After thumping Eastern Conference giants New York City FC and Atlanta United, the New York Red Bulls might not be atop the standings — they are in fourth place, four points behind Atlanta with two games in hand — but they lead the league in average points per game (2.1), a better indicator of their current spot atop Major League Soccer.
The Red Bulls have gone from hunter to hunted, which is their reality when the Philadelphia Union take the short trip up the New Jersey Turnpike Saturday night to renew their rivalry at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls (7-3-0) have won their last four games, three on the road, and beat NYCFC and Atlanta by a combined score of 7-1.
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“We know every time with Philly it’s always a battle. With all the rivals, but especially Philly and a lot of times it just comes down to who wants it more, who is going to be more physical and up for it on the day,” goalkeeper Ryan Meara said. “So, we know what we’re getting into. We put Atlanta behind us, it was a great win, but it’s in the past now and Philly has looked good. I think they have two wins in a row now, they killed Salt Lake the other night, so we know we got to be up for it.”
Against arguably the most lethal attack in MLS, Meara made six saves in his first start in goal since going on a season-long loan with NYCFC in 2015. He earned the nod after Luis Robles suffered a knee injury which forced an end to an MLS-record 183 consecutive regular season starts that started in Sept. 2012. Robles, who trained on the side this week, is listed as week-to-week.
“He is here every day and we know what he is capable of and I think some people don’t get to see that as much as we do,” central defender Tim Parker said of Meara. “We know we were confident in him and what he was able to do and I think he showed, not only us, that he was able to step in, but obviously the fans and the rest of the league as well.”
Seventh in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia (4-5-2) head to Red Bull Arena riding the confidence of back-to-back wins for the first time this season after beating Real Salt Lake, 4-1, at Talen Energy Stadium last Saturday.
“A new task this week and with Red Bull it’s always a little more heated,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “It’s a difficult place to go up to Harrison, New Jersey and it’s a challenge. Jesse’s got a team now that’s amongst the best in our league, they’re playing at a very high level right now. I think his ability, and his team’s ability, to high press is the benchmark and the standard in our league.”
The teams played to a 0-0 draw in their last meeting, also at Red Bull Arena, last September with Union goalkeeper Andre Blake stealing the show with eight saves.