Photo: Michael Long
What: Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls
When: 1:30pm EST
Where: PPL Park, Chester, PA, USA
Referee: Chris Penso; ASST 1: Adam Wienckowski; ASST 2: Jason Cullum; 4TH: Jose Carlos Rivero
When points and the table cease to matter, emotional outcomes rise to prominence.
So, after a year that saw the Philadelphia Union fall from the heights of the playoffs to the swirling drain of the Toronto-New England basin, the team wraps up with a chance to deal a blow to their hated rivals and exit 2012 with pride.
Depending on the health of Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan, it’s possible that only Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Carlos Valdes will remain from the starting eleven that started this season in Portland. Gabe Gomez and Josue Martinez have slipped down the depth chart, Lio Pajoy is in DC, Danny Califf is in LA, Porfirio Lopez joined the Milford School, and Freddy Adu has spent the latter part of the season preparing for a political career by continually telling us things are great when, clearly, they are not.
New York can change things
The Red Bulls match that ended the 2011 season foreshadowed the disaster that was the playoffs and the 2012 campaign. A listless, incoherent midfield behind isolated strikers essentially handed New York a playoff berth and torpedoed much of the good vibes of a successful season. Just as a bad ending can spoil a good movie or a slight scratch on a record near the end of a song can make the entire thing unlistenable, the Red Bulls match only had to knick the Union’s tail to send them crashing back to Earth.
And all that is to say that a dominant win tomorrow could be the first step towards recovery for a team that should be sick of being known as the small, young team with a potentially bright future.
What’s on the chest?
When Jack McInerney did his Superman celebration, it felt like he was telling us what we already knew. The fans knew there was a special talent in there, but the kid who smiles slightly less than Mario Balotelli after a goal had to believe it too.
Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney were not drafted to be good players; they were plucked out as leaders. Over the past three seasons, they watched from the sidelines as Sheanon Williams and then Michael Farfan took on the prominent roles—Williams the voice and the workrate, Farfan the mastermind—that once seemed destined for the 2010 first rounders.
With all four players on the field together, the Union have a rougher, and perhaps slightly sharper, edge. In fact, if there is a one good argument against keeping Freddy Adu on the roster, it is that, unlike these players only two years his junior, he doesn’t think each match requires a full suit of armor.
Well, that and Adu’s unwillingness to play any position other than Center Adu.
If the Red Bulls win and DC loses, New York could leapfrog United and bypass the dreaded 4-5 play-in game. So essentially the Union will end up hurting New York with a win and potentially hurting DC with a loss. Which would you prefer?
I’ll take the win.
Additionally, a match against New York threatens to expose many of Philadelphia’s most glaring weaknesses. The Red Bulls have size up front and they give up chances in the back; the Union have been exposed by size and rarely finish their chances.
Thus, this match is a chance for the team to confront their flaws head on, and with jobs on the line. Zac MacMath’s job is safe but his hands haven’t been. Whether the Maryland product follows the Guzan path or slides into the Seitz-model career depends on his consistency and the growth of his leadership ability. Both have been lacking this year, but the number five pick’s potential has been readily apparent (see his denials of Graham Zusi on Wednesday for evidence).
Closing it out
And, finally, this is a home game. The Union have the worst home goal differential in the Eastern Conference. They haven’t rewarded their fans nearly enough for sticking through what has not only been a poor season on the pitch, but an abysmal year on the public relations front. Even as Peter Nowak and the front office jettisoned one fan favorite after another, the chants continued to echo around PPL Park.
New York is in town. Time to give the fans what they’ve been waiting for. Ninety minutes with Philly attitude and a fine finish thrown in.
A full match in which every fifty-fifty ball is winnable and free kicks are treated like life and death, mano-y-mano showdowns with the opposition.
At the end of a baseball game, the players funnel into the dugout. At the end of a football game, the players walk down the tunnel. At the end of a hockey game, they skate through the gate and shuffle off.
At the end of a match at PPL Park, the players take a lap and thank the fans. It means everything, everything, to the die-hards. It is a stunning experience for first-timers. And it is the clearest display of the bond that unites a sport with no timeouts with fans that never stop singing.
When the Union take that lap—and if any players are reading this, take that lap win-or-lose—the cheers that go up should be for a win. And for the bright future of a promising young team.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Gaddis, Valdes, Okugo
- MID: McLaughlin, Carroll, Cruz, Marfan, Hernandez
- FWD: McInerney, Hoffman
- GK: Robles
- DEF: Pearce, Marquez, Holgersson, Lade
- MID: Lindpere, Taino, Cahill, McCarty,
- FWD: Henry, Cooper
Injury Report (as of Oct. 23)
- OUT: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee menisectomy recovery)
- DOUBTFUL: DF DF Sheanon Williams (L ankle peroneal/Achilles strain); DF Gabriel Farfan (R ankle stress reaction)
- QUESTIONABLE: MF Danny Cruz (L big toe sesamoid stress fracture)
- PROBABLE: DF Chris Albright (illness)
- OUT: DF Brandon Barklage (L plantar fascia injury) GK Ryan Meara (L hip surgery); MF Lloyd Sam (R knee PCL injury)