Though the cities seem to have a rivalry in all sports, New York and Philadelphia haven’t developed a particularly intriguing one in MLS because it’s become so one-sided.
The Union might have a good opportunity to start changing that Saturday, considering how these teams have started the season along with the status of two Red Bulls stars being uncertain.
Philadelphia (2-1-0) is looking to avoid its fifth loss in as many trips to Red Bull Arena. The Union have dropped the past four meetings overall and were shut out in three of them, including a 3-0 defeat to end 2012.
However, that remains the last game which New York won. The Red Bulls fell in the first round of the playoffs to D.C. and are now off to their worst start since also opening 0-2-2 in 2009. The only time they went deeper into a season without winning was an 0-1-5 stretch to begin 2006.
“It’s gonna be a heated matchup,” Union defender Michael Lahoud said. “They’re feeling a lot of pressure right now. There’s a lot of questions being asked within their team, from the outside and on the inside. There might be a little bit of desperation on their part.”
Adding to that desperation are injuries. Fabian Espindola, who has two of New York’s four goals, injured his hamstring in practice Tuesday. While it’s unclear whether Espindola will play, the Red Bulls are hopeful Thierry Henry can return.
The superstar forward has an MCL sprain which caused him to miss last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Montreal. Henry is back practicing but says he’s not pain-free.
“It’s one of the things I have to deal with throughout my career,” Henry told the league’s official website after Thursday’s practice. “You play through the pain. Sometimes you can handle it and sometimes you can’t.”
The potential absence of Henry and Espindola would make it tougher for the Red Bulls to end their goal drought, which is up to 253 minutes. The only time in franchise history they went three straight games in one season without scoring - which would happen with a shutout Saturday - was a four-game span July 10-Aug. 7, 1999.
New York totaled eight goals in last year’s three-game sweep of the Union.
“Of course the (rivalry) circumstances exist, but we need to get a result,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, whether it’s Philadelphia or Seattle or Dallas. This is important for us this weekend to come out with three points.”
The Union could post three straight victories, which would match the longest winning streak in their four-year history. The only time they did it was July 4-14 last season.
“We haven’t talked about it but the players have talked about it,” Union manager John Hackworth said of the rivalry. “When you hear things like that, I know I don’t have to go and reinforce those messages.”
Philadelphia has been off since a 1-0 victory over New England on March 16, when Jack McInerney scored for the second straight game.
Sebastian Le Toux, who has a goal and an assist, will play his first match against the Red Bulls since making 15 appearances for them last season.
New teammate Jose Kleberson, though, is unlikely to make his Union debut after the Brazilian midfielder was acquired earlier in the week.