State­ment match with Red Bulls could pro­vide an­swers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew De Ge­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

CH­ESTER >> The time has come for the Philadel­phia Union to be within reach of the long-cov­eted post­sea­son. But with three games left and the most dif­fi­cult of that stretch loom­ing Satur­day, man­ager Jim Curtin wasn’t look­ing ahead Wed­nes­day.

The un­cer­tainty bred by MLS makes it fool­ish to do so, even more so at the hec­tic end­ing to a sea­son. With the chal­lenge of MLS’ (sort of) hottest team ahead, the Union know that while a win at Red Bull Arena of­fi­cially seals the end of their half-decade play­off drought, it’s a task much eas­ier said than ac­com­plished.

“Our guys are play­ing well against good teams,” Curtin said at his weekly press con­fer­ence. “Again, you want to test your­self against the best. … All points mat­ter at this stage.”

The Red Bulls (13-99, 48 points) count as the best … sort of. They trail Toronto for the top spot in the East by one point and they’re on a 13-game un­beaten streak dat­ing to July 3, go­ing 6-0-7 in that stretch. But the streak is pock­marked by blown multi-goal leads, in­clud­ing a 2-0 edge squan­dered in a stale­mate at Talen En­ergy Sta­dium July 17, that knock some of the luster off their run.

The Union (11-11-9, 42 points) are mired in a fourgame win­less run (0-2-2), fos­tered by the qual­ity of op­po­nents they’ve run up against. They fi­nally get a respite in two weeks when Or­lando City vis­its be­fore fol­low­ing up with Red Bulls at home to close the sea­son. But a re­sult Satur­day at Red Bull Arena (7 p.m., TCN) could ex­pe­di­ently put the play­off ques­tions to bed.

A win gets the Union into the post­sea­son. With a draw, the Union could still sneak into the play­offs this week­end if sev­enth-placed New Eng­land and eighth­placed Or­lando lose. (A loss by Or­lando to Mon­treal, one point be­hind the Union in fifth, isn’t nec­es­sar­ily help­ful.) Over­all, the Union pos­sess 99 per­cent odds of mak­ing the play­offs, de­pend­ing on your prog­nos­ti­ca­tion out­let.

The land­scape puts the Union in an en­vi­able po­si­tion, need­ing any scrap of a re­sult in the last two home games to earn the post­sea­son berth, re­gard­less of what tran­spires in Harrison Satur­day. But as they’ve done all sea­son, Curtin would be fine with his team gar­ner­ing an un­ex­pected re­sult away from home to lessen the pres­sure on those two af­fairs, es­pe­cially with a bye week for the in­ter­na­tional break to stew in be­tween.

The Union beat the Red Bulls this sea­son in the U.S. Open Cup, the sec­ond straight year they’ve ousted them from that com­pe­ti­tion. In eight trips to Red Bull Arena, the Union are a scant 1-6-1, the vic­tory com­ing in May 2015.

For all the stand­ings un­cer­tainty, the lo­gis­tics of at­tack­ing Jesse Marsch’s team are well-founded. The Red Bulls are renowned for their high-pres­sure style, one that forces mis­takes for their vaunted at­tack­ers — MLS goals leader Bradley Wright-Phillips (20) and as­sist leader Sacha Kl­jes­tan (16) — to pounce.

The fresher the legs, the more dan­ger­ous Red Bulls are. That puts the onus on fast starts, like how the Union be­gan in a 1-1 draw with Toronto last week. It’s es­pe­cially vi­tal since the Red Bulls trav­eled to Gu­atemala for a CONCACAF Champions League tie Tues­day with a largely re­serve side.

“Tons of data goes into it and it shows what we al­ready know, which is that the first 30 min­utes of games they do their dam­age,” Curtin said. “They kill teams in the first 30 min­utes of games. So, I ex­pect Jesse will play the same way, es­pe­cially in his home build­ing. We’ll be pre­pared for it. We’ll have to weather that first 30 min­utes be­cause that’s when they make teams un­com­fort­able.”

In the process, the Union could make their end to the sea­son much more com­fort­able.


Union man­ager Jim Curtin be­lieves a fast start will be key to com­ing away with a re­sult — and pos­si­bly a play­off berth — from Satur­day’s match at Red Bull Arena.

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