CHESTER, Pa. – There is certainly no love lost between fans of the Philadelphia Union and the New York Red Bulls.
And the 1,000 or so Union supporters that are expected to travel up the New Jersey Turnpike to Red Bull Arena for Thursday night’s clash between Philadelphia and New York (8 pm ET, ESPN2, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com) would love nothing more than to see the rival Red Bulls suffer a crippling blow to their playoff hopes.
For Union manager Peter Nowak, however, trying to spoil New York’s season isn’t something that should be on his players’ mind.
“That’s too personal,” Nowak said. “We’re going to play for the win as we always do. We’re going to try to make it difficult for the team as we always do. We’re going to play organized, disciplined and hard soccer.”
While the Red Bulls need a win or a draw to guarantee themselves a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs, the Union – who clinched a berth this past weekend – need a good result to make sure they finish in the top three in the Eastern Conference, thus avoiding the wild card round.
Rivalry aside, Nowak believes that should be enough motivation on its own.
“We have to win the game,” the Union manager said. “That’s the beauty of the wild card situation. I think it’s a good formula to make all teams excited.”
If the Union pull off the victory, they’ll do so without Veljko Paunović, who strained his hamstring in Philly’s last game and has been ruled out for Thursday’s contest. The 34-year-old Serbian, who’s started 12 of the last 13 games for the Union, has notched three goals and three assists since being acquired in June.
Paunovic’s injury may push Danny Mwanga back into the starting lineup. Mwanga, who’s been battling injury issues of his own, played 18 minutes as a second-half sub this past Saturday after missing the four games before that with a right hip flexor strain.
“There are no injuries, except Veljko Paunović has a knock on his hamstring,” Nowak said. “We have to be sure he’s healthy, either this week or next week. Because of the weekend off after the Thursday game, we’ll give the guys a couple of days to recover.”
The Red Bulls have a bigger absence to deal with for Thursday’s game with leading scorer Thierry Henry (14 goals) suspended after picking up a red card in New York’s last match. New York manager Hanse Backe has said Dane Richards or Juan Agudelo will start in Henry’s place.
“The loss of Henry, I don’t know if it’s a good or bad situation,” Nowak said. “We know how Agudelo will play. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org