If the play on the field isn't enough yet to intensify the rivalry between the Union and Red Bull New York, then perhaps the war of words between the Eastern Conference foes off the field will.
Members of the Union front office didn't take lightly comments from Red Bulls coach Hans Backe after his team's 2-1 win Saturday over the visiting Union.
"They told me 1 week ago that there would probably be around 5,000 or so fans from Philadelphia, but there were only just a couple hundred or so," Backe said.
"I don't really know why [the Red Bulls don't draw capacity crowds]. We've had a good start . . . It's a stadium that should sell itself. It should be, maybe not sold out, but average around [17,000] to 20,000 or so."
Union president Tom Veit wants to know where Backe got his figures. According to Veit, that number did not come from Union headquarters.
"We'd never discussed a number with his organization in regards to how many tickets we had purchased or had on hold, so that number was never 5,000," Veit said.
The largest contingent for the Union at Red Bull Arena was the confirmed 500 members of the team's fan club who made the trek via bus, in addition to a sprinkling of fans spread out across the 25,000-seat arena.
"When you really looked at it, it looked like our supporters' club was a lot larger than their supporters' club," Veit said. "So much so, that there was a joke going where we asked the Sons of Ben not to be so loud, because they were drowning out their fan club."
Such fighting words could spark things tonight, when the Union returns to RBA to play the Red Bulls for the second time in 4 days. This is a play-in game for entrance into the annual Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that encompasses every outdoor league under the auspices of the U.S. Soccer Federation. The winner will host top-seeded New England on May 12 at a site to be determined.
Manager Peter Nowak scoffed at rumors that he would play more of his bench, given that the Open Cup isn't sanctioned by Major League Soccer. In fact, when asked about his starting lineup, Nowak replied: "Is there a trophy? Then, yes, we'll play the best players."
Central defender Danny Califf returns after serving a one-game suspension. This will send defender Cristian Arrieta to right back, after he filled in for Califf in central defense Saturday.
"I feel more comfortable playing at right back. That is my natural position," said Arrieta, whom the Union acquired from the Puerto Rico Islanders, of USL-1, last month. "But I want to play, so wherever Nowak puts me, I will do everything to not let my teammates down."
On attack, the combo of Alejandro Moreno and Sebastien LeToux should remain intact, but young forwards Jack McInerney and Danny Mwanga also could garner minutes. Despite looking suspect in the early moments of his time on Saturday, Mwanga (substitute in the 59th minute) found a rhythm. McInerney (sub, 78th minute) posed a legitimate scoring threat in the match and nearly netted the 2-2 equalizer, but his header strayed wide left of the goal.
"The game played pretty good. We just have to eliminate these mistakes," Nowak said, referring to recent on-field gaffes that have contributed to the Union's 1-3 start.
"I guess this is what they call beginner's luck," he added, with a bit of sarcasm. "This is a [New York] team we could've beaten if we'd finished our chances."
Let the battle begin. *