The Philadelphia Union fell to New York Red Bulls 1-0. The regular season home finale did not go the way Philadelphia wanted. The intense affair had the feel of a playoff match, with chippy play, and strong defense from both sides. A win would have secured a home playoff match; however, the Union still control their own destiny heading into the final week of the regular season.
The vibe in Talen Energy Stadium at the start of this one was a bit subdued. Perhaps the tight contest between the Eagles and Panthers 20 minutes away was distracting some of the Union faithful.
There were a number of chances for both the Union and Red Bulls in the first half. In only the 5th minute, Cory Burke made a good move juking two defenders. He was able to get a shot on goal, but New York goalkeeper, Luis Robles made the stop, and C.J. Sapong was unable to put away the rebound. Sapong would have another opportunity in the 25th minute but shot a straight grounder with little pace into the waiting arms of Robles. Just a few minutes later, Fafa Picault found the ball at his feet in the box for about three seconds. All Red Bull defenders froze and I think it gave Fafa too much time to think about the shot. He sent it way high and wide.
The Union dodged a bullet in the 36th minute. Andre Blake left his box to break up some action in front of him, Kaku gathered the ball on the left behind Blake, but his shot would strike the post and out of harm’s way. The final opportunity of the half came in the 40th minute but was a case of poor spacing. Fafa had a shot in the box but it went directly into the body of Union captain, Alejandro Bedoya. The half would end with a scrum in front of the Union goal but after Referee, Ted Ukel, checked a review, it turned out to be much ado about nothing, and no cards were issued for either side.
Everything changed in the 67th minute of the 2nd half after the Union appeared to stop a Red Bull scoring opportunity. They countered and Haris Medunjanin served a ball ahead to Picault, who in turn would then receive a yellow card for pushing the defender down in his attempt to corral the ball. Then, Referee, Ted Unkel, paused play and went to VAR at the other end of the field. He would point to the spot, calling a penalty on Bedoya for a handball from the play that concluded a few minutes earlier. The amount of time that passed between the play in question and the actual review was about 3 minutes. No one in the media box or on the Union broadcast, including J.P. Dellacamera, a new media inductee in the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, had a clue as to what was happening. Kaku lined up for the penalty and had Blake diving in the opposite direction. The Red Bulls had a 1-0 lead.
The Union would have a golden opportunity in the 73rd minute. Coming down the right side, Dockal and Ilsinho seemed to be executing a pretty give-and-go, until Dockal didn’t go. It was another deflating moment. Coach Jim Curtin made a good call in the 81st minute, subbing in Jay Simpson for Picault, who was already on a yellow card. The Union’s last scoring chance came on a well-paced shot by Dockal, but Robles made an excellent diving punch save to keep his clean sheet. Although the Union dominated the possession battle 66/34, they were able to convert this to only two shots on goal.
A few game notes:
Poor Field Conditions – In the 25th minute, the Red Bulls turned the ball over in the Union offensive side of the pitch. Medunjanin aimed to counter and immediately slipped. Both Curtin and Bedoya in their post-match interviews mentioned the field was not in good shape from the start of the match.
Parker vs. Picault – These two were battling it out all match long and Parker won out. In his post-match presser, Curtin called Tim Parker “the best center back in the league this season”.
Trusty/McKenzie vs. BWP – The young Union center back pairing did a fine job on the always dangerous, Bradley-Wright Phillips, not allowing him a shot for the entire match.
Finally, I caught up with Jim Curtin after his press conference and asked him if there was any rule regarding how long a referee can go to VAR after the play in question has passed. He told me there’s no time limit and play can continue before the VAR is checked as long as there is no stoppage of play (penalty, ball out of bounds, etc.) He then shared one tidbit that had us both shaking our heads. If Picault had scored during the period between Bedoya’s handball and when the referee went to VAR, Picault’s goal would not have counted. Yet, the yellow card he received during that same time would stand. And it did.
It all comes down to the MLS slate next week. As it currently stands, a win against NYCFC would still give the Union a 3 seed in the playoffs. But, they could also finish as low as 6th depending on the results of the D.C United and Columbus Crew SC matches. Should be a a crazy Sunday!
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports