Match Preview: Union, Red Bulls face off in round one of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs

After 34 weeks of the regular season, the New York Red Bulls 2019 campaign comes down to one single game against their I-95 rivals, the Philadelphia Union in Round One of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

How We Got Here

The Philadelphia Union finished with one of the best seasons in their ninth season in Major League Soccer, finishing in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 16-11-7 record, 10-3-4 at Talen Energy Stadium. Head coach Jim Curtin talked about the upcoming match, and he was blunt in describing the situation.

“It’s a rivalry game against Red Bull, a team we don’t like,” adding that “Red Bull brings out the best out of us” ahead of the latest clash with the Union’s cross-Jersey counterparts.

“They’re going to high-press us. Red Bull is an excellent team, and we respect them a lot. But we have to approach the game and be fearless in that we’re in our home stadium,” he continued. “The pressure for once is actually on us now. We’re the favorite. That’s a new role for us to play, and we have to do it in a way that typical of Philadelphia – which is to be brave, not to be scared. They’re kind of like a bully with the way that they play; they want to be physical.”

“If you punch the bully in the nose, a lot of time it backs down. That has to be our mentality from the opening whistle.”

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls finished the 2019 campaign that some will say disappointingly. After completing the season before with the best points record, winning their third Supporters’ Shield in the process, they finished in sixth place with a pedestrian 14-14-6 record, 5-9-3 on the road.

With those stats, there’s very little reason that this team can survive and advance to the next round, something that head coach Chris Armas alluded to leading up to the match.
“The good news, guys is that we love this time of the year, and everyone’s counting us out,” Armas told his team as they returned to training this week. “It’s all there for us. We know that when the whistle blows in a few weeks, it’s game on. And for me, that’s the beauty.”

“Listen, our guys will be ready to throw everything at Philly, and Philly will be ready. And we’ll enjoy that, and we’ll want it that way. So all of us are up to it, we’re excited about it, and we love this time of year.”

Players to Watch

Kacper Przybylko
Since he was a late scratch from Philadelphia Union’s regular-season finale against New York City FC, everyone has been checking in on the health of Kacper Przybylko. His retrun is a much-needed boost to the Union as the second-year forward led the squad with 15 goals in 25 starts, going the full distance in all but one appearance. Against a Red Bulls team that will press high up the pitch, Przybylko’s ability to hold up play could be crucial.

If the Red Bulls have any plans to survive Chester, then the man known as “El Tigre” has to make an impact. As a mtter of fact, the entire midfield of Christian Casseras, Marc Rzatkowski, and Daniel Royer have to be on their A-game right from kickoff. Nevermind the Red Bulls’ defense for a minute, and in a match like this, scoring chances are going to be at a premium. Should the team deploy their high-press defense, then these players will be critical to convert those chances into goals.

Match Outlook:

As everyone is aware, this season’s playoff is a “one and done” deal. Not the standard two-legged affair, as it was the case last season. This means that both teams will be expected to “empty the tank” to survive and advance to the next round. The key thing to consider here is that the pressure will be on the Union to dispatch the Red Bulls once and for all in front of their home supporters. For they are coming into the match as the favorites, after all. For the Red Bulls, all they really need to do is play their game the way they know they can. If they can do that, and do it in a without making crippling mistakes, it will be an upset worth talking about… Until the next round, scheduled a scant four days later.

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