Caden Clark is confident that “dark horse” New York Red Bulls are capable of pulling off an upset when they face Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Red Bulls clinched the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference with a draw against Nashville SC on Decision Day two weeks ago.
Gerhard Struber’s side finished six points below the Union, who were second to New England Revolution and sealed the playoff spot with two games to spare.
Both sides are effectively on an equal footing in Saturday’s one-legged showdown, though, and Clark insists NYRB are not merely making up the numbers at this stage.
“We’re not comfortable,” he said. “We’re a dark horse team in these playoffs that can go far. You look at how we play, we’re just an energized team who can beat any team on any day.
“If we have a good game, I strongly believe we can win just based on who we are and how we play.”
The Union will be looking to put their home-field advantage to good use against the Red Bulls, having ended the regular season with five wins in a row, conceding just once.
Philadelphia exited the MLS Cup Playoffs at the first hurdle last year after finishing top of the overall standings, and head coach Jim Curtin is taking nothing for granted this time.
“The games between us and the Red Bulls are always very, very highly contested,” he said. “They’re very close games, so usually 1-1 or at the most two goal games.
“But I’m excited to start the most important part of the season that the players, staff and the fans have worked so hard to be a part of pushing hard for second place.
“Having our games at Subaru Park was a real goal and key of ours so we’re happy to have achieved that.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Union – Kacper Przybylko
Former Poland Under-21s international Przybylko ended the regular season with 12 goals to his name, making it the third straight season he has finished as Union’s top goalscorer. However, the 28-year-old played a full 90 minutes three times against the Red Bulls this year without finding the net, a run in which he will be desperate to bring an end to here.
New York Red Bulls – Carlos Miguel Coronel
The Red Bulls may have finished five places below their opponents, but they conceded two goals fewer across the 34 regular-season matches. Indeed, no team in MLS let in fewer goals. That is down to many different factors, but credit must go to goalkeeper Coronel for keeping a joint MLS-high 13 shutouts in 2021.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Beginning with their playoff win over New York in 2019, Philadelphia are unbeaten in six straight matches against the Red Bulls (W4 D2), though the last two have ended in draws. Prior to this run, the Union had never gone more than three straight games against the Red Bulls without defeat.
– The Union’s 4-3 extra-time win over the Red Bulls in the first round in 2019 is the only ever meeting between the sides in the playoffs, and the Union’s only ever playoff win (L6). That game was one of nine postseason matches in league history that saw at least seven goals scored.
– After going winless in their first three home matches this season (D1 L2), the Union have won 11 of their last 14 at Subaru Park (D2 L1). Philadelphia have won a league-high 20 regular season home games since the start of last year, though they lost their lone playoff match at home, 2-0 to New England, in last year’s first round.
– The Red Bulls lost only one of their last 12 matches (W7 D4) en route to qualifying for their 12th straight postseason, the second-longest streak in MLS history (Sounders 13 straight, 2009-present). The 25 points the Red Bulls collected since September 17 are the most in MLS in that span.
– NYRB conceded only 33 goals this season, tied with Nashville and Seattle for the league’s best defense. New York faced just 9.3 shots per match this season – only one team has faced fewer since Opta began tracking full analysis of MLS in 2010 (Sporting Kansas City – 8.9 shots faced per match in 2013).