This time of year, New York vs. Philadelphia is more than just a rivalry

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“Obviously it is Philly and I think their fans travel, so yeah, it makes it extra special” said Thierry Henry, New York’s legendary striker. “It is a rivalry in any sport in the US; when a team from New York plays against a team from Philly or New England or DC you have that type of rivalry and that’s the way it is.”

The players wouldn’t have it any other way. But that’s not the only way it is.

When Philadelphia travels a short way to Red Bull Arena, the 2nd place and 3rd place teams in the East will be duking it out for a shot at first place and pole position for the season’s stretch run.

Henry acknowledges that. “For us it’s not only the rivalry and winning the game against Philly; it’s getting three points because we need three points right now.”

Ok, maybe a bit of an overstatement.  They don’t need three points, but they sure could use ’em (who couldn’t?).  While the Eastern Conference isn’t nearly as jumbled as the West, overall parity in the league this season means any slip ups could be lethal.

The Red Bulls have been wildly inconsistent this season, but remain in second place.  June and July saw an incredibly weird 4-match stretch where New York either dominated their opponent or got dominated.  Since, their last three matches have given them two crazy, signature wins against each conference’s leader, and one disappointing home loss to the slumping Columbus Crew.

(MORE: MLS Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union)

Despite the inconsistency, one thing is for certain: when New York come home, they score goals.  Despite just five away goals since the beginning of May (three in one game), the Red Bulls have smashed home 18 goals in front of their home fans over the same time period.

The player news is great for New York as well – both Henry and Tim Cahill could be returning from injuries.  Coach Mike Petke said he “100 percent” believes Henry will play after missing last week with Achillies inflammation (nothing to scoff at). Cahill has returned to full training, but it’s unclear whether he will take part Saturday.

For Philadelphia, they come in on the heels of a win, but they haven’t won two in a row since June 23 when they beat Columbus and New York a combined 6-0.  It’s been spotty since then, with striker Jack McInerney’s goalless drought now at seven full matches.  However, Conor Casey is beginning to pick up the slack.

Casey’s double last week sank lowly D.C. United, and he now has four goals since McInerney last got his.  In fact, of the seven matches Casey’s scored in this season, Philadelphia has lost just one and won five.

With much to gain from a win at Red Bull Arena, it’s clear the players have a job to do. But there’s still an element of hostility in the air as always present during such a heated rivalry.

But don’t take my word for it.

yeah of course, it’s a rivalry the minute that they came in the league.  The players, and coaches, feel it too.

Petke: “It’s something that I take pleasure in when we get good results and I sulk in when we get bad results against these teams.”

By the way, New York has never lost to Philadelphia at Red Bull Arena. Food for thought.