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BWP: Philadelphia Union ‘edging its way’ to becoming New York Red Bulls’ rival

May 26, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) has words with Philadelphia Union forward C.J. Sapong (17) during the second half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — When it comes to rivals and derbies, the New York Red Bulls have their hands full.

D.C. United is their oldest rival, dating back to the origins of Major League Soccer in 1996, and New York City FC are the noisy neighbors from across the Hudson River.

But for the Philadelphia Union, there is no bigger rival than the Red Bulls.

“They’ve always looked at us as maybe a derby, a big rival. We’ve got a lot of rivals and I don’t think we’ve viewed them in the same way,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “This isn’t me being disrespectful or saying they’re not a good team, I’m just saying we didn’t see them as a big rival like that. I think now it’s edging its way up to being a rivalry because when we play them, these guys are leaving it all out on the field. We’ve got to match that.”

Playing with intensity is one of the Red Bulls greatest attributes and something a lot of teams struggle to match. But not the Union.

The last two MLS encounters, both at Red Bull Arena, were goalless draws. There’s also been several U.S. Open Cup meetings, with the Union winning a Round of 16 showdown at Talen Energy Stadium in June.

“They’re never an easy opponent to play,” Tyler Adams said. “You watch them play other teams and they kind of change their style of play compared to when they play us. Every time we play them, they seem to be up for the game. They’re combative and they find a way to score goals. Anytime we play there it’s a bit tougher than when we play at Red Bull Arena and we know they’ve been good at home this year.”

While the Red Bulls (20-7-5) are in the midst of their most productive regular season to date — setting a franchise-record for wins and points and tying the mark for clean sheets — which has them one point behind Atlanta United in the Supporters’ Shield race, the Union are the best version of themselves to date.

Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Union enter the penultimate week of the regular season just three points behind third-place New York City FC. Wins against the Red Bulls on Sunday and NYCFC on Decision Day wraps up third place.

“They’re well coached and organized and have their style and it goes right up against ours,’ Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “They’re a good team, Jimmy Curtin, we know him well, he does a great job with them and gets a lot out of the guys. They’re always up for us and we’re always up for them, which always makes for a good game.”

Both teams are unbeaten in their last four games, going 3-0-1. The Red Bulls have lost just once in their last 11 and the Union have one loss in their last 10.

The key to the Union’s success in 2018, according to Red Bulls captain Luis Robles, has been influential midfielder Borek Dockal.

“Every time we go down there we feel like we get their best version,” Robles said. “Maybe part of it is vicinity and rivalry and that plays into it maybe a little, but they’re just a good team this year. Ever since they got Dockal, he’s really been a game changer for them.”

Still, as successful as the Union (15-12-5) have been this year, the Red Bulls are confident they can win in Chester if they play the way they have throughout most of the regular season.

“When we go down there, they’re always amped up for it, they’re very physical and if we don’t match their level of physicality and level of competition, it’s always a very long day for us,” Robles said. “Yet, when we do come with the right mindset and physically we’re ready to give whatever the game brings, we’ve done quite well.”

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