that Marsch took a few precautions heading into this match. The Union have not made a serious run in this competition since their 2012 semifinals appearance, so they are just as hungry to advance.
Taking the same approach as they did against NYCFC will be key for this match. An early goal from Vincent Bezecourt really set the tone for the night, and the Red Bulls need to aim for an early goal. This will avoid another stalemate with the Union and could cause them to open up early. Bradley Wright-Phillips may have been surplus requirements against City, but his talents will be required in this one to get the team to the next round.