Date: Sunday, May 24th, 5:00 PM EST
Place: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
TV: Fox Sports 1
Still on a high after handing DC United their second loss of the season, the Union will head up to Harrison in the hope of knocking off another regional rival.
With Maurice Edu, Steven Vitoria, and Ray Gaddis out, doubtful, and questionable, respectively, the Union are set to tinker with their back line when they play the Red Bulls this Sunday. Fabinho and Sheanon Williams will get the nod at the full back positions, while Ethan White and Richie Marquez will form the central pairing.
White and Marquez have played 163 minutes together, so at least they aren't strangers, but they're hardly the optimal duo. The two showed promise in their first outing, when Marquez replaced an injured Michael Lahoud just five minutes into the game. They shut down Toronto FC's attack, but a Giovinco free kick was their eventual downfall. A week after Marquez's debut, he received the start alongside White at BC Place. The pair got abused, conceding two goals and a plethora of opportunities. It doesn't look like things will get much easier this weekend.
On Sunday, the back line will face a stiff test in New York's high-pressing attack. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan will annoy the hell out of White and Marquez, neither of whom is exactly known for their distribution. Another match-up to watch--if you're a masochist--is Lloyd Sam vs. Fabinho. The Brazilian left back has a reputation as a poor defender, so expect the Red Bulls to concentrate their attack down Fabinho's side of the field.
Beware The Press
In his mid-week press conference, Jim Curtin said that the Red Bulls have the best midfield in the league. Dax McCarty and Felipe Martins form a dynamic pair below Sacha Kljestan, and Lloyd Sam and Mike Grella are dangers on the wing. The group is definitely talented, but they have ascended to the league's elite as a result of their pressing.
The Red Bulls are committed to the press like no other team in the league. Sam, Kljestan, and 2014 MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips have all bought into Jesse Marsch's system. The system has already yielded results, as New York has only lost one of its first ten games.
The Union have played an irresponsibly high line all season. As a result, blue and gold center backs are often on the run. Maurice Edu's recovering ability usually alleviates some of the danger, but he won't be on the field this weekend. White and Marquez have already shown what can happen if they are pressured, meaning Sunday's outing could be one to forget for the back line.
Sylvestre or McCarthy?
Since his arrival, Brian Sylvestre has proven his worth. He's the tallest man in the box and it shows in his dealing with aerial balls. He's able to deal with a barrage of shots, which will be crucial heading into Sunday's game. His distribution isn't spectacular, but neither is his competitor's. All in all, the RailHawks loanee is the better goalkeeper, but has he done enough to unseat John McCarthy?
Here are the goalkeeping stats of a Union goalkeeper in 2015: 450 minutes played, 20 shots faced, 10 shots saved, nine goals allowed. Who do you think that is? Did you say Rais Mbolhi? If you did, you're right! Did you say John McCarthy? If you did, you're also right! The two have an almost identical line, and unfortunately for the Union, that line is really terrible.
Only one goalkeeper who has played at least three games has a higher goals against average than McCarthy, and no goalkeeper who has faced at least 20 shots has a save percentage of 50%. The Mayfair native hasn't shown that he's ready to be a starter in MLS right now. Brian Sylvestre, on the other hand, deserves to keep his spot. In only two games, Sylvestere has already managed to post a clean sheet and a win. McCarthy and Mbolhi have one clean sheet and one win in a combined ten games. And, though the sample size is small, Sylvestre has posted a not atrocious save percentage of 70%. The 22-year-old deserves to start, and I believe he will this Sunday.
Projected Lineups and Guess
Union XI: Sylvestre; Fabinho, Marquez, White, Williams; Carroll, Nogueira; Wenger, Maidana, Le Toux; Casey.
Red Bulls XI: Robles; Lawrence, Perrinelle, Ouimette, Duvall; McCarty, Felipe; Grella, Kljestan, Sam; Wright-Phillips
My guess: A comfortable 2-0 win for the Red Bulls.