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MLS preview: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union

Oct 26, 2012, 7:00 PM EDT

Toronto FC v New York Red Bulls Getty Images

Saturday’s proceedings at the beautiful ground along the Delaware River means a lot for one team, at least.

Philadelphia has been done since June – and that is no exaggeration. This season went sideways pretty quickly, with manager Peter Nowak gone by June and ugly lawsuits dropping soon thereafter. So they’ve been playing for roster spots for months now at PPL Park.

Quite the contrary situation for New York; Saturday’s contest could significantly swing playoff positioning and, therefore, playoff fate.

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, PPL Park, NBC

(Official league preview is here)

On Philadelphia:

  • The team has so much young talent, so it’s still worth watching. Start with Jack McInerney, who recently turned 20. The future looks splendid for John Hackworth’s young striker, who has eight goals and is finishing strong in his third professional season. (Yes, third; he has 17 when he made his first Union appearance in 2010.) McInerney had scored in four consecutive matches before being blanked (but did nail the post) last week by Eastern Conference champion Kansas City.
  • Unfortunately, two of Hackworth’s most promising young men are doubtful: outside back Sheanon Williams has ankle and Achilles issues and defender Gabriel Farfan has an ankle problem as well. Gabriel’s brother, Micheal Farfan is available. He’s been steady enough as a creative influence this year that Freddy Adu (remember him?) has had trouble getting minutes. Super-sub rookie Antoine Hoppenot has four goals, all off the bench.
  • Adu, by the way, wasn’t in the 18-man game-day roster for the team’s mid-week loss to Sporting Kansas City. That cannot be a good sign for one of U.S. Soccer’s most mercurial figures.

On New York:

  • Leave it to the Red Bulls, a club that looks alternately cursed or mismanaged, depending on the day of the week, to throw a monkey in the wrench when success seems tantalizingly close. Just as the team was steaming into the home stretch, the Red Bull European hierarchy decided the time was right to change out general managers. Sure, why not? Then came curious statements that left coach Hans Backe on unstable footing. Again, why wouldn’t you? I mean, he’s the first coach to guide the team into the playoffs three consecutive years. So, that guy’s gotta go, right?

(MORE: Dax McCarty addresses timing and tumult)

  • The game is critical for playoff positioning. If the Red Bulls lose or tie, they’ll have an extra playoff match to content with – which means one extra chance for the league’s most visible franchise to lose. And it would mean playing Wednesday and then again quickly thereafter. Oh, if they lose or draw and Houston wins New York will travel for that elimination match. The standings are here. The key is avoiding 4th and 5th place; the first three teams dodge that first-round elimination match.
  • Chris Wondolowski is going to win Major League Soccer’s MVP award. But if someone has a competing case, it is surely Thierry Henry (pictured), who has 14 goals and 12 assists. Those numbers are better than Dwayne De Rosario’s from last year (13 and 7), and “De Ro” won league MVP honors. Oh, and some of Henry’s goals this year have been, uh, what’s the word … oh, yes! “Awesome.”
  • With Wilman Conde out for personal reasons and Brandon Barklage injured, looks like Connor Lade, Markus Holgersson, Rafa Marquez and Heath Pearce will be the Red Bull’s back four (right to left). Somewhere in front of them will sit midfielder McCarty, one of the underrated men of MLS this year.

Bottom line:

New York stinks on the road this year (4-7-5, minus-8 goal difference). Don’t be shocked if Philadelphia, decent over the last month as a spoiler, manages a draw or even a win.

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