Kicking off a two-game homestand, the New York Red Bulls will look to get their first win of the season in the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena Wednesday night. Their opponent? I-95 rival the Philadelphia Union.
Here are five things to watch as the Red Bulls take on the Union.
1. Will the Red Bulls be able to get their first W of the season?
The Red Bulls find themselves with four points so far in this early season and are looking for their first win of the season. New York has had several chances in 2014 so far to break through, including the 1-0 defeat at D.C. United it suffered last Saturday – a match that the Red Bulls dominated for long stretches. While New York is one of five teams (Portland, San Jose, Montreal and Chicago) that has not gotten in the win column yet in a very even league in 2014, the Red Bulls will need to start picking up points to set themselves up for the latter part of the campaign.
2. A repeat of 2013?
In 2013, the Red Bulls went winless in their first four before earning their opening three points. The opponent? The Union. On March 30, after New York’s Dax McCarty and Philadelphia’s Conor Casey traded goals, Thierry Henry scored the game-winner with less than 10 minutes left to secure the victory - the first in then-rookie head coach Mike Petke's career.
New York will hope to enjoy a similar result on Wednesday. Philadelphia has never beaten New York at Red Bull Arena, going 0-4-1, and has only beaten the Red Bulls once in the last seven (1-5-1).
3. Can the Red Bulls extend their home streak?
New York has able to stem slumps in the past based on their form at Red Bull Arena. While the Red Bulls tied their first two home engagements in 2014, New York is on an 11-regular season game unbeaten run in Harrison that stretches back to June 2013 (7-0-4 record). Generally attack-minded at home, the Red Bulls will hope that they can ride the support of the local crowd to victory.
4. How will the potential returning Red Bulls fit in?
Coming back from hamstring injuries, midfielder Tim Cahill and defender Armando trained on Monday and look like they are in contention for Wednesday’s clash against Philadelphia. What is unclear is if and how head coach Mike Petke will utilize them.
Aside from conceding a fourth minute goal against United, the Red Bulls back line acquitted itself well at RFK Stadium. And the Red Bulls clearly had a number of chances (19 shots) to get back into the game, but couldn’t find the target. With these returning players, as well as others including forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who came off the bench, Petke has interesting selection choices for the Union match.
5. How to win the midfield battle?
Coming off a season in which it missed the playoffs, the Union re-stocked itself with a number of key players, including a revamp of its midfield. U.S. National Team midfielder Maurice Edu and attack-minded Frenchman Vincent Nogueira joined in the offseason, supplanting MLS veterans Brian Carroll and Sebastien Le Toux. Up top, recently acquired Andrew Wenger scored on his debut for the Union and will look to add to his tally.
Whether New York decides on playing its traditional 4-4-2 or three man central midfield to match the Union remains to be seen, but keeping possession and controlling the center of the park will be key in the Red Bulls’ success.