The first installment in what will surely become a fierce MLS rivalry.
New York Red Bulls, by Avery Raimondo: While the Red Bulls under Juan Carlos Osorio discovered new methods of blowing victories, Hans Backe's squad has been able to achieve maximum results often against the run of play in three of their first four matches. The team's ability to win even when overmatched sees New York in first place of the Eastern Conference despite having a large number of kinks to correct in the Swede's project. Saturday's come-from-behind victory over FC Dallas revealed two indications that New York is improving: Juan Pablo Angel tallied his first two goals of the season, and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul rebounded from an awful howler against Chivas USA with a sterling performance.
Philadelphia Union, by Keith Hickey: Roger Torres has been absolutely pivotal for the Union. Even after the Union were reduced to 10 men against Toronto, Torres had Philadelphia on the attack and in Toronto's end. After being taken off for defender Shavar Thomas, Torres was conspicuous through his absence, and the balance of the game changed completely into Toronto's favor. Alejandro Moreno continues his excellent work-rate up top, creating problems for the opposition and chances for his teammates. New signing Christian Arrieta has been a revelation at right back since signing from Puerto Rico, and had a particularly good game against Toronto, breaking up play on the wing and transitioning seamlessly from defense to attack.
New York: One problem for the Red Bulls is becoming more apparent every match. Although the Red Bulls have the same amount of goals allowed as victories, their defense has steadily begun to become less fortified as the season has progressed. If it wasn't for the awful finishing of Jeff Cunningham and Coundoul's heroics, New York may have been blown out rather than victorious last weekend. Also, the first major injury problem has struck Backe's starting XI as Macoumba Kandji will be out for two-to-three months with a broken foot.
Philly: Most of the criticism recently has been aimed at the pair of Chris Seitz and captain Danny Califf. Questions have been raised over Califf's defensive decision-making and discipline; an unnecessary elbow against Toronto got him sent off, and led to a goal which keeper Seitz should have saved easily. Seitz was also at fault for Toronto's second goal, his rash challenge conceding a penalty to the Canadians.
New York: Just because Backe is losing his starting left midfielder, there is no reason to believe that he will stray from his usual 4-4-2. Left midfield is the only position where an alteration may occur as either Sinisa Ubiparipovic or new signing Brien Nielsen could replace the injured Kandji. Backe has also stated that Ibrahim Salou, who had a disappointing home debut, will start once again alongside Angel. Salou's physicality was impressive against Santos FC in the opening of Red Bull Arena, but he appeared sluggish against Dallas.
Philly: Piotr Nowak is almost certainly going to stick with his 4-4-2 formation. He reasserted his faith in goalkeeper Chris Seitz, so expect no change there for the foreseeable future. Fullbacks Christian Arrieta and Jordan Harvey have cemented their places in the lineup, and Michael Orozco should start at central defense, although with Califf suspended, he could be partnered by either one of Toni Stahl or Shavar Thomas. The midfield and attack should be unchanged from the Toronto match, especially with Alejandro Moreno and Sebastien Le Toux looking increasingly comfortable with each other.
New York: Since an expansion club was announced for Philadelphia, MLS observers have speculated that a Union - Red Bulls rivalry will become one of the best in the league. Both teams will have extra incentive as neither will want to lose the rivalry's first incarnation. The match will undoubtedly be hard fought with the inundation of Sons of Ben, the Union's major supporters' club, in Red Bull Arena.
Philly: Early as it is in the Union's history, there is already a healthy rivalry brewing between Philadelphia and New York fans, and the players are certain to be aware of that. Piotr Nowak is hardly the type of manager to play down a rivalry. The Union players should be up for this one, and well rested, since they will not have played for a full nine days.
New York: The emotional effects on this match make it one difficult to predict. I'll take the easy way out by saying that Juan Pablo Angel and Sebastien Le Toux will be the sole scorers in a 1-1 draw.
Philly: 3-1 to New York. The Union's defensive problems will be magnified by the absence of Califf and the continued unsteady play of young goalkeeper Chris Seitz. New York have gotten off to an excellent start and should prove too much for a Union side still trying to find its feet in Major League Soccer.
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