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Preview: Union look to clinch Red Bulls series

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NJ Advance Media for TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, August 1st; 7:00 P.M. EDT

Place: PPL Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

TV: 6abc

In their history, the Philadelphia Union have never managed to defeat the New York Red Bulls twice in a single MLS season. Tomorrow is their opportunity to change that.

Their home fortress battered, the New York Red Bulls will come down to PPL Park in pursuit of their first win against their not-rivals since April of 2014.

Depleted defense, again

The last time the Union met New York in Major League Soccer play, the Red Bulls were without their three best center backs: Matt Miazga, Damien Perrinelle, and Ronald Zubar. Against the wishes of everyone watching the game, Karl Ouimette and Roy Miller started in the center of defense for that one. It went about as well as you'd expect.

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, Miazga and Perrinelle are healthy and in good standing, making them eligible for tomorrow's clash. Unfortunately, both of New York's first-choice full backs will be unavailable. Chris Duvall fractured his tibia in early July, and Kemar Lawrence is resting after setting all of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL on fire. As a result, Connor Lade and Anthony Wallace will flank the center backs for the fourth-straight game.

Lade and Wallace have both been widely lauded during this latest run of games, so they are no slouches even though they aren't regular starters. The two have long been mediocre-at-best MLS players, but playing time in the USL has seemed to prepare them for their big-league test.They are perfect examples of the depth that the Red Bulls have seemed to emphasize under Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch.

No Nogueira

Nogueira's injury is frustrating for so many reasons, not least of which is his recent form. He's looked more complete than he ever has, displaying a level of composure going forward that just wasn't there in 2014.

The quad strain is just another in a long list of ailments that the midfielder has picked up since joining the Union. While it's perhaps too early to slap the injury-prone label on him and send him to a nice farm upstate, each injury causes a bit more worry. At 27, Nogueira should excel in a Union jersey for years to come; it would be a shame to see his time in Philadelphia cut short due to nagging injuries.

Big-picture questions aside, Nogueira must be replaced in the short term. Zach Pfeffer will probably start tomorrow, but Tranquillo Barnetta could see some time in central midfield past this weekend. Jim Curtin views his new signing as a central midfielder primarily, which raises some questions about fit when the roster is at full health. Though for now, things appear to be fairly straightforward in the center of midfield.

In with Abang

Since his nine-minute substitute appearance against the Union in May, the longest of his fledgling MLS career at the time, Anatole Abang has played in every league game for the Red Bulls. After scoring goals in back-to-back games off the bench, the Cameroonian striker earned a spell in the starting lineup.

Though he's returned to the bench, Abang poses a smart, physical threat that could pester Maurice Edu and his center back partner for the last half hour.

Brother Act

Earlier this week, the Red Bulls announced the signing of Shaun Wright-Phillips, older brother of Bradley. The move has been met with some criticism, as skeptics claim that Shaun was only signed because his brother has been a roaring success for New York. They're right.

Shaun is (was?) a pacey winger, who has spent the last few years languishing on Premier League benches and in Championship lineups. Though he's getting up there in age, the elder Wright-Phillips will likely start on a left wing that's suddenly become a lot more competitive. Journeyman Mike Grella had seemed to find his niche in that spot for RBNY, scoring five goals from a wide position this season. You probably know him as the man who murdered two Union players and still walks free.

Whether Wright-Phillips actually manages to wrest the spot from the New York native is an interesting storyline, but whether he deserves it is much more so.

Lineups and Guess

Red Bulls: Robles; Wallace, Miazga, Perrinelle, Lade; Felipe, McCarty; Grella, Kljestan, Sam; B. Wright-Phillips.

Union: Sylvestre; Fabinho, Edu, White, Gaddis; Pfeffer, Carroll; Le Toux, Maidana, Ayuk; Sapong.

I'll go for a 2-0 Red Bulls victory. The Union's defense may have hit rock bottom in DC, but there are more rough days ahead. New York and its high press will be far from forgiving, and without the Union's main conduit in midfield, it could be worse than expected.