Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls enter "big test" between rivals

One week after drawing Supporters' Shield leaders LAFC on the road, the Philadelphia Union return home Saturday night with hopes of denying the New York Red Bulls’ pursuit of history (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

RBNY can become the ​​first team in league history to win six straight road games to open a season. First place in the Eastern Conference standings is also on the line, with the Union’s 19 points setting the early pace in front of New York's 18.

The big-game feel that’s brewing isn’t lost on Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin.

“While it is early still, it’s still a game that has a lot of meaning for both clubs,” Curtin said. “It’s a big test for us and one that we look forward to. And it will be good to get back in our home stadium. We need our fans at their absolute maximum helping cheer us on.”

Perhaps working in Philadelphia’s favor, they’re unbeaten in seven straight matches against the Red Bulls. They’ve lost only two of their 23 home matches at Subaru Park over the last 12 months (W15 D6, incl. playoffs), allowing just 11 goals during that stretch.

On the other hand, New York are reaching unforeseen heights away from Red Bull Arena. They’re even more confident after securing passage to the US Open Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-0 win midweek at D.C. United, while the Union lost 2-1 at Orlando City SC at the same stage.

“We’ve been to places where we’re not the underdog, but we still feel that way,” said Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood. “And it’s going into someone else’s house and taking three points. I guess we just enjoy doing it, and we love it. I think just for us, we play with a bit more freedom. We just don’t have our backs against the wall and we play the way we want to play.”

It’s also no surprise that Philly and New York are the East’s stingiest defensive teams as Week 11 approaches, allowing eight goals each. Only FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference have allowed fewer (7).

Five of the last six meetings between these clubs have been decided by one goal or finished in a stalemate, with their pressing styles leading to cagey affairs. Both Curtin’s Union and Gerhard Struber’s Red Bulls play direct when getting the ball, too.

“I don’t want to put words in Gerhard’s mouth either, but we both believe that this is the way the game is played in the modern era,” Curtin said. “It’s about transitions, it’s about how do you react after mistakes, it’s about how do you turn teams over and make them uncomfortable. Even at the highest games in the [UEFA] Champions League, that’s what you’re seeing the best teams adapt to and do well. I do think there’s still great attacking players and great attacking moments in this game from both teams.”

Whichever way the game falls, there’s tremendous respect and clarity on both ends. Just ask Struber, who said the Union are “maybe one or two steps forward” of the Red Bulls and they’re looking to surpass them soon.

“I think Philly is growing in every direction,” Struber said. “You can see this in transition one more time that they have a big weapon in this direction, also I think in possession with [Julian] Carranza, I think a very smart decision from Philly to take him.

“I think in many directions they have a team with experience, a team with a clear identity and a clear plan. And the mix of aggression and intensity makes it for every team in the league very difficult to play against.”