Wright Phillips of NYRB

As the Gold Cup Quarterfinals begin Saturday night, it’s easy to forget that Major League Soccer is still in full swing as well. The biggest matchup of the weekend in the Eastern Conference pits the third place New York Red Bulls against an Orlando City side that are looking to crack the top four and earn a playoff bid. Only two points separate the two clubs and a victory for either of them could push them as high as second in the conference and give them invaluable momentum going into the All-Star break.

The visitors will travel to Florida this weekend winning four of their last five games in all competitions. After starting the season on an unmatched ten-game winning streak, the Red Bulls post-Thierry Henry era hit a small drought as they lost their next four league games. It looks like Jesse Marsch’s men have rediscovered their early season form as of late, however, racking up nine out of a possible 12 points in the run up to this match. Currently, the Red Bulls have three games in hand on conference leaders DC United with nine points separating the two. This means that if the New Yorkers string together another winning streak, they are in prime position to reclaim the top spot and earn themselves a favorable path to claim their first ever MLS Cup come the end of the season.

The hottest player for the Red Bulls this season has been their talismanic striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. In last week’s matchup against conference rivals New England, the English striker found the back of the net twice adding to his as the team’s top scorer. Through the first 18 games of the season, the 30-year-old has scored eight times. Going up against a defense that has allowed 24 goals through their first 19 games (1.2 goals/game), Wright-Phillips could prove the difference maker on Saturday, but if the Orlando defense focuses too much on him, Lloyd Sam can just as easily punish the hosts.

For the hosts, this game also provides them the opportunity to push their record to an even win/loss ratio. As of now, Orlando has a 6-6-7 record, but a recent slump in league play has seen them drop out of the playoff spots. In their last five MLS fixtures, the Florida club has earned just six points out of a possible 15. Outside of the league, however, Orlando is coming off of a potentially huge win in terms of confidence after dismantling West Bromwich Albion 3-1 in a friendly. After going down 1-0 in the first half, the MLS side fought their way back and took him the win. Granted, this was just a preseason game for the English side, but a victory against any European side will serve as major confidence boost to the players of Orlando and it will be interesting if they can show this same skill against New York.

The lone All-Star between the two clubs belongs to the hosts. The Brazilian maestro Kaká joined Orlando as their first MLS signing and has been one of the best players in the league ever since. Through his debut season in America, the former Ballon d’Or winner leads his team with nine goals, and sits tied for the team lead with two assists. His short stint with Orlando has seen the Brazilian seemingly rediscover the magic that once made him the best player in the world. Despite the stereotype that Kaká and other international stars are in the MLS just for the pay check, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of a drop in effort or a drop in passion on the field. I fully expect the 33-year-old to be the best player on the field Saturday and he could be the reason Orlando win this matchup.

Away from home, the Red Bulls have won just twice out of nine games. Orlando, on the other hand, have won just three of their ten home matches. The mediocre records for both sides make me believe that this match will end in a draw. The only reason I think Orlando ends up winning in the end, however, is because Kaká has a moment of magic that changes the match. Final score will be Orlando City 1-0 Red Bulls.


Tags: , ,