A Philadelphia Union team in a grueling stretch of 7 games in 19 days will face maybe its biggest early test of 2021 when the New York Red Bulls come to town to renew a local rivalry at Subaru Park.
“Of all of our games this will probably be the most difficult and considering all the different circumstances with the seventh game in 19 days,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said in a Zoom call with media on Friday.
The Red Bulls have many similarities to the Union in terms of how they’re built and the way they approach the game. They have a similar philosophy of pressing high, quick transitions and making opponents uncomfortable that has helped Curtin transform his team into a top contender in the Eastern Conference.
“If it’s 4-4-2 versus 4-4-2 it becomes about rolling your sleeves up and if you beat the guy that’s directly in front of you more than the Red Bull does, you’re going to probably get on the good end of the result,” Curtin said.
The Red Bulls are currently in fourth in the Eastern Conference after winning two straight games by 2-0 score lines over Chicago Fire and Toronto FC. They started the season with back-to-back losses against Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy.
After a full week of rest, the Red Bulls will look to wear down some already tired legs with the Union coming off a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Wednesday.
“We all know what this game means for friends for the whole city (playing the Red Bulls), also for us as players,” defender Kai Wagner said on a call with media on Friday. “Everybody wants to play like a game like this, everybody’s excited for it.”
Wagner acknowledged the challenge of the stretch they are on but noted that the recovery process has been key. The back five of the team has been mostly unchanged, save for Matt Real starting for Wagner against NYCFC (Wagner still came in to play 29 minutes), but the suspension of Jose Martinez has led to some shuffling in the midfield. Wagner has paired with Jack McGlynn the last two matches with Leon Flach shifting to the No. 6 spot in the diamond.
Curtin said to expect a couple fresh faces in the lineup tonight but reiterated his previous comments about the data not supporting more wholesale changes to the group to give players rest.
“We’ll make a few changes to get some fresh bodies out there, but obviously you won’t see seven or eight changes,” Curtin said. “It’s just not possible at this time.”
Striker Kacper Przybylko is listed as questionable on the injury report after picking up a knock against New England, but he trained Friday and Curtin said he’s available for selection. Stuart Findlay is returning to the game day roster after battling a quad injury.
The New York Red Bulls roster features two young prospects the Philadelphia Union have previously courted in Caden Clark, who was recruited to the academy after he left the Barcelona Residency program in Arizona, and Frankie Amaya, who was on the Union’s radar when he was seeking a move out of FC Cincinnati.
“Frankie Amaya is a very talented player from Cincinnati who we liked also, I’ll just say that,” Curtin said. “(He’s) a good talent, a really good ball winner, an aggressive player that kind of fits both teams’ styles of play.”