UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – With traveling support expected to surpass 500 fans, Saturday’s match in Philadelphia between the Union and the New York Red Bulls will have the look and feel of a true derby match (7 pm ET; ESPN2 & ESPN Deportes).
These two cities generally despise each other any time their sports teams clash, which means this fixture has the potential to become one of the fiercest rivalries in MLS. And the New York fans and players are hoping for just that.
“Obviously the history of this game is kind of young as Philadelphia just arrived in the league,” Thierry Henry said of the two-year-old Union. “it's going to take time to have that kind of rivalry. But it's got to start sometime.”
Supporters in both cities have already shown a disdain for each other, dating back to four years ago when Philadelphia fans, hopeful that Kansas City would relocate its team to Pennsylvania, showed up several dozen strong at Giants Stadium to act as away support for the then-Wizards.
Then at last year's MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia, Red Bulls supporters made their presence known, taunting the Union supporters throughout the afternoon. Traveling support in both league matches was strong as Philadelphia and New York fans made the 90-minute trip through New Jersey to “invade” the other side’s home field.
“I remember last year we went,” midfielder Dane Richards said. “It was a crazy atmosphere and the crowd was behind their team. You could feel the rivalry on the field. "
Now Saturday brings a huge traveling contingent to PPL Park for what, in its infancy, is already shaping into a heated clash. Red Bulls fans traveling en masse will mean heightened security at PPL Park, including the presence of mounted police on Saturday afternoon.
[inline_node:332137]Taking care of Ruiz
The action in the stands should be loud, and on the field it won’t be too bad, either.
These two teams split their regular season meetings last year, with each club winning the home leg. The Red Bulls also took a US Open Cup match played at RBA. However, New York are aware that the Union this year are a far more savvy and deep group than last year, which was their inaugural MLS season.
“It’s a more experienced side,” Backe said. “Especially if you look at the central line with [Faryd] Mondragón and [Carlos] Ruiz.”
That name “Ruiz” is one that will draw the ire of the New York traveling support as the Guatemalan, with his 83 MLS career goals, is among the best forwards in league history. He's also bested the New York club more times than its fans would care to remember.
Backe acknowledges he has yet to coach against “El Pescadito," though he is well aware for the forward's prowess, calling him “a very strong target type — a good finisher.”
In order to limit Ruiz's effectiveness on his home field, the Red Bulls back line spent much of Thursday's practice working on maintaining its shape and staying compact.
In fact, it may take a full team effort to neutralize the Union's star forward.
“We all know that one thing he can do is score goals,” midfielder Dwayne De Rosario said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer