What: Union at Red Bulls
When: 2:30 pm EST
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
Referee: Hilario Grajeda, MLS Career: 70 games; FC/gm: 24.5; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 14; pens: 11
They simply don’t get much bigger than this in MLS.
The New York Red Bulls, undefeated at
home New Jersey, need to get three points off Philadelphia tomorrow and Montreal in a week. In August, the Eastern Conference hammer comes down on New York, with two matches against Houston followed by away games at Kansas City and DC United. If the Drinks don’t grab triples now, they could sink faster than Peter Nowak’s reputation.
For Philadelphia, everything has been do-or-die for quite some time. If they leave New York without points, they not only lose ground on a playoff spot; they lose a lot of the momentum built up since John Hackworth took over. It simply means more to beat a New York team, especially one that seems able to acquire players at will despite MLS’s insistence that everything is on the up and up.
The Union’s August mirrors New York’s: They play the teams around them in the standings. After closing July with New England, they travel to Montreal, welcome Chicago, head to DC, and close the month with the always annoying Columbus Crew in PPL Park.
The Red Bulls are dangerous offensively; they are tied for second in MLS in scoring. And it’s more than just the top two.
When he’s paying attention, Mehdi Ballouchy is actually a skilled player (hard to believe, I know), and with Joel Lindpere and Sebastien Le Toux running off the wings, New York is constantly looking to get in behind a defense.
Kenny Cooper, of course, will live in the box. Which makes covering Thierry Henry the real conundrum for a defense. If anybody in the league can track the French striker, it is Carlos Valdes. But much of Henry’s danger comes from his reading of the game. He will move into positions that open gaps, and with Le Toux always at a full gallop, following Henry out of the center is like walking a tight rope — you need to be sure your Okugo safety net is in place.
The Union are likely to counter Henry’s movement by dropping Brian Carroll even deeper than normal and letting him pick up anybody who drifts too far away from the center backs. Unfortunately, this will make it tougher for the Union to start their counterattacks (particularly with Michael Farfan a likely absence), so the onus falls on Freddy Adu and Gabe Gomez to play quickly off of turnovers.
Adu, oh Adu
Freddy Adu was not very helpful against Montreal. He played too high, as if he was still a winger. Tomorrow, Dax McCarty will have his eye on the diminutive Union playmaker, and Adu’s answer has to be speedy play and off-the-ball movement.
Can he do this? Yes.
Will he do it? …….. um …….
Scoring them goals
It’s no secret that New York’s defense can be turned into a mess with a few good passes. The Union need to make these passes from inside the Red Bull half. Long balls over the top are exactly what defense expect from a team with a line runner like McInerney. Moving into the opponent’s half makes the defense step up and open a space behind through which a low ball can open a defense.
Then, with Carroll playing deep and Gomez looking a tad slow, it’s up to Adu, Pajoy and Martinez to hustle into the box and make sure anything that comes inside is challenged. Make some mayhem and the Red Bulls will crumble. It’s been their M.O. under Hans Backe for years. It will continue on Saturday.
In other words, outwork New York, and you will be rewarded every single time. It’s not that hard, but their talent can be intimidating.
One way to counter intimidation is to have vocal support from the fans. So everyone making their way up to Harrison: Make sure your team can hear you the whole time.
Make sure New Jersey knows we’ve arrived.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
- MID: Gomez, Carroll, Adu
- FWD: Martinez, McInerney, Pajoy
- GK: Gaudette
- DEF: Barklage, Holgursson, Conde, Miller
- MID: LE TOUX, McCarty, Ballouchy, Lindpere
- FWD: Henry, Cooper
- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion)
- DOUBTFUL: DF Michael Farfan (R groin strain); DF Bakary Soumare (R knee menisectomy recovery)
- QUESTIONABLE: FW Chandler Hoffman (L big toe fracture)
- PROBABLE: DF Cristhian Hernandez (L ankle sprain); GK Zac MacMath (R ring finger avulsion); DF Sheanon Williams (R big toe avulsion); DF Chris Albright (stomach virus)
- OUT: MF Teemu Tainio (R knee sprain); FW Jose Angulo (R knee sprain); DF Heath Pearce (R hamstring injury); DF Jan Gunnar Solli (R hamstring injury); DF Rafa Marquez (L calf injury)
- QUESTIONABLE: GK Ryan Meara (R hip injury)