Red Bulls Tactical Sips: Philadelphia Union


Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-game post featuring bullfighting breakdowns from the upcoming game.

The New York Red Bulls beat Orlando City SC, 2-1. Cristian Cásseres and Fábio scored goals. Carlos Coronel saved a penalty. It was quite an event in Florida, a possible outcome for the season that showed a glimpse of what this team can be when they are in full swing. While still in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, a possible recovery could erase fears of laborious reconstruction.

This week’s opponent is the Philadelphia Union, which has a four-game winning streak against the Red Bulls. Singular results exist in a vacuum, but defined management styles and philosophies can at least provide some correlation to compare. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners are currently third in the Eastern Conference, bouncing off the results without showing any previous dominance. Expect a quick game, as the two teams have somewhat similar styles.

Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are three things to watch out for.


The two most active players in the Union are the full-backs, Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo. Their performance is important to Jim Curtin’s system, playing a significant number of passes and crosses. As Steve Beavon noted in this fascinating in-depth tactical dive for Philadelphia Sports Network, the duo push “higher up the pitch to give options to central defenders,” which provides an offensive option and helps overload the wings. They will even slip into a back-post run, a hypothetical weakness of Gerhard Struber’s Barnsley teams.

The New York Red Bulls have a similar philosophy, relying on full-backs to play almost superhuman roles by fully competing on both sides of the game. The challenges of this role are exacerbated by the four-man fullback, which offers even less coverage in defense than 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formations. Kyle Duncan has been a star this season, enjoying the freedom to go forward and assert himself in the final third. Philadelphia could exploit this advanced positioning, although to be fair, so could it.


Much has been said about the Union’s ability to develop players, but the club’s real strength lies in the judicious international signings. Midfielder Jamiro Monteiro was brought to the club in 2019, but this is his real breakthrough year. In 16 matches in total, the Cape Verdean international has scored four goals and six assists. His dribbling and shot-making stats are some of the best in the league, complemented by solid pressing and defense numbers. His movement needs to be watched by the entire Red Bulls defense, but he usually does most of his non-marking damage at 20-30 yards.

This match-up presents quite a challenge for Sean Davis, who enjoyed an upward rise under Gerhard Struber. He’s been one of the team’s best tackles this year, often balancing attacking responsibilities with the extinction of nascent counterattacks. Monteiro is a creative force, but the Red Bulls captain should be able to obstruct midfield with the help of his teeming teammates.


If there has been any glaring weakness for the Union in the past month or more, defending crosses and set pieces would likely be the culprit. Not for picking an easy target, but the Chicago Fire managed to score a point in a 3-3 draw solely due to mental flaws on dead balls. Nashville SC also pulled off a 1-0 victory, and the margin could have been much bigger with a competent finish even halfway through. This question has obviously been better explored in the Philadelphia Sports Network article, claiming the problem is with man-to-man marking after the kick.

Center-backs Jack Elliott (6’6 “) and Jakob Glesnes (6’2”) aren’t necessarily the problem. Most goals come from late runs, loose balls, or players sneaking up to the back post. The Red Bulls should be able to capitalize on this failure to stop anything in the air, perhaps the first team that almost invites Fábio and Patryk Klimala to gravitate towards the middle of the pitch. Kyle Duncan and John Tolkin could also be asked to play something more akin to the traditional full-back role in the final third.

What tactical scenarios do you expect to play out in the game? Let us know in the comment section.

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